Lazenby's Decorative Arts Studio finished this music room's ceiling and wall panels with metallic plaster and
raised stenciling. 
The walls were lightly glazed, and the fireplace surround was glazed with gilded accents.

A Passion for Art

By Tammy Adamson-McMullen

Whoever coined the phrase “A man lives many lifetimes” must have been thinking about someone like Rik Lazenby.

Rik has enjoyed several illustrious careers in his lifetime that include work as an art teacher, principal, school administrator, fine artist and, more recently, a decorative artist.

Rik currently is the co-owner and principal artist of Lazenby’s Decorative Arts Studio in Birmingham, Ala., a business that he launched 15 years ago at age 55 after retiring from education. He also is the vice president of the International Decorative Artisans League and will assume the presidency later this year. (See related article, “Rik Lazenby and the Growth of IDAL.”)

The Lazenbys finished this formal living room with
faux limestone block, a 
gilded fireplace surround
with faux limestone block and 
tile and gilded
crown molding. The ceiling was finished 
with a
blue Venetian plaster with raised stenciling.

When asked how he has been able to achieve so much in his lifetime, Rik recalls running across an excerpt about his Lazenby ancestors in a book about the English taxation system in 1086. “It said the Lazenbys didn’t appear to have much money to collect but were an honest, hard-working people,” Rik says. He notes that the description resonated with him, because he values honesty and a strong work ethic over wealth. It also applies to his daughter, Jennifer, who joined Rik in the business in 2005 and is another hard worker. When it comes to Lazenbys, he says, “We like to work, and we like to serve.”

Of course, there is another common thread that runs through all of Rik’s achievements: His passion for creating art.

This passion was fueled early on by Rik’s uncle, John Paul Thomas, an internationally acclaimed artist and art scholar. Thomas, who spent his later years in Hawaii, is considered one of Hawaii’s foremost painters. During visits, Thomas would tell his nephew stories about his visits abroad and one time created an impromptu painting from a simple watercolor set. Rik recalls on his website, riklazenby.com, that the encounters were brief but magical. They “kindled my love of art and birthed a journey that is still evolving,” he writes.

Jennifer and Rik Lazenby are the creative forces behind
Lazenby's Decorative 
Arts Studio. Jennifer joined her
father in the business in 2005.

Rik went on to study art in college, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education at the University of Alabama. After graduation, Rik worked seven years as a high school art teacher and then moved into administration. He worked the next 22 years as a school principal, sitting at the helm of five different schools, and then three more as director of Student Services at the district level.

Among his achievements, Rik worked with a team to bring the first International Baccalaureate Program to Alabama and served as the school’s first principal. After his retirement, the Jefferson County International School was named the No. 1 high school in America by Newsweek Magazine and ranks in the top 100 U.S. high schools to this day.

Return to Decorative Arts
Rik retired from education in 2000 and turned his attention to decorative arts. Rik always enjoyed decorative painting; however, to make it a second career, Rik knew his skills needed honing. So the former educator returned to the classroom, but this time as a student. “I invested in myself and paid the money to study under some of the better instructors around the country,” Rik explains.

In particular, Rik studied with Martin Alan Hirsch at the Faux Finish School® in Louisville, Ky., and later with Mindy Harrell at Faux Assured Studio in Heber, Utah. He took classes that included “The Art and Business of Faux Finishing” and “Designer Wall Finishes” as well as workshops with such notable faux finishers as Gary Lord, Henri Menendez and Rick Fischer. He also studied independently, reading as many books as he could on business topics to ensure that his new venture would be successful.

At one point, Rik traveled with master artisan Doyle Self to Verona, Italy, to obtain advanced certification from the SAFRA Decoration Academy in applying authentic Italian plasters. While visiting Italian cathedrals and monuments, Rik noticed an abundance of faux marble; however, “The plasters were not faux but the real thing,” he says. Returning to the States, Rik decided to broaden the way he described his services and to categorize them as “decorative arts” rather than “faux finishes”—a nomenclature he uses to this day. “I thought it was good to broaden the whole thing from the beginning,” he says.

Rik opened Lazenby’s Decorative Arts Studio in 2000 as a decorative painting business as well as a fine arts studio. An accomplished fine artist in his own right, Rik sells his paintings and mixed-media artwork from the studio and teaches fine art to students of all ages. Rik also offers occasional decorative painting classes. Some of the demand for this instruction has come from his former high school art students.

Lazenby's finished this master bedroom with metallic plastered walls and a metallic
champagne glaze on the ceiling. Raised stenciling also was applied to the ceiling.

“Invariably one of my former art students will come to me and say, ‘I would like proper lessons in basic finishes for my own house,’ ” Rik says. If he has the time, Rik obliges, “since I like to teach and enjoy passing off information.’ ”

Initially, the decorative painting side of the business presented a few challenges, as Rik tried to drum up work. Rik advertised heavily and also approached area builders with his portfolio and samples of his projects. Rik’s big break finally came when a builder hired him to provide finishes in one of his developments, with homes priced in the $500,000 to $600,000 range.

This dome was finished with bronze metallic plaster and raised
stenciling. Rik and Jennifer then gilded the raised stenciling.

