Originally published in STIR®
Faux finishes and more than 1,100 colors combine to invoke a Mediterranean ambience in a Midwest riverboat casino.

The Argosy Gaming Company's "theme team" did its modern corporate homework. But ultimately, the artistry that transformed a Missouri riverboat casino into an ancient Mediterranean village came down to an age-old collaboration between eye, hand and paint.

Now a 60,000-square-foot showcase of faux finishes, Argosy Casino Kansas City had to be built anew, then made to appear centuries old. Originally a land pavilion bridged to a riverboat, the casino's recent renovation and expansion upped the ante on its initial nod to the Mediterranean, creating a fantasyland reproduction of medieval Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco and North Africa. It took a realigned levee and 1,527 gallons of Sherwin-Williams architectural coatings to make it happen.

"This is probably the largest transformation I've worked on, and I've worked for Disney!" says Randee Bach, director of design for the casino's parent company.

Visitors apparently like the change: Revenue jumped 50 percent in 2004, the remade casino's first full year in operation. Argosy is betting the theme will have staying power, even in the hype-heavy world of casinos as alternative realities.

"Mediterranean isn't based in a time; it's a very classic style that everybody feels comfortable in, whether you're wearing evening clothes or cutoffs and sandals," Bach says.

Color Tricks

To evoke that feeling, project art director Lenzy Hendrix, at the time vice president of architecture and design at Designplan in Indianapolis, called on every trick in the faux and trompe l'oeil toolbox – aging, marbling, distressing, wood-graining, iron-rusting, patina-rendering, stenciling, gilding – plus more than 1,100 Sherwin-Williams colors, some used at dilutions of just 2 or 3 percent to achieve the exact cast of, say, shade or sunlight as it falls on an east-facing facade.

"The use of multiple colors allowed us to spend less on actual three-dimensional facades," says Hendrix, now CEO of Themed Environmental Design in Fortville, Ind.

As a four-year-old boy, Hendrix liked to pretend he was Walt Disney, and that childhood ambition resurfaced in the sweeping vision he assigned the paint crew: Paint a "sky" that reflects the light traveling from dawn to dusk, when the appearance of stars signals nightfall's arrival. Paint translucent "stained glass" filtering imaginary light into a mosque dome. Paint "stone" villa and "brick" portico facades lining the streets of the Holy Roman Empire. In short, paint medieval character into Middle America. Oh, but remember to keep it bright and vibrant: It's a casino, after all.

Dominick Armato, president of Northeast Painting in Kansas City, was Hendrix's color co-author. Armato envisioned how directional light would have faded every wall, ceiling and column, and how moisture and mildew would have weathered their surfaces. He blended Sherwin-Williams ColorAccents Interior Latex Flat into such base coat colors as deep blue, dark red and majestic purple, and sealed in the patina of history using Sher-Cryl™ industrial coatings.

"Armato would be on the job at 4 a.m. instructing everyone," notes Sherwin-Williams representative Rick Jackson. "We had someone at the store 24/7 to deliver product to him."

Ironically, it took a lot of modern technology to achieve the look of antiquity rendered so naturally by time, wear and weather. With a project this massive, many of the faux effects were created not with a hand-held brush, but with spray guns. "If you had to do this all by brush, labor costs would be $20 million instead of $2 million," Armato says.

But it isn't as simple as pulling the trigger. Only the base coats were full-on coverage. Thereafter, it was all technique, as the eye judged where to put the glaze and at what density.

The illusion is seamless to casino patrons, however, who often reach out to touch wrought iron crusty with rust, or grapevines circling a column, and are surprised to discover that they're only paint.

Trade Secret

To "age" surfaces without rendering them dank and dull, the Argosy Casino team relied on "Disney dirt," a technique that uses colors complementary to the base color. The usual grays and browns tend to drain the light out of the colored surface. A percentage of purple, however, can age a gold stucco wall without making it drab.