Before bench. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
Before dresser. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
Bench after. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
After bench. BRIDGET LEROY
Heather Dunn Kostura with a refinished dresser. BRIDGET LEROY
Heather Dunn Kostura with a faux bois wall. BRIDGET LEROY
Paintings by Heather Dunn Kostura. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
Tissue paper wall in progress. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
Tissue paper wall. BRIDGET LEROY
Tissue paper wall in progress. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
Wood grain. COURTESY HEATHER DUNN & CO.
Most people hang art on their walls. But to Heather Dunn Kostura of East Hampton, the art is the wall.
The willowy redhead is the principal owner of Heather Dunn & Co., which specializes in, as its website calls it, “interior decorative alchemy.” From interesting textures and faux finishes to painted floor cloths and Venetian plaster, Ms. Kostura’s business provides its clients with not only an interesting look but an interesting feel, to boot.
It’s hard not to run one’s hands down a wall with a tissue paper treatment, or one embossed to look like alligator skin or leather—and Ms. Kostura believes her treatments appeal to those who seek to awaken their senses.
“It’s different from just a color, or a coat of paint,” she said. “My clients are really looking to create a literal feel to each room.”
Heather Dunn & Co. also transforms pieces of furniture, with stenciling or painting a design on a cabinet, or stripping down a silvery Southeast Asian sideboard and turning it into a decidedly distressed white New England centerpiece.
She came to this business, Ms. Kostura acknowledged, “totally by accident.” On a political track, and planning to eventually run for office, the Huntington-bred woman “had no idea I had an artistic bone in my body.” But while working her way through college doing some exterior house painting, she met her future husband, Richard Kostura, known today as Michael Galileo, an inventor and real-time clockmaker.
But back then, what Ms. Kostura noticed when she and Mr. Kostura began dating were the faux finishes in Mr. Kostura’s apartment. “They blew me away,” she said. “They were amazing. I mean, they were simple, but so well executed.”
She had recently discovered through her own work with paint that she “had a knack for putting colors together.” When Mr. Kostura introduced her, on a decorating job, to two women who were marbleizing columns, Ms. Kostura realized she had discovered a new direction.
“I went to finishing school,” she said with a laugh. “I know, I know—when I say that to people, they conjure up images of me walking around with a book on my head.” But The Finishing School in Floral Park, one of the country’s oldest institutions, specialized in teaching its students about faux finishing, wood graining, murals, trompe-l’oiel, strié, and other texturing treatments.
“I was there 10 hours a day,” Ms. Kostura said. “I walked out with a portfolio full of samples and never looked back.”
She and her husband had a successful business in Huntington Harbor, but relocated to the South Fork around a dozen years ago. They settled in Springs, although at the time most of Ms. Kostura’s clients were still up-island. “I used to joke that I never saw the Hamptons in daylight,” she said. “But that’s where my client base was.”
That changed when she was introduced to Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley of East Hampton. “Ted is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met,” Ms. Kostura said. “He really gave me an opportunity with a major renovation.” The Hartley house on the beach had an entire first floor with fake wood grained walls from the 1950s, and the owners wanted to re-create the effect.
“Each room was a little different, and there were so many layers,” Ms. Kostura said. “But I did it. And I’m still there today maintaining it.”
Another favorite job included creating a faux suede finish on a wall. “We even added big brass upholstery tacks,” she said. “It really looked authentic.”
That’s something that must be noted about faux finishes—they require care. “But it’s so much easier than wallpaper,” Ms. Kostura noted. “If something gets banged up or stained, I can just repaint it or re-stencil. There are no seams or rips to worry about.” She believes that’s one of the reasons faux finishes are gaining in popularity: “It gives the appearance of wallpaper without the headache.”
It also allows for a connection with clients. “It’s a long-term commitment,” Ms. Kostura said. “It’s not just a job—I’m forming a relationship.”
One of her current relationships is with designer Cailin Wunder of Bridgehampton, whose home is a testament to Ms. Kostura’s talents. “I love a challenge,” Ms. Kostura said. “I love doing things I’ve never done before.” And at the Wunders’ home on Mitchell Lane, she got that opportunity.
Right in the entryway, a wall sports a beige linen covering. But on the opposite wall, which heads up the stairs, “we re-created that,” said Ms. Kostura. Sure enough, closer inspection finds that the effect was achieved with paint, not fabric.
There are hand-painted silver stars on the wall of one room—they look casually doodled with a silver pen by a bored child, but create a playful feel in a child’s bedroom. And a little boy’s space features an incredible faux-bois wood grain, conjuring up a light maple or birch feel.
Working with Ms. Wunder has been a pleasure, Ms. Kostura said. “There have been so many opportunities to do something fun and creative,” she said. A 6-foot-long Asian piece was transformed into a Hamptons sideboard after it was “distressed” by Heather Dunn & Co. “Rich kicked the shit out of it,” Ms. Kostura said happily of her husband. “Then we stripped the silver off and repainted it with a white, distressed crackle finish.” The piece looks as if it just naturally aged, but Ms. Kostura knows the truth.
Another room features large canvasses painted by Ms. Kostura in different blocks of beige and brown, invoking the feel of Rothko or early Mondrian. A light-colored simple bench was darkened to medieval proportions to add a dramatic focal point to a long hallway. And in several of the rooms, a tissue-paper treatment adds texture and depth to monochromatic walls.
“At the first meeting with a client, I don’t even bring a portfolio,” said Ms. Kostura. “I just show up and ask questions. I get a feel for what they’re going for.”
In one case, a client brought a bowl she had found. She liked the colors and asked Ms. Kostura to use the palette to create a ceiling medallion for her chandelier in Southampton. “It was challenging but fun,” she said. “And the client was really happy.”
Ms. Kostura works directly not only with clients but with designers, decorators and contractors, which affords her the chance for “princess painting,” as she calls it. “I love being able to walk into a room that’s already prepped and just start to work.”
She has been actively involved in her adopted community, having just finished her term as president of East Hampton Rotary. “I love this area,” she said. And she sees the possibility of a Hamptons storefront in her future, featuring some of the painted items and artwork that she and her husband have created over the years.
“Galileo and Dunn,” she said wistfully. “It will happen.”
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