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FAUX GRANITE CREATED WITH HUMBLE SPONGE

Sponging is probably the most popular and common of all faux finish techniques. It's the one do-it-yourselfers learn first before they move on to more sophisticated finishes - ragging, dragging and stip-pling.

And therein lies the problem with sponge painting - it's been done. Perhaps, overdone.It's the nature of the beast. You're the first on your block to sponge paint the walls in a room, then everyone starts to do it, and now your sponged walls are no longer special. That, or else you sponged the walls years ago, and you're simply tired of it.

Leslie Harrington understands. Harrington, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, is corporate interior designer for Benjamin Moore. Her responsibilities include creating and demonstrating faux finishes.

Harrington recently gave a seminar on how to create various faux finishes. In just about one hour, she demonstrated color washing, ragging, smooshing (for a marbleized look), shadowing and several other techniques. She also showed a captive audience a new application for sponge painting. But don't call it sponge painting anymore.

It's faux granite, dahling.

Harrington created faux granite floors by using tape to mark off a grid pattern on a floor, then sponge painting the floor. When the paint is dry and the tape is removed, the floor looks like square granite slabs.

Now she's found a new use for faux granite - on worn or stained wooden countertops. Sure, actual granite countertops would be ideal, but faux granite is cheaper and easier to install. And you can do it yourself.

The hardest part is choosing colors. For faux finish methods like sponging that involve the application of paint, Harrington suggests copying from the experts. She recommends visiting a wallpaper store, finding a pattern and copying the color combination.

"If you like the way colors are combined in the pattern, chances are you will like the way they will look when sponged," she says.

But for faux granite, she says, drop by a tile store instead to look at real granite. You'll want your countertops to look as much like the real thing as possible, right? Carefully look at the granite and take note of what colors you see in it. What color is predominant? Which color do you see the least of?

For positive applications, you can use as many colors as you want, but most people find that three colors is plenty.

Say you've decide to use taupe, white and black to make your countertops look like granite. You'll need to start with the color you want to see the least of, and end with the one you want to see the most of. If you're not sure, practice first on cardboard. Do a few variations, starting and ending with different colors. You'll notice that the finished products are very different.

When you have chosen the colors and the order in which you'll apply them, you're ready to begin.

First, sand the countertops, then clean them to remove any dirt. Then you'll need to apply a primer coat. Ask at the paint store to find out what kind you'll need.

When the primer coat is dry, start with your first color, the one you want to see the least. Because this is your base coat, you can use small rollers, two to four inches long, to apply it. Remember to paint the edges of the countertop, too. But to begin, paint just a small section, roughly a few square feet.

While that base coat is still wet, you can begin sponging. Use two sea sponges - not common cleaning sponges - to dip into your other two paints. You may want to then dab the sponges on the paint can lid so that you don't start with too much paint. Now, start sponging. Pounce the first sponge directly on top of your wet base coat; the more the paint blends, the more real it will look. However, you should pounce the sponge straight up and down taking care not to smear the paint.

When sponging a wall, Harrington advises that you put the initial pounces about 12 inches apart and then fill in. When you faux granite a countertop, you may also want to start by sponging several inches apart and then filling in for an even application.

Immediately after you've sponged on with the first layer of paint, do the next one in the same way. Again, remember to do the edges of the countertops.

When you've finished with the first section, stop just a minute to make sure you like the way it looks. If you practiced on cardboard first, this look is exactly what you were expecting. If not, better to stop now and start over.

Assuming you're pleased with what you've done, continue the job, working in small sections. That's important because you always want to apply wet paint on wet paint on wet paint.

When the entire counter dries, top it with a coat of polyurethane for durability. But the bonus of faux granite is that if the paint should ever chip, it's easily repaired with a few pounces of the sponge.