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Swatch Your Furniture

Due in part to visionaries like David Serrano and Robert Wilson, who have been offering furniture in any color that Benjamin Moore produces through their shop Downtown in Los Angeles for the past eleven years, furniture has become bolder and more beautiful. With his imagination as his guide, Serrano pioneered a process that seals the furniture after it’s painted, protecting it and bringing it a lacquered gleam. A fine artist who grew up in a small town in the Mexican desert, which is renowned for its lavender and purple sunsets, he developed a fascination for color early on and has nurtured it his entire life.

“The first piece of furniture I painted was an apple green coffee table, which I matched to a Banana Republic shopping bag,” he says. “My partner said, ‘You’re crazy; no one will buy this!’” A young designer named Kelly Wearstler, who was just beginning her career at the time, snapped it up, beginning a long collaborative relationship with Serrano that has produced a kaleidoscopic array of furniture for her projects.

The trend migrated to South Florida, and Christopher Raessler of the RGR Design Group began offering furnishings in any Benjamin Moore color about seven years ago. He works with several companies in Miami that paint the furniture and then treat it with a strong, glistening finish.

“We use Benjamin Moore colors and we can also mix custom colors,” Raessler remarks. “The finish is not technically lacquer, which requires a long process that takes many weeks to achieve. I call our finish the 21st-century lacquering method because we’re much too impatient now to wait too long for furniture!”

This 21st-century finish is achieved with modern products rather than traditional techniques. Serrano’s sealant was originally made for use on automobiles. “It’s extremely durable,” he remarks. “Photosynthesis can yellow traditional lacquers, which is a great concern for those living in climates like South Florida’s where there is so much light. The finish we’ve created will not yellow and it is cleaned with a damp cloth.”

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, a word of caution from Carl Minchew, the director of product development at Benjamin Moore: “You can’t use our paint, which is meant for walls and trim, on furniture and expect it to be durable without the special coatings that these companies have created.”

Serrano concurs that it is the sealant they use that makes the furniture resilient and the colors so lush. It’s the expansive range of color choices that they can offer clients that Raessler enjoys. “Never before have we been able to provide so many choices in furniture colors,” he remarks. “The fact that the lacquering enlivens the colors and brings sophistication to each piece is a bonus.”

About his fearless color choices for furniture, Serrano quips, “Color has never done anything bad to me, so I’m not afraid of it! The newest hue I’m perfecting is one I’ve matched to a dry chicken bone—have you ever noticed how many tonal gradations there are in a chicken bone that has been beautifully bleached by the sun?”