Decorator is clearly not the right word to use for Pasha, but he transcends categories. He’s another artisan we were introduced to by our builder, Chris Nielson, who thought of him to distress the beams in our barn. Let me back up here. This barn is new construction (in fact, it isn’t even finished) but Andy won’t be happy until it looks as if it’s weathered at least 150 years. Very tough years. So the original wood and iron beams that hold up the framework have been lovingly and carefully wrapped with redwood by one of Chris’s crew. And now Andy wants to bring in someone to gouge, mar, scratch and otherwise abuse the work this poor guy has worked on so carefully.
That’s how we met Pasha. He stopped by at Chris’s request to view the barn and drop of samples of his “distressing” work. Let’s just say that Pasha clearly fits into what is becoming our subcontractor maxim: Hire no one unless he or she could easily merit an entry in the old Reader’s Digest “My Most Unforgettable Character” series. (Hey, they’re still running this feature.)
Pasha is from Ukraine originally and, as I said, he transcends categories. Sunday, he showed up to take us around Napa and Sonoma looking at his work. That work includes distressing, carving, faux finishes, furniture, antiquing, plastering and plaster painting. You name it, Pasha does it. (See some pix I took of his work here.) In the course of driving around and drinking champagne at Vintage 1870 (where he’s done a lot of decorative work and wood carving) we were treated to his stories — each more hilarious than the last. Here’s a sampling:
How Pasha Came to America and Sonoma in Particular
Pasha was the head restorer at two 1000-year old cathedrals: St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square in preparation for the 1980 Olympics (Yup, that’s the one we boycotted because the USSR invaded Afghanistan. See that’s back when we SUPPORTED the Taliban) and St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. It was while Pasha was on site at St. Sophia that a KGB agent came in and told him, as the head of restoration, he was now responsible for entertaining an important delegation from America. Seems Kiev had just been named a Sister City with a place called Sonoma. “And”, the KGB agent added, “There is no budget or stipend for entertainment expenses. Figure it out.” With only a few hours and no money, Pasha came up with the idea of serving the visiting Americans a “simple Ukrainian Artists’ Lunch”. He dressed up the altar (which was under construction) with dropcloths and wildflowers, then scavenged what he could: eggs and honey that his crew was using to mix into their tempura paints, apples that they grabbed from the nearby monastery orchards, and the Ukrainian equivalent of fatback or pork scratchings. But it was the super high-proof Vodka that they sweetened up with honey that really did the trick. Everyone had a roaring good time, Pasha ended up with good friends in Sonoma and, well, the rest is history.
Why Pasha Doesn’t Like the Late Matriarch of a Not to Be Named Wine Dynasty
“She’s dead now”, he says, “but she probably still owes me $300. She was always taking advantage of me because I was a new immigrant. She’d ask me to play cards, she’d demand that we played for money, then she’d cheat.”
How Pasha Makes New Wood Look Like It’s Decades Old
Actually, he’s not talking on this subject. (And it may be the only subject Pasha doesn’t have a half an hour of stories on.) Andy asked if he used a chisel. “Chisel Schmizzl”, said Pasha, clearly not prepared to share trade secrets.
Anyway, Pasha and his wife and crew can do it all. Got a priceless antique to be restored? Want the walls in your house to look like a 400 year old Tuscan castle? Want something built that looks like it came out of a Russian Dacha from Doctor Zhivago? Not a problem.
Well, a slight problem. I heard from one of the carpenters that the job foreman at our barn was ready to dissolve into tears as Pasha showed up today and began attacking those newly wrapped beams with his Chisel Schmizzl.