Fresco Harmony’s History

My name is Nick Harmon, and I am the developer and owner of Fresco Harmony. Fresco Harmony

is America’s first color line designed specifically for drywall joint compound, or “mud,” as it is

commonly referred to. As Fresco Harmony continues to grow in popularity, I get more questions

about what Fresco Harmony is, and how it came to be. I’ll try to keep this article brief, but I think

it’s a great story anyway — so here goes.

 

I began my drywall career in Longview, Washington, at ‘Fleetwood Manufactured Homes of

America’ in the Drywall Department. There was something about the mud that caused me to be

attracted to it right away. It was a challenging medium to work with, and I loved the texture and

feel of it. I also liked working with my hands and liked working in the construction industry in

general.

 

I received my preliminary drywall education at Fleetwood, but the pay at Fleetwood wasn’t great

and I’d heard a Drywall Finisher could make more by becoming a Journeyman in the Union, so

after a year and a half at Fleetwood, I quit and began my apprenticeship with the Local 360 out of

Vancouver, Washington. When I started working in the Union, most of the work we were doing

was in Portland, Oregon. I started out at 50% Journeyman wages. Full journeyman scale at that

time was $25.80 per hour, after only 3 years in the field. Also, all apprentices were required to

attend drywall class once a week. Our pay increases were based on time-in-the-field and our

attendance in the classes. While in the field, I got picked on a lot by the Journeymen and Foreman.

They were a real roughneck crowd, but I didn’t mind. I liked the work. My early training consisted

of carrying scaffold, mixing mud, and cleaning the automatic tools. If I were lucky, I’d get to spot

screws and spin outlet covers for the day. Working on the job is where I gathered most of my

knowledge about the drywall industry, but it was in the classes that I first learned about color.

There were a couple of classes in particular that stood out as pivotal for me. On one occasion, the

instructor showed us this great technique where if one rolled Elmer’s glue on the surface before the

mud, it would crack and slide giving the surface an Old World cracked feel (pic 1).

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The other class that stood out was one in which the instructor introduced colorants and various

types of plasters to the class. Everyone was to mix up a batch of colored plaster and start creating. I

thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen! I immediately created a sunset mural using some

color and regular mud (pic 2). I was hooked. Having an artistic nature to begin with, it wasn’t

difficult for me to see the value in this amazing new discovery. I called it “Drywall Art” because the

canvas we were working on was a 4 x 4 chunk of drywall. In the second photo, we cut out 1/2″ of

the existing studs and inset the piece right into the wall. The Apprentice Painter Instructor

borrowed one of the pieces I’d made to demonstrate how to apply a water based sealer over these

textural surfaces. The sealer worked beautifully with the colored mud and “Colored Joint

Compound Art” was born. After that, I began creating lots of hanging wall art in this fashion. Every

class thereafter, I’d head straight for the color locker and start creating. Everyone had his eye on

what I was up to, including the instructor. Finally, after several classes, the instructor locked up the

colors and said I couldn’t work with them any more. The next day I went out and bought my own

colors and started working out of my garage.

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Several months passed this way (by working and doing my own art), and I was moving up the ranks

in the Union quickly. In only a year and a half, I was earning 70% Journeyman wage, with full

benefits and vacation pay. I’d saved enough vacation pay that I decided to take a small break and

head south. I traveled down to Bisbee, Arizona (an old mining town) to visit my brother, who was

living there at the time. I found that the Southwest and warmer weather suited me, so I decided to

throw cosh to the wind, move to Bisbee, and reinvent myself as an artist.

 

I got a job a half-hour outside of Bisbee, in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a company called, “Sun

Drywall.” I went from making $18.50 per-hour, with full benefits to working piece rate at $.08-

per-foot to finish. I’d had enough experience with the automatic tools that I could wrestle through

what I didn’t know, and make up the rest.

 

Working on an easy house, I could make $12.00 per hour. That wasn’t great, but at least I was in

the sun and still able to create art everyday. Needless to say, I became very fast at running the tools.

After a short while, I could finish a small house all by myself in only 5 days. I acquired a helper for

awhile, but he was slow and I found that I liked working alone. At that time, I also began

experimenting with structural designs, incorporating corner beads, and utilizing colored mud (pic

3). This is an early example of what Trim-Tex calls, “Drywall Art” today. You can imagine my

excitement when I discovered there was a whole movement around this sort of thing with new

trims and special corner beads!

