Perhaps you’ve been to the Kara Mann-designed Talbott Hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast and longingly eyed the plaster and limewash-finished walls with a gloss drip. Or maybe you visited the 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse and fell in love with the ceiling mural—created with plaster washed with layers of acrylic paint and gold leaf accents—in Studio Gild’s teen bedroom design.
If so, then you are a fan of Steven Hettrich Studios’ work, which offers one-of-a-kind surfaces that beget interior transformations.
Founded by professional artist Steve Hettrich, the firm works primarily along a well-trodden path from Lake Shore Drive to Sheridan Road, designing, creating, and installing decorative finishes for both residential and commercial clients—often through partnerships with renowned interior designers.
With a reverence for traditional materials (think hand-mixed paints, plasters, and mediums), Hettrich’s work draws upon a strong passion for all things design as well as a deep understanding of the timeless archetypes of art and décor.
“I was always the kid drawing in my free time, especially when I shouldn’t have been—like during class,” laughs Hettrich. “I studied Fine Art at Denison University in Ohio but was hedging a little in college, thinking I’d get a well-rounded education, too.”
Hettrich has been in business for himself since 1998. And while the majority of the work Steven Hettrich Studios does is focused on custom decorative finishes, Hettrich is also regularly commissioned to create paintings for clients on a national scale. His paintings have even been exhibited through two solo exhibitions at iD Chicago.
“What’s the value of an arts education if you’re not going to use it?” says Hettrich. “I had a painting concentration in college and worked on oil paintings. Art is a combination of complex problem solving and deft creativity. I still apply that to my work. With the variety of projects we take on, it requires flexibility and versatility. You have to be willing to fail, adapt, and learn new things.”
Speaking of, Hettrich has been receiving more commissions recently than ever before. He’s now focused on bridging the work Steven Hettrich Studios does in interiors with his fine artwork. One such way is by creating screens, or room dividers. Hettrich is currently working on a mural set on seven-foot-tall panels.
For this past spring’s Adler on the Park Showcase House, Hettrich created a custom screen with simple yet beautiful materials—oiled plaster over wood panels—for the foyer in collaboration with Studio Gild. The piece is now for sale at furnishings shop South Loop Loft, which will host a show of Hettrich’s paintings and screens later this fall.
“Not everyone can afford to plaster their home or wants to devote space to a mural,” says Hettrich. “I love the idea of more functional artwork, in every sense. I love sculpture and ceramics. They’re functional but still beautiful. Screens are a foray into that, and I’ve been seeing more demand for it.”
He’s also been seeing increased interest in plaster—a material Hettrich has been working with for almost 18 years—especially in high-end residential projects. At the Bellemore restaurant in Chicago, Hettrich created a patterned plaster wall installation with layers of smooth-troweled lime plaster in two tones. In a private residence, Hettrich layered tinted plaster and limewash to create a textural gradient.
“The materials we use are ancient—there’s nothing new about them,” explains Hettrich. “What my clients come to me for is the artistic hand. People are looking for that authenticity, which is the biggest service I provide. There’s an alchemy with natural materials. The outcome isn’t exact every time, which I love. That goes back to my process. I appreciate when the material takes over a bit.”
His process is also one that’s been described as meticulously careful and deliberate, an exploration of color and texture in rich surfaces of a tactile and organic nature. Hettrich’s perceptive eye and passion for balance define his artistic practice.
Take, for example, a gold leaf and casein mural Hettrich created for the dining room of a private residence. His team gilded the walls of the room, then painted floral artwork and added hand-painted ceramic floral elements.
For Hotel Kansas City, Hettrich honored the frontier roots of the city by creating a mural with scenes based on famed local artist Thomas Hart Benton, who was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. In the lobby and lounge, Hettrich papered the 18-foot walls with natural craft paper and then applied an ombré wall treatment with a matte finish casein paint.
His artistic aesthetic has evolved in recent years. What used to be a form of what he defines as “lyrical abstractionism” is now one that’s broader and looser with a focus on materiality versus illustration. He primarily paints with oil, building manipulated compositions through subtle shifts of color and focus. They’re layered in such a way that highlights the materiality of the paint.
“I’m generally pretty gestural and loose,” says Hettrich. “I use fine paint brushes with small tips for my interiors and mural work but, with my paintings, I grab the big brush, or a squeegee, or even nothing at all. I’ll use a wipe with a cloth. It’s intentional but very free.”
Both a consultant and a hands-on artist, Hettrich has become known for his meticulous attention to detail and devotion to craftsmanship.
“I’m really excited about what’s to come,” says Hettrich. “Aligning fine art with functional art is the future of our work.”
For more information, visit stevenhettrichstudios.com.