Knockoffs: Not Just for Handbags, but Home Decor Too

When Dan Fries got into the home appraisal business 30 years ago, stone was stone and wood was wood. Now it’s not that easy to tell the real stuff from the imitators.

“I had to adjust my skills,” says Mr. Fries, a high-end appraiser from Atlanta who is often literally on his hands and knees, scratching the floor and looking at the countertops to find out what they are. re made out.

A wide range of building materials are now available in man-made form, many of which are indistinguishable from reality. What looks like antique barn wood is actually polyurethane. Cedar siding can actually be a composite of wood fiber and resin. Porcelain tiles look like hardwood floors. Even rare granite slabs and box hedges have imitators.

“Stone is no longer unique. Everyone has it, ”says New York-based interior designer Phillip Miller.

Homeowners and builders say that engineering materials can be up to 70% cheaper than real materials and are often more durable and easier to use. Some view fake woodwork and plants as environmentally friendly because they don’t involve harvested trees or require watering. Thanks to recent advances in digital printing technology and cement casting, materials look more realistic than they did in the past, when repetitive patterns and uniform colors were a dead giveaway. Now some purists are warming to some of these fakes, even in luxury homes.

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Susan Pizzi says she can tell immediately if a material is a copy. “I like to use the real McCoy,” she says. The 66-year-old housewife oversaw the construction of the 6500-square-foot Tuscan-style house and a recently constructed 1,400-square-foot building in Princeton, New Jersey. She used authentic materials such as limestone and terracotta flooring and real stucco for the outside area. There was one exception, however: for the fireplace in the great room, she chose scagliola, a technique popular in large homes in the 17th and 18th centuries that involved pouring plaster of paris and silk and shaping them to look like marble .

The gold cloak, speckled with gray and ivory, cost $ 8,000 – about the same price as the antique limestone cloaks they were considering. But buying an old coat wouldn’t have allowed them to match colors and get the intricately carved acorn-flower design they wanted. Instead of hiring a craftsman to carve real marble to measure, they hired a Philadelphia company called Wells Vissar to make the scagliola, which took about two months to complete and ten days to install.

The studio’s co-founder, Kathy Vissar, who takes on the craft, says her clients are typically very wealthy. “It’s a faux material that is more prestigious than the real material,” she says.

Cost wasn’t an issue for Cindy and Mike Newlin either when they decided to include fake box hedges in the landscaping of their Houston home this year. Mrs. Newlin, an interior designer, and Mr. Newlin, a retired Houston Rockets basketball player who was the architect for their home, had tried hundreds of different real-life plants in an area of ​​the yard that wasn’t sunshine just around them to see everyone die. Then Mrs. Newlin saw a Greenville, NC, New Growth Designs hedge exhibit and couldn’t believe they weren’t real. “I’m not someone who deletes plastic flowers,” she says.

The fake hedges are made of polyethylene and synthetic resin and are built on frames. They provide instant gratification as they do not need to be grown, require no water, and can be tailored to specific spaces. A boxwood 5 feet long by 2 feet tall costs anywhere from $ 450 to $ 500.

Pam Kuhl-Linscomb, who owns a design and decoration business in Houston with her husband, sells the New Growth products because they don’t have the shiny, stiff plastic look of other man-made plants. Sales of the fake box trees to her customers have quadrupled in the past six months, she adds.

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The popularity of barn wood and reclaimed wood has driven the price of rugged old ceiling joists and trusses soaring, which can cost as much as $ 100 per linear foot. Retailers like are now selling fake beams that look weathered and ax-hewn. Steve Barron, president of the Deer Park, NY-based company, says the imitators are made from high-density polyurethane – the same material as bumpers – that is poured into shapes made from real wood. The finished product reproduces every corner, every nook and cranny and every wormhole. “Most people can’t tell the difference,” says Barron.

The wooden beams and panels do not rot, are easier to handle as they are light and cost about a third of the price of real waste wood. An 8 foot man-made ceiling joist is $ 145.61, and a 10 foot slightly distressed red cherry stained man-made driftwood joist is $ 397.88.

Reviewers say the higher the price range of the house, the more important it is to have the real stuff. Any occurrence of a material selected to reduce cost can lower the estimate.

However, they say there are some man-made materials that add value to a home. For example, imitation slate requires less maintenance and is easier to install. fake cedar shakes are more fireproof than real wood. The key to home values ​​is what appraisers refer to as “the bundle”. As long as the overall effect is that it looks and feels high-end, it will most likely be compared to other high-end homes.

“If the appraiser has to scratch it and see if it’s the real deal, it’s probably fine,” says Mr Fries.

Write to Nancy Keates at [email protected]

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