I’m excited to introduce you today to Annie Omar, the founder of Maison Blanche Paint Company. Annie will be one of the presenters at the Southern Bloggers Conference (scheduled for Oct. 12-13 in Raleigh), and her company is also one of our fabulous sponsors. (That means free La Craie “The Chalk” paint for everyone who attends. Trust me, these swag bags will more than make up for the cost of your ticket!)
Annie is a super-talented artist and entrepreneur, and she also has a story that I think will speak to a lot of women who have found a voice and a purpose through creativity. She is a mother of two boys and two girls, ages 12, 5, 3 and 8 months old. Annie is living proof that when you pursue a passion, not just a paycheck, your life can be more fulfilling and more balanced, with more time for family, creativity and those things that nourish your spirit. Annie’s story really struck a chord with me since I am at the beginning of such a journey to balance.
The daughter of two artists, Annie was born into an environment where creativity was encouraged and nurtured. She inherited her parents’ talent for painting, but feeling pushed into art, she chose a completely different career.
“I never wanted to be like them,” she said. “I never wanted paintbrushes by my sink and paints all over my dining room table.”
Instead, after college at Northwestern State University, Annie entered the high-information technology field, working for Fortune 500 telecom companies. She helped train their salespeople to sell their wide-area networks.
Annie’s career was on the fast-track, and she was climbing the corporate ladder fast. The money was great — definitely not “starving artist wages” — but “the quality of life was terrible,” she said.
“I was working like a dog,” she said.
Her time with her young children was limited, only a few harried moments in the morning and in the evening, before and after work. The grind was exhausting, and the work unfulfilling.
Annie realized that she was an artist at heart, as her parents always believed. But she chose functional surfaces as her canvas, namely walls and furnishings. For a while, she juggled her corporate job and a sideline paint contracting business, but finally made the decision to pursue her creative business full time in 2009. The decision has made her happier and more fulfilled, and she’s finally found that balance that allows her time to do what’s important to her and also spend time with the people who are important to her.
“I think that I finally got it,” she said. “I don’t drive a fancy car anymore. I don’t live in a giant McMansion any more. It’s not worth it for any price for me.”
Life is more fun. It’s less hectic. Annie, her husband and her children have more time together.
“My family comes first,” she said. “The whole feeling in the household has changed.”
When Annie started her decorative painting business, Dallas Faux Finishing, she had talent, but not a lot of formal training in faux finishing. She put herself out there as a pro, long before she ever felt like one. That’s a lesson we creative entrepreneurs would be wise to heed. You’ve heard the expression, “fake it until you make it,” and this is a little bit like that. But moreso, it’s about projecting confidence in your skills, promoting yourself as a brand and business and acting big even when you’re small.
In Annie’s case, that meant taking on a designer job when it came her way, grabbing an opportunity for which she probably wasn’t qualified.
It’s a funny story, actually. One day, Annie was reading an architectural magazine and saw an ad for a plaster she wanted to use in her bathroom. She called the company and asked about purchasing it, but they said they only sold to authorized faux finishers and decorative painters.
Annie hung up the phone without ordering the plaster. But she called back the next day, disguised her voice and when asked about her credentials confidently said she was a pro. In reality, “I had never held a trowel in my life.”
When the plaster arrived, Annie had no idea how to apply it. And she made a mess of her bathroom. She’s promised to bring pictures to show us at the Southern Bloggers Conference.
A funny thing happened out of that experience, though. A few weeks later, Annie got a call from a local interior designer who’d been referred to her by the plaster company. The designer wanted to hire a decorative painter for a plaster job.
“It took me about 10 seconds to realize someone was willing to pay me to put this on their walls,” she said.
Annie bid on the job, and she won it. And don’t worry, before she wrecked the client’s walls, she took some classes to learn how to apply the plaster the right way, eventually earning her credentials as decorative painter and faux finisher. In fact, for many years, she’s been training others in the field, while also performing paint magic on clients’ walls and furnishings.
As her business grew, Annie held onto a dream to have her own line of paint. That has finally become a reality with the launch of Maison Blanche Paint Company and La Craie, in partnership with the English paint manufacturer, Autentico.
La Craie, which is French for “the chalk,” is a chalk-based paint in 28 gorgeous colors, inspired by Annie’s Cajun Southern Louisiana heritage.
