Jesse did faux-finishing of walls and floors for the Mellon Estate.

 

Jesse Ganteaume Hits His Stride

In 2007, Jesse Ganteaume was just coming into his own as a decorative painter. He had been fortunate to learn his faux-finishing skills from one of the best in the business—his mother, Tish Inman , an accomplished decorative artist and muralist who had developed an industry reputation for creating innovative finishes. As he approached the three-year mark on his career, Jesse was excited about the prospects for his future.
 

Jesse Ganteaume has created profitable niches that have allowed his business to thrive.

Then, all of a sudden, the bottom dropped out of the housing market. This was a devastating time for even veteran painters, many of whom found themselves struggling to keep their businesses afloat. For a new decorative painter like Jesse, who was just in his early 20s at the time, the poor market conditions could have easily derailed a career that was just getting started. Fortunately, Jesse proved to have the creativity, adaptability and resilience to see him through.
 
“It was discouraging,” Jesse says of the economic downturn. “People didn’t have the money to spend on luxury-type things such as faux finishes, so that’s when I started thinking, ‘There have got to be ways to do this that actually saves people money.’ ”

So, Jesse broadened the scope of his business, using his faux-finishing skills to revitalize cabinetry and other distressed surfaces. He developed a profitable niche for restoration work, using his intuitive talent to blend and match finishes. He weathered the economic storm and now has a thriving decorative painting business, with projects for homeowners and commercial clients alike.
 
Fortunately, the economy has improved substantially over the last 12 months or so. “The last year has been almost like it was before the whole economic bust happened,” Jesse says.

In Great Demand
 
Jesse’s decorative painting services are currently in great demand in his market of northern Virginia. One of his ongoing projects involves doing faux-finishing and restoration work at the famous Oak Spring Farms estate, previously owned by philanthropists Paul and Rachel Mellon. Longtime friends of the Kennedy family, the Mellons hosted a visit by Jacqueline Kennedy at the estate in the 1950s. Rachel Mellon, who died in 2014 at the age of 103, was a horticulturalist and gardener, so the estate is now being converted into an advanced horticultural learning center in her honor.

Jesse finished these doors for a client in the Washington, D.C., area. The client had seen this effect in a magazine, and Jesse used a variety of techniques and effects to replicate it.

 
“The project’s unique because they have several buildings and houses on the property, and every one of them had been faux-finished maybe 20 or 30 years ago,” Jesse reports. “Since then, those finishes have deteriorated a lot. The client needed somebody who could completely recreate any of the finishes. If the finishes could be touched up or any of the damaged areas could be blended in, they wanted me to do that.”

This ability to recreate matching finishes has allowed Jesse to come to the rescue for a variety of different clients. “If you have, for instance, a huge gash in your kitchen cabinets, the thinking might be, ‘Oh, I have to replace this.’ No. That’s not necessary. I can come in, do my thing, and no one will ever know the damage was there.”

In the case of the Mellon estate, Jesse had to decide when refinishing versus restoring was the better option. “There are some rooms I’ve had to do top to bottom, so blending anything was out of the question because it would have taken a ridiculous amount of time, and it just wasn’t worth it,” he explains. “There were also rooms where the surfaces were severely damaged, and I had to do a lot of blending to make it look like the damage never happened.”

Jesse’s work in restoration requires him to match colors and finishes that are already on the surface. However, he admits it’s difficult to describe how he actually does this. “It’s mostly intuitive, just because I’ve been doing it for so long,” he says. “I’ve had the hardest time trying to explain how I do it to one of the painters at the estate. He’s very interested in how I do it, but I don’t know how to describe it because so much of it is intuition.”

This niche features silver leafing and a pseudo antique method to make the silver leaf look like a very soft good. The surrounding walls feature a basic color wash.

Sure, there are some product principles that guide his product choices—such as avoiding a polyurethane because of its tendency to yellow over time. “Other than that, it’s ‘Okay, let’s see what I’ve got in the Jeep and mix up a concoction, make sure it will last and get it on there,’ ” Jesse explains.

