Front Royal’s unfauxgetable little store

Keenan Moreau of Le Faux Chateau shows a pair of repainted oak kitchen cabinets that have a distressed touch added. Rich Cooley/Daily
Keen Moreau, left, and Nelson Estrada, right, sit on a coffee table inside their design studio Le Faux Chateau at the corner of South Street and South Royal Avenue in Front Royal. They are interior art specialists who paint walls and repurpose furniture and decor. Rich Cooley/Daily
Nelson Estrada repurposed an old table with a unique painting design insdie Le Faux Chateau in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily
Keene Moreau stands by a wall in his design studio Le Faux Chateau at the corner of South Street and South Royal Avenue in Front Royal. Moreau changes the design of the interior walls every three months. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal’s Le Faux Chateau is the real deal.

Faux means imitation and inside this funky little house on South Street are mind-challenging collages of artistically painted walls you can’t believe aren’t wallpapered.

Ordinary, everyday furniture like tables and chairs are cluttered about, magically transformed by layers of paint and design into instant conversation pieces.

“We want our store here to show how you get that warmth and design in your house,” said Keene Moreaux, who with his partner, Nelson Estrada, are master manipulators of as many as 30 different colors of regular household paint in a way Sherman-Williams never dreamed of.

Just ask Blake Pierpoint, owner of the Blake and Company Hair Spa in Front Royal.

She gushes when describing the weathered beach wood design surrounding her shop’s working fireplace.

“Customers look at the fireplace and say, ‘Oh, you put wood around your fireplace. It looks great.’ and then they touch it and can’t believe it is painted,” said Pierpoint.

Above the counter in the Le Faux Chateau’s kitchen, customers can see what appears to be tile on the wall, even rough to the touch where grouting should be, before realizing it is actually just paint layers with different textures and colors.

Moreaux and Estrada’s creations are more than paint, though, according to Tarita Lymus and her husband Derek of Clinton, Md.

“Our house had no color, no paint, just bare walls and we had lived here for four years and it felt like a shell,” said Tarita. “Now it feels like I have my own personal Picasso on my wall.”

Given free rein to do the entire first floor of their home, Moreaux and Estrada saw that Mrs. Lymus liked elephants, so they painted an elephant and then framed it on one wall.

“When she first saw it, she ran over and hugged the wall,” said Derek.

“When we come home now it’s like visiting the Guggenheim in New York or the Smithsonian or the Nashville Museum of Art,” said Derek. “It’s so creative you can just sit and stare at any wall. It’s that type of excitement, like an art gallery.”

Moreaux proudly says, “We try to change people’s home environment in a way that affects their attitudes. We have never had a client that wasn’t happy with what we did.”

Moreaux, 50, grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and worked at a car dealership when during a visit to Cornell University with a friend he discovered faux painting.

Intrigued he took a week-long class in Atlanta, at Deborah’s Design House, a faux finishing school.

He was hooked.

Later, he convinced his friend, Estrada, 36, who had emigrated from Guatemala 10 years ago (and was once on Guatemala’s Taekwondo Olympic team) to learn and join the faux painting business.

“My mother always said do the best you can and I tried to do that but my [construction] boss never appreciated that,” said Estrada, who now bubbles with enthusiasm and ideas on how to create something extraordinary out of the ordinary.

They consider themselves paint psychologists who try with their art and knowledge to create an aura of warmth and comfort in a house, changing the attitude of the homeowners.

“They did our teen-age daughter’s bedroom and the first time she walked into it, it was an awakening experience for her,” said Derek Lymus. “She had been having trouble sleeping at night, now she sleeps like baby. It has been very therapeutic.”

While most of their work was in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Moreaux was living in Front Royal’s High Knob neighborhood.

“We were putting 65,000 miles a year on our van so we decided to open a shop here in Front Royal two years ago,” said Keene, and now locals are discovering them and van miles are decreasing.

All the store items are for sale, gathered during weekend trips to auctions, flea markets, estate sales, and store walls are repainted by the pair every two months to show the versatility of faux painting.

“There isn’t a pattern of wallpaper that we can’t mimic,” said Moreaux. “We have redone kitchen cabinets for one-third of the price others have quoted. We work with the person’s budget, no matter what it is — 20,000 square feet or 300 square feet in a mobile home — we will give it the best we can do.”

They have done the homes of celebrities, like a member of the performance ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-woman group expressing their African-American history in song, dance and sign language. They were the first group to perform in the White House for the Obamas.

When the economy tanked a few years ago, their business quadrupled in the D.C. market, said Moreaux.

“Prices may vary due to house size and rooms, but it is always cheaper than the alternative and that helped us,” said Moreaux. “People see what we do and think they can’t afford us.”

Keene plans to teach week-long faux painting classes this spring and fall, limiting the class size to 10 students and teaching all the faux painting techniques.

“Most people can’t tell it’s faux when they see it,” said Keene, “and the best part is if someone changes their mind in two years, it is easy to paint over it.”

“You have to be devoted to it, eat, sleep and think about it,” said Moreaux. “If you really love this business you will be successful.

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