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Around 2001, I was shown in my first Art Show in Bisbee, showcasing one of my early mud art

pieces, “The Monkey.” (pic 4). I continued to explore color and mud art in Bisbee until I got the

opportunity to take a job up in Crested Butte, Colorado with a company called C.B. Drywall. It

was the summer of 2002, and the high mountain lifestyle resonated with me, so once again, I

packed up my things and moved. My first summer in Colorado, I was introduced to a texturing

method that would lead to the base coat of Fresco Harmony, the company I later started. They

were calling it “The Adobe Texture,” but basically, we were using a hawk-and-pool trowel to

create a heavy, full wall texture, with very little movement. It was a great texture method, too,

because it covered the entire surface, and we only had to tape and glaze the angles once. It also

reduced sanding considerably so I was totally on board. We did lots of skip trowel too, but the

Adobe texture was the preferred texture by most of the GC’s we worked with. The contractors

appreciated that it looked a lot like smooth finish, but was still easy to patch.

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This is where the story gets good. On one particular project, one of the GC’s we worked with, Jack

Huckins, called a company out of Phoenix, Arizona called, “Hopper Finishes,” to run a traditional

Venetian Plaster on a “ski-in, ski-out”, 12,000 foot, custom home at the base of the mountain. My

boss was wise to keep me away, since I was very curious about what these guys were up to, and

they weren’t offering up any of their secrets.

 

In case you’re interested, Hopper Finishes Company offers a class out of Phoenix in learning how to

achieve that look. I believe it’s 1,000.00.

 

Their guys were cautious to keep the secrets hidden but I still managed to wriggle my way onto the

project and observe the application for myself. Like most aspects of the drywall trade which I

viewed, the plaster process was something I could easily do. My boss had the same idea and we

were all like quiet mice in the corner absorbing as much of the methodology as we could. The

biggest thing that intrigued me about the plaster was the high cost. I was blown away to find that

these guys were getting $12.00- per-square-foot for the finish. That is 10-12 times as much as

drywall finishers usually make, and I’ll say this: there is nothing easy about learning how to finish

drywall.

 

From hang to finish, drywall a complex system that you are either good at, or you’re not!

Contractors who claim to know how to do drywall are usually the worst. Sure, most of the

Drywallers you meet are or were derelicts (myself included), but that still doesn’t mean there’s

anything easy about the trade. A smart GC, who cares about quality, will always sub-out to a

drywall company. Drywall Finishing is one of the most difficult things I’ve had the privilege to

learn, and I knew right away that I could learn how to achieve that plaster look, not only with

plaster, but with something more efficient, and cost effective, than what these guys were using. It

was like something just clicked.

 

After Hopper Finishes had wrapped up their scope of work, Jack Huckins liked the Venetian Plaster

so much that he wanted the downstairs finished the same way. This time it was CB Drywalls turn.

We completed the downstairs and it looked as good as the upstairs, but I couldn’t believe how labor

intensive it was. I began using my 6″ pallet knife to run tricky areas, but what was really coming

into focus was that I kept envisioning how I could achieve a similar look with drywall mud. I didn’t

know how yet, but I knew it could be done and my mind kept drifting back to that Adobe texture

we were doing. The seed was planted.

 

After that winter I had the opportunity to help a friend with a remodel he was doing up in Portland,

Oregon. We worked on that project the entire summer. As luck would have it, toward the end of

the summer, my truck broke down and I was stuck at my friend Chucks house with little work and

no way to repay him. He suggested doing something about the old wood paneling on his walls and I

told him I had an idea. Chuck was pretty savvy with construction, so I offered my plan. “Instead of

ripping out the paneling, or hanging over it, let’s just run some colored mud over the existing

surface and seal it,” I proposed. Chuck was hesitant, but allowed me the hallway to experiment. I

immediately added some black color to a bucket of mud and had another bucket ready with no

color in it. I swirled the two colors together and Fresco Harmony was born! (Pic5).

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At that time, I used the same water based acrylic varnish I’d learned of from the painting union

guys. Using that varnish, coupled with a round-edge-tile sponge (a method I’d picked up from

watching the Hopper Finishes guys), we created a pretty cool-looking wall. Chuck liked the finish

so much he had me do his entire living room and kitchen. I thought I’d invented the light bulb! I

knew right then that this was my calling and I had to bring it to the world.

 

By the time I left the PNW, I had a working truck, and I was armed with an idea that was sure to

change the world. When I got back to Crested Butte, I began making samples to show some of the

contractors, but they weren’t biting. They felt the idea was still too green for use, and it was! There

was still so much that I needed to research before this could become a viable surface option.

Fortunately, I was able to get a couple of random homeowners on board with the idea and, after a

couple of projects, I discovered one immediate problem I’d need to solve if I were to continue

moving forward with the idea. It had to do with color consistency. With the plaster we were using,

we’d have to batch up quantities of product for individual sections, while being mindful of break

lines. I assumed, early on, that I needed to do that with joint compound too, but that wasn’t the

case. With mud, if measured correctly, I found that the color from batch to batch was amazingly

similar. I discovered that there are many reasons why color consistency is an important element.

Here are a few reasons:

 

First: If you’re doing a large room, it’s important to have consistent color so if you run out of

product in the middle of a wall, you can’t see a distinguishable break line. It’s time effective to be

able to use multiple batches while working a large area. With plaster it’s nearly impossible and

extremely time consuming.

