Completely self-taught, this 20 year veteran takes texture to a new level… her cracked plaster samples are worthy being framed and hung over the mantle. Theresa’s finishes are uniquely hers and she sometimes designs the rooms in which her finishes are installed. A fine artist, set designer, sometimes interior designer, kitchen renovator, HGTV go to girl, teacher, and decorative painter… Theresa Fike’s dramatic aesthetic is instilled in each of her projects.
Who taught you?
I have been an artist all my life. I do have a degree in Fine Art from CSUC with an emphasis in sculpture; but that certainly did not prepare me to be a faux finisher. I’d really have to say I’m self taught when it comes to the decorative arts part of my business. Twenty years ago it never even occurred to me that there might be a school, teachers, or even books that I could learn from. I would have loved the opportunity to learn the “tricks of the trade” from a master but instead I approached faux finishing as though the walls were back drops for paintings and the final room with all it’s décor was the masterpiece.
Eventually I did find a few books and watched the Carol Duvall Show whenever I could but by then I had developed an approach to finishes that worked for me. That’s not to say I didn’t learn from others. I had a business partner for awhile that was very creative and she had a few tricks up her sleeves that she was willing to share with me, such as a fantastic recipe for faux bois that I still use. To this day the only decorative painting class I have taken was for countertops.
Who inspires you?
For me inspiration comes from so many sources, paintings, architecture, history, other artists; but I’d really have to say it is my clients that inspire me. There is an almost magical moment when I’m talking with a client when I “get” who they are and what excites them. That connection inspires me to create their vision. When that happens I get goose bumps and excited and can hardly articulate the concept that is flooding my mind. I know that sounds vague and kinda “out there” but that moment is probably why I do this business along with being a part-time studio artist.
How did you get into this business?
I really fell into this business. I had graduated from art school and was working on making a name for myself as a fine artist when a friend asked me if I would paint a fireplace for one of his clients. They wanted it to look like marble. At that point I had never even heard the word faux but I knew that many of the interiors of old buildings in Europe were painted to look like marble so I went to a marble store, picked out a marble sample that would look good in their house and painted this huge fireplace to match.
A short time later an interior designer called and asked me to do a Street of Dreams home. Again, I had no clue what I was doing but I must say I do love a challenge; so I ragged, washed, and wood grained just about every surface in the house, plus did a mural in the kid’s room. The thing that I discovered about myself while doing the Street of Dreams home was that I didn’t like working alone in my studio for hours on end, but I did like working with other people. So at that time I decided to focus more on the decorative arts and a little less on the fine art.
What was your lucky break?
My lucky break was from the same designer, Marsha Rae, that had asked me to do the Street of Dreams home. She called one day and wanted to know if I’d be willing to meet her at a construction site in an exclusive community in Granite Bay. The house was still in frame stage but it was the biggest private home I had ever seen, nearly 15,000 sq ft. She said the client wanted a little bit of faux work done, would I be interested? After meeting with the clients I agreed to doing about 6 weeks worth of work. That turned into 11 months full time for me and 2 assistants.
But it gets even better, just as the house was nearly finished Eddy Murphy offered the owners a price for it that they could not refuse. The Murphy’s moved in and I came with the house. Over the 15 years they owned it I redid it twice and added 3 more murals, a lot of faux marble and did their 6,000 sq ft addition. Four years ago the Murphy’s sold their home and again I came with the house and have had the great pleasure of fine tuning it for the new owner. This was only my third faux job.
What is your “signature” project?
Locally I would have to say I am most known for doing the Murphy Estate and at least here that would have to be considered my signature project. The Murphy Estate (now the Willis Estate) has a truly grand “Miami” style architecture, it sits on top of a hill with an almost 360 degree view of Sacramento county including Folsom Lake on one side and the Sacramento City skyline on the other side.
Aside from the great honor of working on this house for 20 years, I have had the pleasure of helping host several fund raisers there. Recently we did a 1950′s-60′s Las Vegas style party raising money for college scholarships through the Future Foundation. Imagine almost 600 people all dressed in ball gowns dancing to the music of The Rat Pack (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and, of course, Frank Sinatra). My interior design and decorative arts services was one of the live auction items for the evening. Standing in front of all these people who were bidding for my work was one of the most humbling and awesome moments of my career.
