When John Barianos, a master craftsman from Greece, restores the inside of a historic building, he often insists on using the real things.
That's why he recently traveled to Italy and scoured caves near Siena to hunt for the original marble that was used in the Willard Hotel lobby and Peacock Alley promenade around the turn of the 20th century.
"Everyone there told me that no more marble that color existed," said Barianos, 52, who speaks several languages. "But I spent a month going from one cave to another in different Italian mountains until I found it."
To restore historic buildings, Barianos applies the same family secrets that have been used for more than a century on the Greek island of Rhodes, where his brothers still run a studio.
One of his special recipes for scagliola -- an imitation marble -- will be used to re-create the illusion of marble columns in the restored grand Pennsylvania Avenue hotel.
"Scagliola is a lost art," said Barianos, who also has been commissioned to do work at the Washington Cathedral, the Pension Building, the White House, the U.S. Capitol, Ford's Theatre and the Shoreham and Hay Adams hotels, as well as the artificial trees and rocks at the National Zoo.
Barianos and his employes work in several mediums -- fiberglass, terra cotta, plaster, metal, bronze and marble. "No one in this area uses all these mediums and does the combination of work we do," Barianos said.
Barianos' Rockville studio, which specializes in plaster molds and ornamental decorations and paintings, employs a variety of craftsmen, including architectural sculptors, designers, artists, preservers, restoration technologists, engineers and architectural consultants. Sometimes, Barianos brings over craftsmen from Greece and Italy for his projects.
Barianos, who came to this country in 1967, said that he never advertises his talents. But getting business doesn't seem to be a problem.
At the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, and inside Ford's Theatre, he made replicas of designs and restored deteriorated columns. Barianos also did extensive repairs on the ceiling of the Treasury Building, where he used glass fiber, reinforced plaster and concrete to reconstruct delicate moldings.
When lightning destroyed the original stone on Washington's historic Army War College, Barianos made molds of the remaining pieces and cast exact replicas out of glass-reinforced concrete.
"I get business from one architect to the other, one builder to the other," he said.
The entire Barianos family shares in his restoration projects. Barianos' son, Vasilios, 27, runs the company. His daughter, Theodosia, 22, translated the specifications of the Willard Hotel into English after he wrote them in his first language, Greek. And his wife, Helen, 48, used special gilding techniques three years ago to help him prepare the 23-carat gold-leaf finish for the interior of the king of Saudi Arabia's palace.