For Teresa McCubbin, it started with the kitchen.
She'd enlisted venerable Wine Country designer and artist Randolph Johnson to re-do what to many is the heart and soul of a home. But after getting an eyeful of her new, smooth, Old-World-style plaster walls in their rich shade of Sienna gold contrasted with a straw-colored ceiling, she found herself with a serious dilemma.
Frankly, it ruined her relationship with the rest of the house.
It was like buying an expensive new pair of shoes and wearing them with a frumpy old dress. The dazzling color and texture of the kitchen outshined the rest of the house so brazenly that she felt compelled to re-do each room — one by one — with Tobias Stucco.
"I absolutely fell in love with it," said McCubbin, a graphic designer who lives in Santa Rosa's Bennett Valley, of the stucco interior wall surface. "It's so much richer than plain paint on the wall."
McCubbin is not alone in her enchantment with this new stucco interior finish that looks like real stone, stucco or plaster. And yet it can be applied in far less time and with far less mess.
Tobias Stucco has enriched such interiors as the Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the Sheraton in Boston, the Hilton in Yuma, Ariz., and the Crowne Plaza in Montana. It's been sourced for the planned new Ritz Carlton in Napa and Crystal Cove in Palm Desert.
Locally, Tobias is fooling the eye at Flavor Restaurant and Gary Chu's in downtown Santa Rosa and Merry Edwards Winery in Sebastopol.
After being marketed for years casually out of Johnson's Santa Rosa studio, primarily for his own design projects, Tobias has recently been discovered by Sto Corp., a leading producer and distributor of exterior cladding and coating systems. The Atlanta-based company, founded in Germany, is now manufacturing the eco-friendly product at factories in four states and distributing it all over the country.
And to think it all began with a messy concoction stirred up in Johnson's Forestville home.
A high-end designer, artist and faux finisher, Johnson was in the process of building his own home in Forestville some 20 years ago when he suddenly came to a standstill. He realized he simply couldn't live with common Sheetrock walls.
Inspired by the beautiful orange-ish clay soil on his property, he wound up digging out some of the earth and experimenting with a mixture of sand and alkaline on a wall.
"We let it dry and after a few days I came in and sponged it and it just melted," he said.
But like all good inventors, Johnson was not dissuaded from trying again, even after his enraged Sheetrocker stalked off the job, refusing to work with something he referred to with a sharp expletive.
And then Johnson remembered his mother's house diary. A fabric artist and colorist, she had kept a journal that included notations about her own remodeling ideas and efforts.
"That is where I learned that my great-grandfather was a beaux-arts designer and he used to do plaster ceilings," Johnson recalls. "And he had a recipe book and had written down all his stuff." Thumbing through his book, Johnson found the basics of a recipe that over time, with much trial and error, he would adapt into his own formulas.