What is your favorite project?
After 20 years of doing this business it is so hard to pick a single favorite project. I think I’d have to say it was the Christmas show we did for HGTV and DIY. The name of the show is Turf War it is typically a backyard landscaping contest between neighbors. We had done several shows as the artists for the competitions, then had the honor of being picked as the designer for the the biggest show of the season, The Christmas Turf War. We created a magical winter wonderland in the front yard with 11 snowmen (some even moving) a landing pad for Santa, and a Christmas tree out of rebar and batting that you just have to see to appreciate. So many friends, coworkers, and family helped create my vision and did it in freezing weather, in 2 days, with a severe weather front coming in the night we finished. I’m still in awe at what we created in such a short time with practically no budget, and harsh weather.
When I tell people that we did this they most frequently ask, how did you get on the show and would you do it again? Honestly getting on the show was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and networking with EVERYBODY I meet. I love to refer businesses I work with and hope they refer me. So getting on the show was a matter of helping each other out. Kimberely Keck of Kimberly’s Custom Faux Finishes wanted to work on some projects with me and learn some of my techniques. I brought her in to help on some high-end massive jobs and she referred me to the network. It was as simple and as complicated as that. Being open and willing to share my knowledge and resources gave another person the opportunity to share with me.
The other question is so much more complicated. Would I do it again? I gotta tell you I’m a very hard working woman, long hours, hard labor, and exhausting creativity, buuutttt the two days on the last show about wiped me out. It was a thrill a minute if you like living on the edge (which I must admit I do like it)… thousands of decisions to make without time to think about it and relying on the creativity and dedication of other people… all the while with a camera in my face recording EVERYTHING! I picked a theme for my yard that I had never done before and only had my imagination as a guide.
The funny things is I never doubted it. Every person, every talent, every product came through for me. Thousands of dollars worth of product was donated from people I had done business with before and when the producers called two days before the shoot and said we had to move up the date one day because of rain – every person involved changed their schedules and showed up on set 24 hours early with their prep done! It so humbles me to think of that. So would I do it again? Yes, but not for the reasons you might think. It would be because everybody helping thought it was the kind of thing you might have on your bucket list and they got the opportunity to cross it off .
What are the types of projects you do?
My business is very diversified, we do everything from a simple cabinet refinish to elaborate set designs for theater and television. It is hard to even come up with a typical job scenario. For example, I currently have 4 jobs going. One is a new Catholic Church. We are doing a silvered, heavily cracked canvas plaster behind
the alter. It will have the “feel” of Christ’s tomb when we are done. Another job is a black burnout cabinet finish on a huge entertainment/bar in a remodel. We are creating a high end spa with a very fun theme; it’s kind of a sophisticated mermaid look with turquoise and chocolate colors, an aurastone countertop, bronze cabinets, heavily textured walls with lilies and hundreds of teardrop swariski crystals as rain drops. And, we are finishing up a job that has a castle theme with lots of plasters and bas relief. Next month we will be working on a haunted house and getting ready to film another Turf War in which I am the designer, plus a fine art show with Aaron Hager (Sammy Hager’s son).
I truly love TEXTURE, throw in COLOR and a few Swarovski crystals and I’m in heaven. One of my favorite is this cracked plaster finish that I do on ceilings and as a “found” object fine art piece. Plus, just as a bragging point there are 3 of these art pieces at the Murphy estate in the guest quarters.
I think one of the reasons my business has survived the recession (at least so far) is because we are so diversified and that we have created a network of friends, artists, and designers that really support each other.
How have your projects changed in the last 5 years?
My projects have changed over the last few years, but probably not in the way you might expect. I still do the decorative arts for designers and their clients, and here in the greater Sacramento area the old world Tuscan look is still in. So we still do a lot of Venetian plasters and distressed finishes. The contemporary looks that are popular elsewhere have not caught
on here as of yet.
The way my projects have changed is that more and more my clients want me to design their projects. I only accept a few of these a year because they are very time consuming, but I sure love it when I get to design the space I’m going to create.
A recent kitchen remodel has got to be one of my all time favorite design projects. The clients did not even want to see the design before I started. Their only instruction was create a “Fike Studio Signature Kitchen”. After we got started the clients left the country for a month, we were nearly finished with the job when they returned and the reaction they had was worth more then any amount of money they paid for their new kitchen. She literally lit up, hugged me and said she could not believe how perfect it was. There was not one thing about it she did not love.
