he lavish Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival mansions designed by early-20th-century architects such as Addison Mizner and John Volk cast a bright spotlight on the lush seaside town of Palm Beach. Nearly a century after these homes were built, their grand scale and romantic architectural details are an ideal canvas for Richard Holton‘s artistic genius–think faux-bois walls and ceilings, trompe l’oeil and Italian plasterwork adorned with paint and gilding. “I took an early interest in learning rare arts,” Holton says. “There’s something appealing about catching a historically based craft at the end of its existence and trying to preserve it.”
Wood-beamed ceilings, antiqued plaster walls and shelving piled high with hand-painted fabrics and wallcoverings from his signature collections evoke old-world ambience in Holton’s 2,000-square-foot showroom located two doors down from his 4,000-square-foot production studio in the warehouse district of West Palm Beach. “I recreated the aesthetic of 1920s Palm Beach,” he explains, pointing to the heavy iron chandeliers. “Visitors see things they have never seen, and things occur to them that might not have otherwise.”
Indeed, it’s not unusual for Holton to work on a project for years, touching nearly every surface as the clients begin to understand what is possible. For a Texas estate, for example, Holton and his 20-person crew stenciled rugs on the floor, hand-painted curtain fabrics and fashioned a dizzyingly complex gilded ceiling with an aged luster using a custom-formulated blackish-bronze glaze. “We turned it into high art,” he says.
Rather than using modern pigments that are formulated with chemicals, Holton mixes his own using combinations of natural materials, such as minerals, he has collected from around the globe. “It’s the difference between fluorescent lighting and candlelight,” he explains. “There is a certain color quality that you can only get from using a real burnt umber or titanium.”
Concocting the right patina is also critical. After painting a door to resemble antique walnut, or putting together a vibrant color story for an incredibly detailed plaster ceiling, the artist will often stop and gently distress the design–sanding, scraping or even setting a smoky fire to create an aged appearance that would normally take decades to develop.
Holton’s emphasis on detail has captured the attention of such A-list architects and designers as Cedric DuPont, who recently commissioned Holton and his team to paint a large canvas of stone walls and Italian faux-marble panels for the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show–one of many recent high-profile gigs, including an important historical project in Washington, D.C. “I want to make a mark on this generation,” Holton says. “I want to create a house like Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Mar-a-Lago, circa 1920s, for a new age of American grandeur.”