Finding Fun In Faux Finishing Biz

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - November 01, 2006
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Coleen Anzai-Kugiya and Lei DePonte with a few tools of their trade
Coleen Anzai-Kugiya and Lei DePonte with
a few tools of their trade

Lei DePonte, former sales executive, and Coleen AnzaiKugiya, former office clerk, never imagined dabbling in art would change their lives and lead them to owning a business where they’d be scrambling up ladders and working balanced high on scaffolding.

As co-owners of Belle Arts Studio, DePonte and AnzaiKugiya paint faux finishes on walls so they look like marble, Italian plaster or metal.

DePonte says one of her challenges is getting people to understand that faux finishing is not about things that are depicted in how-to books or shown on the Home and Garden Television channel.

“It’s not the sponge and ragging technique from before,” explains DePonte. “To get the word out to help people understand more about what we do, we educate workers at paint stores, and interior designers.”

Their handiwork has graced many luxury homes statewide as well as the Ilikai,Alana Doubletree Hotel, Ko Olina Resort and Marina, and shops at Ala Moana Center.

In addition to providing artistic talent, Belle Arts Studio opened a retail space in Kailua. The studio operates in three parts: contracted jobs, conducting classes and selling products.

The classes have spawned several new faux finishing business owners.

“Sometimes we have big jobs, so we hire our students,” notes DePonte, a Kailua resident and Roosevelt High School graduate.

The business all started when DePonte and Anzai-Kugiya took a painting class together. When the instructor took a long break, DePonte searched for another class to take. She saw an advertisement for a mural class in a magazine, but when she called and found out the class was in Florida,

DePonte told the school that it was too far away for her. She says the school’s representative told her, “if you come here, it will change your life.”

So she went. When she got to the mural class, the faux finishes on the wall mesmerized her. She learned that people do faux finishes as a business, and that’s when she decided that since no one in Hawaii was in business doing this, she’d like to do it.

When she returned from Florida, DePonte asked her painting class buddy Anzai-Kugiya if she’d be interested in going into business together. Once Anzai-Kugiya agreed, the two were “hooked” on learning more faux finishing techniques, and in 2000, they registered as a business.

Their first big contract was with Turtle Bay Resort.

“This is our chance and we can’t blow it,” DePonte recalls saying. “Coleen and I trained some of our family and friends to help us. We screened T-shirts with our company logo on them. Then we showed up at the job with eight people and completed it.”

Since then, their work on a Makena Beach property was been featured in the prestigious Architectural Digest in 2002.

Anzai-Kugiya, a Maunawili resident and Campbell High School graduate, says she considers color mixing for personalized samples her strength.

“Lei’s is good in the marketing and the public relations,” says Anzai-Kugiya. “She’s usually the first contact with the customer. She gets us the jobs.”

DePonte says, “When you see faux finishing you cannot take your eyes off it and you know it is something that is done by hand. It’s better than wallpaper because you don’t have to deal with the mold and the mildew. Places in the tropics have lots of faux finishes. And Las Vegas even has faux finish on the floors, too.”

The co-owners are affiliated with Faux Effects International, which uses water-based materials that have no odors or harsh chemicals.

They say networking with painters and contractors has been a key to their success.

“It really changed my life,” says Anzai-Kugiya. “I’m so happy to go to work on every job with every customer and every project.”

The Belle Arts Studio is located at 1051 Keolu Drive, Suite 104A. For more information, call 224-4775 or 286-7535, or log onto

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