Writer Amanda Christmann
Photographer Scott Baxter

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or a couple of guys who make their living fooling the eye, Rich Kovacich and Felix Lagazo are as real as they come.

Whether they’re creating a spot-on imitation of limestone to cover an outdated cantera fireplace mantle, looking for the best quality induction hob to add into a kitchen space that would match their work around the room, or chatting about life on the scenic back porch of their Black Mountain home, the two approach life with candor and honesty. It’s those same timeless values, combined with their stellar work ethic, that have grown their faux finishing business, Faux Finishes, to be one of the most in-demand companies of its type in the Valley.

In their small but lively studio, Francisco de la Cruz and Alberto Sanchez, both long-time employees, expertly apply glaze to a set of cabinet doors while Rich sorts through some of his ongoing projects. On top is a strie finish sample with impressive dimension.

“We get a lot of inspiration from peel and stick wallpaper and fabrics, because of the designs” he explains, holding up a picture of the original finish he copied to perfection. To the untrained eye, the painted finish looks identical to, if not better than, the more expensive, less changeable wallpaper version.

Next are samples of copper finishes, from a rich red with shiny undertones to a hammered copper finish, completely done with paint. “Metallics are coming back,” he explains. “Especially copper.” The hammered faux finish was created for a vent hood project—a bit of genius considering how difficult real copper is to keep clean and unoxidized.

As he goes through his work, showing samples of designs made from paint and plasters—burlap finishes, bird’s eye maple and faux Venetian plaster, to name a few—he rattles off a few notable design trends that have influenced his work.

This year, he explains, cream tones are replacing the grays and aquas of the last few years. Bright, monochromatic spaces accented with punches of dark wood are now favored over deep, darker colors.

For many homeowners and designers, those looks begin with Rich and Felix.

“This is a dream shop for me,” Rich says. “Whether people want something trendy or a classic look that will last for many years, I get to figure out how to create the look they’re going for.

“It’s just amazing what you can do with painted finishes—what you can copy,” he adds. “You just play around a little bit, and before you know it, it’s a success story.”

For Rich and Felix, that story is also the culmination of 30 years of hard work.

Rich grew up in the Milwaukee area but found his heart in New York. After a high school trip, he made the decision to move there, renting an acquaintance’s sewing room to sleep in and picking up a job as a bus boy at the World Trade Center.

He enrolled at the renowned Parsons School of Interior Design, bussing tables between classes, and earned his AAS in interior design. He began in the fabric business before exploring finishes, eventually earning clients like Donald Trump, CBS Television, Zaniz Corporation, and Broadway set designer David Mitchell.

In 1982, his long-time best friend lured him to Phoenix, where he naturally fit in with other artists and interior designers. “I loved it here,” he says.

A stroke of luck and lots of hard work led him to Desert Mountain, where he got his big shot creating finishes for the clubhouse and spec homes. As he worked, friends and relatives of his clients wanted his finishes in their homes, too. Before long, he had more work than he could manage.

Enter Felix, who, on the surface, was an unlikely partner for an artistic endeavor. Felix had a background in electroplating, and he’d been working in bookkeeping and records at Honeywell, and his first steps into design were a little shaky, to say the least.

“When we first started this, I didn’t have the vision that Richard did,” he says with a laugh. “Early on, I was working on a project, and I remember calling Richard and saying, ‘Is this really what you want?’ I didn’t think it looked right at all. He looked at it and said, ‘Yes! It’s exactly right.’ Sure enough, when we attended the grand opening, people were touching the walls. They loved it! I couldn’t see the big picture like Richard could. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better.”

Felix is the yin to Richard’s yang; Richard is often the one who brings new ideas to the table, while Felix manages the important small details.

“He’s the grease that makes everything work,” Rich says of his partner. In truth, their synergism is palpable.

They were fortunate, too, to have found Francisco and Alberto along the way. In fact, some of their greatest compliments come from clients who appreciate the quality of their work, and their integrity as guests in their homes.

“Our policy is to never cut corners,” Rich explains. “It’s very reassuring to know that those guys will make the quality as good as I will. I sleep great at night knowing it’s going to be perfect. We are so lucky to have them.”

Soon, too, they will add exterior finishes to their palette with the addition of new team members.

“No matter what projects we do, our goal is to make it an enjoyable experience instead of something our clients have to stress over,” Felix says.

Today, their current projects include faux limestone and plaster finishes in two Mirabel homes; faux limestone, painted strie finish, and cabinet refinishing in a Cave Creek remodel; and a gorgeous spec home remodel in Silverleaf in which they are refinishing a 20-foot fireplace and nearly all of the cabinetry. When they are finished, each home will look fresh and updated, all with the stroke of brushes and the troweling of plaster.

Like their projects, the pair’s success comes from jumping in with both feet and getting the job done.

“We never had a vision or a plan,” Rich says, three decades into his career. “It was basically—we refused to fail.”

With a portfolio that now includes projects in Luxe, Arizona Home and Design, Phoenix Home and Garden, and several other top publications, failure is far from likely. In fact, it will be fun to see what these two are creating together for years to come.