Fanciful Finishes: Kelly Ingram Makes Her Mark On Walls, Ceilings, Even Church Steeples

By Anne Levin

Photographs courtesy of Kelly Ingram

Every time I go to my friend Kelly Ingram’s house in Trenton’s Cadwalader Heights, something is different. At a “Downton Abbey” party last year, the living room and dining room had switched places. On another visit, a wall had been primed and was awaiting repainting. Visiting the powder room at a recent dinner party held by Ingram and her husband Ray, I noticed that the floor had been turned into an artful mosaic of pennies, lined end to end.

A native New Englander with a warm smile and sky-blue eyes, Ingram is endlessly creative—and not just at home. Her work as a gilder, glazer, painter of wall finishes, and works on canvas is on view in buildings as near as Princeton and as far away as Texas, where the family of a bank executive flew her on their private plane so she could gild portions of the aircraft’s interior. Most recently, she worked on a plaster job at the sun-filled Brooklyn Heights apartment owned by the creator of the Sesame Street character, Miss Piggy.

IMG_3541Several Doylestown, Pa. and Princeton Junior League showhouses, the interior of McCarter Theatre’s larger auditorium, a church spire on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, and a house in Maine bear the signature of Kelly Ingram Finishes. But it wasn’t until Ingram was midway through another career selling software that she discovered her true calling.

“I got into my creative side in my early thirties,” Ingram says. “I was working for a company called Mathematica and living in New York. A friend there introduced me to the Isabel O’Neil Studio for decorative finishes, which teaches an old world, apprentice way of painting furniture. I loved it right away.”

Ingram learned how to mix paint and apply the layers, and became familiar with many classic finishes—from tortoise shell and lapis lazuli to glazing and gilding. She started thinking about an artistic career, and took an intensive, twoweek course in wall finishes at San Francisco’s Joanne Day Studio.

“It was one week of just mixing color, and the other of applying finishes to one of the famous ‘painted ladies’ houses in the city. It was just phenomenal,” she recalls. “And that helped me know how to do this as a business, because I learned, on site, how to handle all the problems that could come up, and how to fix them. It was invaluable training.”

After moving to Trenton with her husband, Ingram began taking her work around to local designers. Soon she was assigned a space to paint in a designer showhouse in Doylestown, Pa. It was an important step.

“I met interior designers from Princeton and Hopewell and Pennington, including Deborah Leamann,” Ingram says. “She was working then at Nassau Interiors. When she went out on her own, she called me. We ended up working together for years.”

The McCarter job was part of a 1990‘s renovation of the theater. Ingram, her husband, and some hardworking helpers painted the walls, ceiling, and lobby of the Matthews Theater. “That was real teamwork,” she says. “We had seven weeks to get it done, and we managed to pull it off.”

Ingram is always learning. She became familiar with the Venetian plaster technique nearly two decades ago and has used it frequently. Recently, she discovered an affinity for still life painting.

“I’m enjoying the collaborative process with designers and clients to create abstract paintings for their homes, offices and the like. I think that in one way, I’m preparing myself for the day far in the future when I am no longer going to be climbing up on ladders. But at the same time, it has taken me down a path that I love. It’s really in my blood now. I’m in the process of organizing my days so I can be in the studio more often.”

The abstracts are filled with color and texture, always key in the work that Ingram does. “When I’m in a class, I truly feel the the freedom to create like I did in elementary school,” she says. “It’s always a learning process. I didn’t do the usual art school route, so I’m doing it my own way.”

Ingram is looking forward to September 12, when her Cadwalader Heights neighborhood holds its annual house tour. The circa 1920’s home she shares with her husband, their German shepherd Fiona, and three felines is always a star attraction. It is probably a safe bet that between now and then, its rooms will go through numerous transformations as this creative artist tests out her latest ideas. I’ll be watching.

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