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Casa Loma Project for Deco-tourists


Traditional techniques taught with a modern twist

Periodically during the past three years, Casa Loma has been overrun by people armed with paintbrushes looking for a surface to gild, glaze or antique. No, these are not artistic vandals running amok they are students of Toronto’s Ritins Studio who have paid a fee to work on the famous Castle.

Operated by Andrejs and Lori-Le Mare-Ritins, the Ritins Studio has been engaged in decorative painting and faux finished for more than 20 years. These projects are organized as courses in “deco-tourism” -a term coined by The Globe and Mail. Students from across the world sign up for courses where they learn traditional painting techniques such as gilding, frottage and trompe-l’oeil. This knowledge, reminiscent of another time, is then used by the students to revive historic buildings.

After a number of projects abroad, the Ritins decided to tackle a challenge closer to home. They viewed Casa Loma as the perfect site for their particular specialty. In 1994, they approached Casa Loma, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Historical Board regarding their ideas for their first project.

Casa Loma was in need of some tender and creative restoration, but the funds for such a major undertaking were not available. In the early nineties the Ritins had been involved in a similar project on a 17th century chateau in France: however, the Casa Loma project was the first of its kind in Toronto. The Ritins offered to supply the human resources and the expertise; and Para Paints supplied the tools. The rest is history. From the fist restoration to today, there have been six projects run by the Ritins Studio at Casa Loma. The Ritins are pioneers in their field because they have successfully adapted their techniques to be used with water-based media as opposed to solvent-based. In addition to being environmentally friendly, water-based media are easier to work with and hold their colours without yellowing.

Lady Pellatt’s suite gets a face -lift

The first course involved the restoration of Lady Pellatt’s suite which consists of a bedroom, sitting room and solarium. The group of 16 students represented various professions – among them interior designer, retailers, artists and a house painter. They came from as far away as Colorado Springs and San Francisco and paid $1700 each to learn from the masters.

No architectural changes could be made in the course of the restoration. The Ritins and their students remained true to the original Edwardian style of the suite. Using gilding, glazing and antiquing, the suite was carefully and lovingly restored. In keeping with the late mistress’ tastes, a predominantly Wedgewood Blue colour scheme was used throughout . The Studio creatively worked around problems caused by the ravages of time. For example, rag rolling was used on the existing linen wall coverings to hide the buckling due to aging. Broken marble around the fireplace was camouflaged and pillars were given a marbleized appearance. The students practiced all techniques on art board before working on the actual surfaces. Throughout all of the restoration the public was allowed to view the Studio in action.

Ritins’ touch spreading through Castle

Since the initial restoration of Lady Pellatt’s suite, other areas of the Castle have also received the Ritins Studio magic touch. The Windsor Room, The Austin Room and the Pellatt Board Room have all been revitalized. In The Austin Room, students used the intricate technique of trompe-l’oeil. This involves creating the illusion of three-dimensional objects on flat surfaces using careful and painstaking detail. An ivory colour was applied to moldings around wall panels using a stipple and wipe technique to give them an antique look. Mirror frames were gilded with imitation gold and aluminum leaf and then glazed or coated with shellac. The Ritins also took on the furniture in Lady Pellatt’s suite. The reproduction pieces were painted, gilded and gently antiqued. Brunschwig & Fils donated the fabrics. For all of their courses at the Castle, Para Paints and Coatings have kindly donated all the paints.

All those who visit Casa Loma benefit from the care which is taken to restore these wonderful rooms while still remaining true to the creative dream of the Castle’s first visionary, Sir Henry Pellatt. Sir Henry, a devotee of fine art, would be pleased to see his Castle so lovingly treated by artisans who have a real love for the past

Lou Seiler, Director of Marketing
Casa Loma
(416) 923-1171 ext. 212