According to Rik, the work followed a fairly consistent prescription of finishes. “The builder wanted the most economical finishes I could provide,” he explains. “So, in the entryways I created a slightly textured dome with a metallic finish, usually copper; in the dining rooms I created deep umber glazes; and in the powder rooms I painted metallic ceilings and then glazed the walls.” To the builder’s delight, the homes started selling much better than the homes of his competitors in the same area, and so he hired Rik for additional projects.

From that point on, Rik found himself in high demand with a full schedule of work. By the time Jennifer joined the business, projects were snowballing, with many high-end and high-profile jobs on the docket. Rik notes that Jennifer brought energy, enthusiasm, an ability to relate well to clients and, of course, hard-working genes. Still, “We got so back-logged that there were people waiting on us for a year,” Rik recalls. “There were just the two of us, and we couldn’t move any faster than we were moving.”

Jobs continued to pile until the recession of 2008, which impacted Lazenby’s as it did many other companies. Rik once again started beating the bushes to gain work, and Lazenby’s started the slow climb back. Today, Lazenby’s is doing well and continuing to grow. Still, Rik notes that business hasn’t reached the levels of the company’s heyday. “The business is there,” he says, “but you have to drive faster and promote yourself better.”

Rik and Jennifer finished this foyer with Tuscan plaster,
faux
Gothic windows and added areas of broken faux
brick. T
he stunning 25-foot diameter dome features a
sky mural with a 
hidden angel in the clouds.

An Expanding Menu
There are many reasons why Lazenby’s has enjoyed so much success over the years. Certainly one of them is the fact that Rik and Jennifer continually polish their skills and add new ones to their menu of services.

Among the finishes that the Lazenbys currently offer are glazes, textures, cabinet refinishing, polished plasters, matte plasters, concrete overlays for countertops, murals, furniture refinishing and gilding. More recently, they’ve found a niche market in applying limestone, copper and similar finishes to stove hoods, often coordinating the colors in the hoods to cabinet stains or wall glazes. However, their list of services is continually expanding, as Rik believes in the value of continuing education.

When Aurastone finishes became popular, for example, “I flew out to Mindy Harrell’s school, and Mindy worked with me on creating the look for countertop finishes,” Rik states, noting that the look was very popular for a while with his clientele. Additionally, Rik and Jennifer have put their own spin to a few finishes. The two artists, for example, have developed a new way to apply glazes (a trick which they will happily share with other decorative artists).

This full menu has allowed Rik and Jennifer to secure some huge jobs in recent years.

As an example, Rik and Jennifer were hired to finish two fireplace surrounds in an 18,000-square-foot home that included gold leaf work. The client wasn’t sure she liked the gold leaf at first, but the look grew on her—to the extent that she began adding to the project. As it turns out, “We stayed in the house for a year and a half!” Rik recalls. “When we finished, she bought a 6,500-square-foot home across the street for her son and then sent us to do all the rooms in that house, too.” All total, Rik and Jennifer created a wide range of finishes for the client and her husband, including polished plasters, textures, glazes, gold metallic and gold leaf—“and then they actually bought eight of my paintings,” Rik reports.

The Lazenbys were asked to provide finishes to domes in a megachurch that houses
a 12-lane bowling alley.

Lazenby’s also provided finishes for a megachurch in Birmingham. The church houses an activity center—which includes a 12-lane bowling alley and bistro/dinner theater—under a series of domes. Rik was asked to create European finishes to resemble the Roman aqueducts in one dome and a French look in another. The project was challenging because it required precise taping and the application of more than 500 gallons of texture.

Projects of this type have provided a lot of exposure for Lazenby’s in the last few years as well as the perception that Rik is a big-project painter. “A lot of people think we only work on huge projects, but we don’t,” Rik says. “We’ve painted a mobile home as well as an Airstream trailer for a business.”

Lazenby’s also has earned industry accolades that have included several Top Job Contest awards from American Painting Contractor magazine. Lazenby’s, in fact, took the top prize again this year, for a project that initially involved only a ceiling repair and re-glazing; however, the client was so pleased that she, too, requested more finishes. Ultimately, Rik and Jennifer applied finishes to walls, another ceiling and the kitchen hood, with more projects in the offing.

“This job was a perfect example of how doing what you say you will do and doing it well often leads to additional work,” Rik told APC. “Another important component of this project was connecting with the owner.”

Lazenby's created this 16-foot dimensional Tree of Life for Beth Hallel Messianic Congregation in Hoover,
Ala. The background is a 40-foot faux limestone block 
wall representing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

It is on this last score that Rik believes his decorative arts career most closely resembles his educational one. Rick notes that both careers require an ability to connect with people, sometimes in difficult situations. As a teacher and principal, Rik often dealt with unhappy parents and students, especially in disciplinary situations. And now as a decorative artist, he occasionally has to help clients reestablish their focus. But in both cases, “I’ve been able to settle everyone down and work with them until the issues were resolved.”

According to Rik, what’s most important in his current profession is that everyone walks away happy—and he means everyone.

“The finish has to please me as well as the client,” he says. “My daughter gets a little frustrated with me because I’ve been known to completely paint out a room and start over. I’ve done that several times. Now at the finish of almost every job, she says, ‘Daddy, step back from the wall …’ ”

However, Rik notes that when everyone is satisfied, success is inevitable. “It’s like spreading seeds,” he adds. “If everyone is happy, your name is carried out to other (potential clients), and the whole process starts all over again.”

For more images from Rik and Jennifer, including photos of the 2016 Top Job Contest project, see his portfolio at the link.