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Faux Coral

Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page M12

No matter how full the vase of flowers, how artfully arranged the fruit basket, same-old centerpieces can be a little . . . boring. Looking for an elegant yet eccentric conversation starter? Make your own faux coral branches. You may not be headed to St. Barts, but the boughs' woody-yet-high-gloss glamour will add a splash of resort chic to any room. They also make a great gift.

What you'll need: 100-grit sandpaper; rubber gloves; a 1-inch foam brush; a half-pint of high-gloss enamel paint (we used Clean Red); a half-pint of clear, water-based lacquer; and a handful of sycamore or manzanita branches.

Twiggy: Not the waifish supermodel, but still stylish. (Kate Lydon For The Washington Post)

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Step One

Choose the right branches -- namely, dry, leafless, unvarnished ones. Sycamores grow locally, while manzanita branches, which are often used to make perches for reptiles and birds, can be purchased online at pet-supply sites, such as www.blackjungle.comor www.aaareptilesupply.com. Also figure out what look you're going for: a compact, knotty piece for your mantel, or delicately gnarled, twisting branches for a tall vase?

Step Two

Strip off any loose bark and remaining leaves, then lightly sand each branch to help the paint adhere.

Step Three

Wearing gloves and holding a branch in one hand, brush on an even layer of paint, being careful not to miss any crevices or knots. (Spread out a newspaper or dropcloth beforehand to avoid drips.) Let the branch dry thoroughly. After only one coat, you'll still be able to see the wood; a second coat will bring the color to a bright, true red.

Step Four

Once the paint has dried, add a layer of lacquer for extra shine and protection. Kate Lydon

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