s
s
Sections
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

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.

The challenge was getting the right bonding agent and the right aggregate mixture. Johnson was determined.

"My mom was an alchemist. It was her favorite thing and I was fascinated by her little vials. So when I started doing faux arts and getting ancient recipes myself, it was nothing to copy or find resources, because it fascinated me," said Johnson, who has done work for major clients like John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell Systems beauty products, best-selling novelist Danielle Steele and Patagonia founder Ivon Chouinard, a leader in the green business movement who used Tobias Stucco in his Santa Barbara home.

The result of his efforts is a mixture that is not only beautiful but much easier to apply than conventional plaster.

"Plaster is a watery, cold, sloppy, messy deal," said Johnson. "The house has to be vacated. Everything has to be be laid with plastic. You have to have dryers in the place. It has an acrid alchemy kind of smell to it. You have to work it fast and it's expensive. You're looking at $30 an hour."

Water-based, Tobias stucco comes pre-mixed with the color in it. It can trowel on in two coats and it goes on clean, said Johnson.

"It won't hurt the carpet and you can wipe it off the molding. You can get it off your clothes and once it's dry, it's a washable sustainable product."

Johnson recommends that it be professionally applied for the best results, although some do-it-yourselfers give it a go. Tobias does offer one-hour how-to classes for the truly determined homeowner.

Over trial and error and responding to the needs of various designers and architects who have used the product, he has come up with a couple of different formulas — one with aggregate for a textured finish, and one with ground glass for light and smooth finish like plaster.

It doesn't contain any volatile organic compounds and uses natural and recycled materials. That eco-friendly component is partly what made it so attractive to Sto at a time when the building industry is scrambling to go green, said Johnson's wife Roz, who oversees much of the business and marketing for Tobias.

But as an artist and designer, Johnson knows that green also has to look good. He's developed some 70 different colors and 17 different finishes, stains and textures, including one that can be machine-applied for big commercial projects. Clients can go for anything from a smooth wax to one of seven metallic color finishes.

The Johnsons are still having a hard time believing that the simple product that Randy created out of his own kitchen chemistry is now being distributed all over the country.

"It's amazing," said Roz, "and it really is from the garage."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com.