Mother and Son
 
Before Jesse developed these profitable niches, he gained a solid background in traditional faux finishing when working in his mother’s business, Gotcha Covered. “I started working for her as soon as I graduated from high school,” Jesse reports. Over the next decade, the mother and son worked together in her business, though Jesse also sometimes took on projects independently.
 
Tish taught Jesse to have the courage to innovate, which enabled them to create some unique finishes—like croc skin—both on their own and in conjunction with each other. “My mom’s terrific at inventing finishes, which is one of the things I learned from her,” Jesse reports. “She’s always had this great fearlessness when it comes to throwing paint on the walls, and that’s something that has rubbed off on me.”

 While working with Tish, Jesse gained a solid background in all types of faux and decorative finishes. “As far as I understand it, when decorative painting came into being as a profession, you were expected to know the whole gamut,” he says. “You were expected to know all the faux finishes and how to do trompe l’oeil and mural painting, so that’s how I learned it. That’s how my mom was, and luckily I spent all that time with her.”

Jesse created faux limestone blocks and faux marble columns in this gallery in Washington, D.C.

In addition to learning from his mother, Jesse had the opportunity to learn from some other industry greats. “I took a wood graining glass from Pierre Finkelstein, and that was terrific,” Jesse reports. “I love wood graining, and regardless of how many times I had done it before, he just had some awesome tips and insights that made the work that much better.”
 
Within the last two years, Tish has relocated to Texas, though she maintains a home in Virginia so that she can escape the sweltering summer temperatures of the Lone Star State. Except for some anticipated joint summer projects with his mother, Jesse mostly works solo these days. However, his workload may eventually require some collaborations.

Jesse created this mural for a pool house exterior at an estate.

“I’m getting to the point where some larger projects are starting to come up, which is a bit more than I can accomplish on my own,” he says. “So I’m in the process of networking with a couple of other people who really do great work in northern Virginia.”
 
For the most part, though, Jesse is able to keep up with his project deadlines—primarily because he works so quickly. “My job when I was working for my mom was mainly getting the work done as fast as possible while making it as quality as possible too,” he reports. “That’s one of the things I’ve retained, which surprises some of the other painters who do the basic painting and usually go ahead of me on a job—especially at the estate, where they were under the impression that it would take weeks and weeks to do a single room because of the kind of work it is. They’re astounded when I get the work done in a week.”

Another view of Jesse's work at the Mellon Estate.

Sometimes clients question why Jesse charges the prices that he does when he is able to accomplish the work so quickly, but he’ll reply, “Because that’s what it costs for this type of finish.” He doesn’t want to undervalue what he does simply because he provides the advantage of getting the work done faster than expected.
 
“I know there are some people who bill by the hour, but I don’t think that’s the best way to price your faux-finish work,” Jesse says. “My mom never did, and I don’t either. The only time I bill hourly is if I’m doing touch-up work, because it would be silly to bill by square foot when I’m doing a foot-wide patch on a wall.”

Keys to Success
 
Jesse has built his business almost exclusively through word of mouth. That’s how he got the job at the Mellon Estate—the head painter there recommended him based on the work he had done with his mother. “They definitely wanted somebody who could do as much restoration work as possible without having to redo finishes,” he explains. “There are also a couple designers I work with who have been great. They almost always have something for me to do.”
 
But perhaps the overall key to Jesse’s success is his ability and willingness to do almost anything. In the last couple years, he’s taken his painting skills into the realm of replica costumes and props that are used by cosplay enthusiasts. (Click the link for more details about Jesse’s cosplay work). He also works hard at transforming even small details of a home, such as switchplates and vents.  

“It’s funny,” Jesse says. “You do all of this elaborate work throughout a house, but I’ve found what people will always point out are these details—‘Oh, look at the vents.’ It’s the little things they remember most.”

Jesse gives attention even to the smallest details, like vents, in his work.

Looking back at his 12-year career so far from his vantage point as a 30-year-old artist, Jesse can attest that the early economic struggles he faced have helped him develop a full range of skills that will serve him well in the years to come.
 
“That’s the good thing about challenges and obstacles,” he says. “They can force you to come up with some really cool solutions that you would not have come up with if the necessity wasn’t there.”

See Jesse's ARTIST PORTFOLIO by clicking here.