 

Second: In communicating color, it’s important that potential clients know exactly what they’re

getting. If I show them a sample, it’s very important that their wall will receive exactly what is on

the sample.

 

Third: If you ever have to do a patch in a home, or if they want more of the same color, that color

needs to be exactly the same.

 

These are a few reasons why I needed an accurate color-measuring system early on, but I still had

no clue how to do it. I began keeping a log of colors that I had created based on a box of joint

compound, and slowly, as my catalog grew, so did my pallet. I also created several samples, which

helped tremendously. Color was important, but it paled in comparison to the challenge of creating

a seamless system that was fast and easy. At first, I figured I’d just paint and texture the wall at the

same time: simple, I thought! However, when dealing with spreadable mediums, there is really no

absolute simple way to do it. Fresco Harmony is faster and easier than anything currently on the

market; that part is true, but there’s nothing easy about it.

 

At first, when I was going over textural surfaces, I felt I had to skim out the wall with quickset,

prior to applying the color. I’d do what I called, “racing stripes.” With my 14″ knife, I’d skim out

strips lengthwise on the wall. Then I’d let those dry, and go in between those lines, with the same

method. This flattened the wall, but it was labor-intensive. After a year or so, I realized that instead

of prepping the textural surface first, I could just combine that step with the Adobe texture, into

what is now the FH base coat. It’s the glue in the all-purpose that allows it to stick to pretty much

anything.

 

Another aspect of developing the Fresco Harmony method was creating the simplicity of the second

coat. I assumed that in order to achieve color variation on the surface, I needed to swirl two colors

or layer two different colors – but that wasn’t the case. What I realized is that between the first coat

and the second coat, I could achieve color variation with the same color based on the thickness of

the mud, and various application techniques. This discovery further cut down on time-consuming

and labor-intensive steps.

 

My last challenge was trying to figure out the sealer. Two years into the concept, I was still using

two coats of the water-based varnish. It was good, but not great. I wanted a surface that was strong

enough that one could wipe off wine or coffee. Finally, a friend in the trade suggested something

called “Modern Masters Venetian Topcoat.” It worked like a champ, so I used this two-coat sealer

method for 5 years. In doing the first seal coat, I’d use the water-based varnish, and applying the

second seal coat, I’d use the Venetian Topcoat. This combination was working well, but in the back

of my mind, I knew the Venetian Topcoat could stand alone. I wanted to get the system down to

just three coats, no matter what. I started doing experiments, and after a short period of time, I

divorced the Varnish altogether from the system and the FH three-coat-system was born. It didn’t

really matter what substrate I was going over. With this three coat system we could achieve a

beautiful look. (Pic 6)

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By this point, I was living in Albuquerque and keeping pretty busy just doing colored mud. To date,

Fresco Harmony Services LLC has covered and colored more than 800,000 square feet of surface

area. I had always wanted to share this idea with other drywall finishers but was afraid they’d steal it

and exploit the research I did and the method that took me so long to create. I spent a lot of money

and energy on patent protection, but in the end, I realized that ,this market is new. A large part of

what I’m doing today is educating professionals on what exactly it is that we do, and how drywall

professionals can create huge profit margins, incorporating upscales into their existing systems. The

Color Pack allows me to share the idea, but it’s merely the beginning of something larger.

Recently, we’ve completed several new construction homes by using the Fresco Harmony system

and are achieving amazing results. This year we completed two full houses with the Hang, Finish,

and Fresco Harmony systems. We even incorporated specialized Trim-Tex corner beads and still

achieved four times the profit margin compared to just finishing and texturing the drywall.

 

 

Joe Koenig said it best…

“Stay in the house longer and make more money off each house.” (Joe Koenig – owner,Trim-Tex).

Our Fresco Harmony Services Team uses the same Color Packs and system we sell to our clients.

Our color line is comprised of beautiful, original colors that clients and designers have chosen over

the last ten years. We’re working everyday to create the most simple,beautiful, yet cost efficient

systems to achieve beautiful walls in new homes as well as existing textured houses. I’d like to see

the drywall industry begin to turn these new concepts into more dynamic sales. Let’s continue

utilizing the skills, talent, and tools that we are already using to generate real profit margins and

change the way Drywall is done and viewed in construction. There are no wall systems currently

on the market that are as easy to use, cost effective, and as beautiful as the Fresco Harmony system.

Private message me about how you can get your free Color Pack and Color Chart, and let’s see how

we can start recreating your business with Fresco Harmony today!

 

2 Comments

  1. Robert Orio says:

    Nick, can your product be used just to color the mud ? I would like to paint my smooth wall one color then texture over the painted wall with your product in the mud. I have done this before adding paint to the mud to achieve the desired color. But like you said it is hard to achieve the same color/consistency from batch to batch. Any experience you may have would help.

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