Skilled Craftsmen at Work: Our Decorative Painter

An Artist’s Hands, Refined Techniques, & Age-Old Formulas — Applying an Artisan’s Touch Worthy of The Manor’s History of Authentic Elegance & Traditional Craftsmanship

One of the many unique qualities that has helped earn The Manor its reputation is its dedication to the art of craftsmanship. Much of the fine detail throughout the property is the result of the skilled work of artisans from a range of trades, some of whom have been under the employ of The Manor for decades.

Whether carpenters or coppersmiths, upholsterers or painters, much of what has kept The Manor’s historic building replete with refined details and established the elegance of its English manor house style has been the people chosen to maintain and embellish it.

The Manor’s over half-century tradition of employing talented artists and craftsmen who bring to bear their unique and specific skills earned over a lifetime of work was a significant consideration when the time came for The Manor’s latest series of extensive renovations.

In order to continue to evolve and offer modern amenities but still maintain the authenticity and grandeur of The Manor, the renovation project team sought out talented artisans whose expertise would ensure that the tradition of craftsmanship and skilled design would be maintained and built upon.

One such talent was Aliya Riaz, the creative force behind the award-winning decorative art and design firm Portfauxlio, Inc. Ms. Riaz was tasked with leveraging her talents across a wide range of projects throughout the recent renovations.

With design concepts from The Manor’s owners, Ms. Riaz set about turning their ideas into stunning décor. Whether it was decorative painting, gilding, glazing, applying specialty finishes, or unique plaster work, her contributions helped to successfully revitalize antique pieces, blend new construction with old, and further enhance the grand aesthetic of The Manor while maintaining its authentic charm and hand-crafted appeal.

Hours upon hours of work were poured into the project. From researching the theme appropriate treatments and testing colors to standing on a platform two stories in the air, applying gold leaf across the borders of an entire room by hand with nothing more than a one inch brush to ensure proper application to all the intricately-detailed moldings, Ms. Riaz spent a countless amount of time and effort to ensure the work was flawless.

Ms. Riaz’s contributions were extensive. One such project that exemplifies the level of effort, quality and attention to authentic design can be seen in her work on The Manor’s new Garden Room. While the room is new, the processes used to create the aesthetic are ages old. Though it would have certainly been quicker, simpler, and not nearly as costly to construct the room in a less genuine way, The Manor’s owners were dedicated to upholding their philosophy of staying true to traditional craftsmanship and authentic design. To help fulfill this mission, Ms. Riaz undertook work on a Venetian plastering process for the Garden Room that required application of seven different layers using five different colors, all with differing degrees of treatments. This painstaking process, conducted throughout the room, required labor-intensive handwork to achieve the desired result. Finished with a golden glaze, the effect successfully creates a genuine depth, a feel that is rich with character, and that is true to the room’s concept.

Her work on The Manor’s Garden Room extended well beyond the plastering finishes however. Ms. Riaz created the central decorative ceiling design through a detailed stenciling process. Her work can also be seen in a number of The Manor’s ceiling medallions that accentuate chandeliers and pendants. She is also responsible for the impressive metallic plasterwork that defines the contrasting outside border of the room’s ceiling.

Another labor-intensive project to which Ms. Riaz applied her talents was the hand-finishing of two barrel-vaulted ceilings in The Manor’s main corridor. One piece at a time, she carefully applied authentic 24-carat gold leaf squares, each no more than three inches square, to the ceiling. One-by-one, she delicately brushed on thousands upon thousands of squares to complete a shimmering dome of gold reflecting light down upon passers-by. It was a costly process for The Manor, no doubt, but yet another indication of its commitment to quality. Many guests may walk beneath the ceiling never noticing the work, but if you pause to look up, take a moment to consider the dedication it took for one person to complete the painstaking process that is a single element of just one of countless spaces throughout The Manor.

Ms. Riaz was also tasked with the finishing glazing treatments on the woodwork that is seen throughout The Manor’s lobby on both the main and upper floors–a multi-step process that has added character and depth to the millwork. The Manor’s lobby also features a multi-step strié wall finish, hand painted by Ms. Riaz.  A silver-gilded ceiling in our ladies’ lounge can be attributed to her craftwork as well.

Her talents can also been seen in the refinishing of The Manor’s signature Dome doors that mark the entrance to our nightclub. With yet another multi-layered process, she created a deep rich feel that complements the antique stained glasswork and bold brass adornments of these massive doors.

One of Ms. Riaz’s most personally rewarding contributions was her finesse in antiquing our new grand Versailles bridal suites’ tin tiled ceilings, a process that required a light touch and trained hand. Tasked with a treatment chosen by the rooms’ designer and project manager, Keri Knowles, Ms. Riaz began work on a technique that would accentuate the baroque aesthetic of the ornate French-inspired salons that Ms. Knowles had endeavored to create. Bringing Ms. Knowles’ vision to life required Ms. Riaz to individually hand finish in excess of one hundred tiles, making sure each were identical in their treatment–no small feat, especially considering the limited window given in which to complete the process. When deadlines became tight, other eager contributors to the project attempted to assist in the finishing of the tiles. Though the effort was well-meaning, it soon proved that a knowledge of the process was not enough to reproduce the refined look that was intended—the artist‘s hand was indeed inseparable from the process. Ultimately, Ms. Riaz succeeded in personally producing all the tiles in time. Individually, the look and feel of the tin tiles are charming; when seen together, their impression is nothing short of remarkable, beautifully tying-in the ceiling with the entirety of the room’s design.

Ms. Riaz’s work also encompassed several restoration projects to bring unique antique pieces in The Manor’s collection back to their former glory. Whether that meant matching new paint, plaster, or finishes to old ones–or more extensive processes, the subtle touch of an artists’ hand and the experience to understand the original process was invaluable. Several antiques damaged by time and wear also required her to create plaster casts to reproduce lost elements of decorative pieces. One such piece is the massive ornate mirror that now hangs in a place of pride in The Manor’s main lobby. As one of the first impression pieces our guests experience and important for creating scale and reflecting light from our grand chandelier, the authenticity of its details and maintaining the integrity of its original construction were vital. By cloning the design from the existing portion of the mirror’s frame and recreating it where elements were damaged or missing, she seamlessly combined the old with new. Laboring against a tight deadline, she spent hours working on-site in one of our workshops to finish and re-gild the mirror’s intricate frame, even battling a snowstorm to stay within The Manor’s demanding timeline.

But it has all been a labor of love for Ms. Riaz. As she herself has said, “It’s been very rewarding to be able to collaborate with an establishment with such a rich history and gratifying to be able to work on so many hidden gems to restore them to their grandeur for guests who can appreciate their value.”

Much of Ms. Riaz’s expertise that she put into practice at The Manor has been passed down from techniques of master craftsmen over the centuries and uses age-old formulas. She has worked alongside the late Master Craftsman Brian Rhodes in England, a gifted decorative painter and writer of several definitive books on the history and application of interior decorative techniques including “Parry’s Marbling and Graining”. She also studied trompe l’oeil with Pierre Finkelstein, author of “The Art of Faux”. Another important influence is Dean Sickler — a professional decorative painter and a teacher of his craft — who helped Ms. Riaz with the transition of switching to American materials, along with instilling a great interest in the study of plaster. Ms. Riaz is paying her wealth of knowledge forward by teaching her craft at Dundean Studios in Chatham, NJ.

To learn more about Aliya Riaz and her decorative art and design firm, Portfauxlio Inc., visit

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