Most people hang art on their walls. For Heather Dunn Kostura from East Hampton, art is the wall.
The willowy redhead is the main owner of Heather Dunn & Co., which specializes in “the decorative alchemy of the interior,” as their website calls it. From interesting textures and art surfaces to painted floor cloths and Venetian plaster of paris, Ms. Kostura’s store offers her customers not only an interesting look, but an interesting feel.
It’s hard not to run your hands over a wall with a tissue paper treatment or an embossing that looks like alligator skin or leather – and Ms. Kostura believes her treatments appeal to those who want to awaken their senses.
“It’s different from just a paint or a coat of paint,” she said. “My clients really want to give every room a literal feel.”
Heather Dunn & Co. also transforms pieces of furniture by stenciling or painting a design on a cupboard, or stripping off a silver Southeast Asian sideboard and turning it into an downright desperate white New England centerpiece.
She came to this business, Ms. Kostura admitted, “completely by accident”. Politically, the Huntington-born woman “had no idea I had an artistic bone in my body.” While working her way through college painting an outdoor house, she met her future husband Richard Kostura, now known as Michael Galileo, an inventor and real-time watchmaker.
But at that time, when she and Mr. Kostura met, Ms. Kostura noticed the wrong surfaces in Mr. Kostura’s apartment. “You blew me away,” she said. “They were amazing. I mean, they were simple but so well done.”
She had recently discovered through her own work with color that she “had a knack for putting colors together”. When Mr. Kostura introduced her to two women at a decorating job who were marbling pillars, Ms. Kostura discovered that she had discovered a new direction.
“I went to school,” she said with a laugh. “I know, I know – when I say this to people, they conjure up images of me walking around with a book on my head.” The Finishing School at Floral Park, one of the oldest in the country, specializes in teaching its students art finishing, wood grain, wall painting, trompe-l’oiel, strié, and other texturing treatments.
“I was there 10 hours a day,” said Ms. Kostura. “I went out with a portfolio full of samples and never looked back.”
She and her husband had a successful business in Huntington Harbor but moved to South Fork about a dozen years ago. They settled in Springs, although most of Ms. Kostura’s customers were still on the island at the time. “I always joked that I never saw the Hamptons in daylight,” she said. “But my customer base was there.”
That changed when she met Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley from East Hampton. “Ted is one of the cutest people I have ever met,” said Ms. Kostura. “He really gave me a major renovation opportunity.” The Hartley house on the beach had an entire first floor with fake wood walls from the 1950s, and the owners wanted to recreate the effect.
“Each room was a little different and there were so many shifts,” said Ms. Kostura. “But I did it. And I’m still there today and take care of it. “
Another favorite job was creating an imitation suede on a wall. “We even added large brass upholstery pins,” she said. “It looked really authentic.”
This is something to consider with faux surfaces – they require maintenance. “But it’s so much easier than wallpaper,” remarked Ms. Kostura. “If something is chipped or stained, I can simply repaint or re-stencil it. There are no seams or tears to worry about. “She believes this is one of the reasons faux finishes are becoming increasingly popular:” It looks like wallpaper without a headache. “
It also enables connection with clients. “It’s a long-term commitment,” said Ms. Kostura. “It’s not just a job – I’m building a relationship.”
One of her current relationships is with Bridgehampton designer Cailin Wunder, whose home is a testament to Ms. Kostura’s talents. “I love a challenge,” said Ms. Kostura. “I love doing things I’ve never done before.” And at the House of Miracles on Mitchell Lane, she got the opportunity.
A wall in the entrance area has a beige linen cover. But on the opposite wall, which leads up the stairs, “we have created that new,” said Ms. Kostura. On closer inspection, it was surely found that the effect was achieved with paint and not fabric.
There are hand-painted silver stars on the wall of a room – they look casually scribbled by a bored child with a silver pen, but create a playful feeling in the children’s room. And a little boy’s room has an incredible faux bois wood grain that has a slight maple or birch feel to it.
Working with Ms. Wunder was a pleasure, said Ms. Kostura. “There were so many ways to do something fun and creative,” she said. A 6 foot Asian piece was turned into a Hamptons sideboard after being “desperate” by Heather Dunn & Co. “Rich threw the shit out,” Ms. Kostura said happily of her husband. “Then we stripped off the silver and repainted it with a white, desperate crackle.” The piece looks like it has naturally aged, but Ms. Kostura knows the truth.
In another room there are large canvases that were painted by Ms. Kostura in various blocks of beige and brown and are reminiscent of Rothko or the early Mondrian. A light, simple bench has been darkened to medieval proportions to add dramatic focus to a long hallway. In some rooms, tissue-paper treatment adds texture and depth to monochromatic walls.
“When I first meet 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 want. “
In one case, a customer brought a bowl that she had found. She liked the colors and asked Mrs. Kostura to use the palette to create a ceiling medallion for her chandelier in Southampton. “It was challenging but fun,” she said. “And the customer was really happy.”
Ms. Kostura not only works directly with customers, but also with designers, decorators and contractors, which gives her the opportunity to “paint a princess,” as she calls it. “I love being able to go into a room that’s already prepared and just start working.”
She was actively involved in her adoptive community after just finishing her tenure as president of East Hampton Rotary. “I love this area,” she said. And she sees the possibility of a Hamptons storefront in her future, displaying some of the painted objects and works of art that she and her husband have created over the years.
“Galileo and Dunn,” she said wistfully. “It will happen.”