Chalk-based paints, while just being discovered by passionate do-it-yourselfers, have actually been around for centuries. All paints have some amount of calcium carbonate, or chalk, in them as a filler. But paints with heavier concentrations of chalk fillers in them have typically been considered “lesser paints,” when compared with latex and oils, Annie said. But chalk-based paints, like La Craie, have the benefit of being less toxic than other paints, and they also eliminate the need for stripping, sanding and other prep work because they’re durable and stick well to surfaces.
“Chalk-based paints have revolutionized the whole industry,” allowing amateurs to achieve high-end designer looks without all the work that has traditionally been involved in furniture refinishing, Annie said. “The process involved in just repainting a piece of furniture — scraping, using hazardous chemicals, stripping, sanding — a normal homeowner in the past would never have been able to do all the steps properly. Because besides being multiple steps, they were hard to do.”
Not so any more with chalk-based paints. Now, all you need is a brush, a can and a piece of furniture in need of a facelift. (Sandpaper and wax to seal it are good to have, too, but optional.)
I’ve had the chance to speak with Annie several times to coordinate details about her appearance at the Southern Bloggers Conference, and I’m just tickled to meet her because she’s so fun and funny.
But you know how you are when someone has a new baby? You visit the mama in the hospital, but you really want the chance to coo over her baby. Well, I’m just dying to lay eyes on Annie’s baby, La Craie, since the paint isn’t available yet in my market. (But soon!)
I can’t wait to see those gorgeous colors:
As Annie mentioned, the colors are all named for people, places and things that are special to her.
Franciscan Gray is a tribute to her brother, a Franciscan priest. The gray is the color of the cording on his robes. Bayou Blue is the color of southern Louisiana’s bayous, and French Blue reflects the French influence in New Orleans and throughout the state. Cayenne evokes the spicy Creole cuisine, and Wrought Iron and Cobblestone can be seen on when you stroll the historic neighborhoods of Annie’s home state. Chicory Spice will remind you of coffee at Cafe Du Monde. Voodoo and Creole Orange reflect the diverse culture of Louisiana, and Hurricane will remind you of nature’s dangerous and powerful beauty.
“They’re all my favorites,” Annie said. “They’re all my favorite colors. My absolute favorite is sugar cane. It’s the one that makes me happy when I look at it.”
Annie is coming all the way from Texas to help teach the session on furniture painting with conference organizer Kristen Dobson of Sophia’s Decor. They will be sharing techniques for performing furniture facelifts using a variety of different products — chalk-based paints and beyond.
In addition to introducing us to her beautiful La Craie, Annie will be sharing some tricks of the trade she’s learned through her years as a decorative painter and faux finisher. Expect to learn how to add texture using unusual items like onion sacks; antiquing with wax and even coffee, and affordable metallic foiling and leafing techniques.
As we were winding down our interview, I asked Annie about how she uses paint in her home and any tips she has for incorporating painted pieces with wood stained furniture.
Well, she’s like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes. She’s so busy painting furniture for other folks and teaching others how to makeover their own furniture that she’s only taken a brush to one piece of furniture in her house — a hutch in the kitchen.
“And the walls are vanilla,” she said, laughing.
There’s a little bit of indecision going on, it seems. Annie has so many ideas, and she loves so many colors that she can’t decide which to use in her home. “So, I’m just shocked into doing nothing,” she said. “It’s just terrible.”
But, do as Annie says, not as she does. You can’t go wrong painting a piece of furniture. And there’s no rule for how many painted pieces can coexist in a room. Paint them all if that’s your inclination.
“I’m not a designer. I’m just a painter,” Annie said. “I tend to fall on the gaudy side. I will paint everything that I find. Don’t ask me for advice. I’ll glue rhinestones to your wall. You can’t overdo it. You can paint every single thing that you have.”
Now, do you see why Annie is my kind of gal?
Don’t miss your chance to meet and learn from her in person at the Southern Bloggers Conference.
Tickets to the conference are just $85, plus processing fees, and include a full day of instruction in DIY, building a better blog and growing your creativity; three days of networking opportunities with like-minded DIYers and bloggers; some amazing swag (like Maison Blanche’s La Craie paint); shopping excursions and a whole lot of fun!