Kitchens are probably my most favored room to design because the change ends up being the most dramatic. This kitchen had white melamine cabinets with no personality, white countertops and cracked cheap granite on the island. We nearly gutted the entire kitchen added new appliances, aurastone countertops, carved cement backsplashes, black burnout cabinet finish with added plantons, corbels, and luncrusta. The final touch was the art over the stove back splash. In the second phase of this project we will be designing and creating a wine room, remodeling the guest bath and doing all the walls and ceilings in the family area.
Another way my business has changed in the past 5 years is that I spend a great deal of time marketing and networking. The first 15 years I did not even have a website or a number listed in the phone book. Now I think it is critical to spend the time doing creative marketing, definitely not the typical ad in a paper or mailers.
Here is an example of a marketing thing I did that was successful. One of my favorite clients let me do a crazy finish in his theater/gameroom. We imbedded over 100 movie and music posters in the cracked plaster finish. After the house was done they started hosting fund raisers for Jr achievement there. I created this hand out for the event. It reminds them of the house, our work and I believe it is pretty memorable. I still get calls 3 years later because of that event, the house and this card. Besides the card I also donated a fine art piece for the live auction which was represented on the back of the card.
How has your web site and/or blog impacted your business?
Having a website is absolutely essential in this business. If for nothing else my website is a great tool for up-selling a client. I bring a laptop with me to the initial meeting to show them finished projects and other ideas they may not have thought of. Of course I also bring samples but I find a photo of a finished room sells the work better then a 16×20 sample board. Plus, I will occasionally get a call from someone who looked at my website before contacting me. Case in point, the 12,000 sq ft house I am currently working on was from my website. He had already hired a designer that works with a different finisher but based on my reputation and website he insisted on working with my company.
I also think a blog is important as well for those who want to be recognized as industry experts, and for those who teach. I have a blog but I have horribly neglected it. It’s so bad I don’t even want to give you the url for it at this time. But, since I teach, I know for a fact that I will have to spend the time making my blog worthy of reading.
I also have to say that being active on facebook is almost as important as a blog. It is more direct and personal then a blog. Because of being active on FB I was invited to do a fine art show with Aaron Hagar (Sammy Hagar’s son). That is happening this October in Sacramento, CA.
Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business
or the industry… please talk about.
My business will be going through a lot of changes starting Oct 1st. David my son, and long time partner in FikeStudio will be leaving the business. We have worked together for 14 years. He is incredibly talented and one of the most dedicated hard working men I know. But, the insecurity of this economy and the fact that he is now married with a family to support makes him need the security of a more traditional job with vacation time and benefits. He will be greatly missed as a business partner. I will be keeping FikeStudio going as it has with a new business partner, Lauren Tourigny.
But that’s not all, we are starting a new division of FikeStudio called “The Naked Wall.” We will be launching it early next year. I won’t tell you everything about it right now just that it will continue to support one of my basic business practices; that of supporting other artists, sharing resources, and in general helping the art community flourish. We have some incredibly talented business that will be co-creating The Naked Wall such as White Wolfe Studios and Quick Creations along with many others.
How has teaching impacted you as an artist and what do you get out of it?
Over the years I have taught the occasional fine or decorative art class and really love teaching. To me it is such an honor to share what I have learned. I am currently putting together an artist retreat on the Bear river in Grass Valley CA. The dates are not set yet but be sure to look for the announcement soon. We will also be teaching 1 and 2 day faux and fine art classes at the beautiful Murphy Estate starting in February next year.
Something I recently started doing is teaching art classes once a month for the foster kids program. It is probably one of the most rewarding things I do. These kids are great and so appreciative. The current series of classes I’m doing is “found object” art. In the last class they took old washers, junk jewelry, hand made beads, crystal epoxy, and glue to made back pack charms. I posted pictures of them on FB if you’d like to see just how creative these kids are.
I have often said that if you truly want to know something – teach it. For me that is an essential truth, because even though I have been an active working artist for over 40 years, with a masters degree, and a boat load of experience, I discover something new every time I start a project or teach a class. And I thank my lucky stars for that friend that put me on this path some 20 years ago.