Faux Windows Warm Up Empty Brewery Building

Thomas MacMillan PhotosThe windows of a vacant gatehouse at a former Fair Haven brewery are all boarded up. And yet—a cat peers out at passersby, and houseplants sit on sunny windowsills.

How can that be?

That cat isn’t really there. Nor are the plants. It’s just a trick of the eye—trompe-l’oeil—created by artist Holly Whiting (pictured).

With brushes and paint, she transformed sheets of plain plywood into “windows,” complete with venetian blinds, leafy houseplants, and, in one corner, a gray house cat.

Whiting, who has a studio in Erector Square, was recently commissioned to paint the windows by Bob Leahy, who owns Brewery Square apartments, near the corner of River and Ferry streets.

Holly Whiting photoMuch of the old Quinnipiac Brewery, which dates to the late 1800s, has been converted to apartments. But the building that fronts Ferry Street, known as the gatehouse, has long sat vacant.

The building’s windows had been boarded over with green painted plywood. Whiting said Leahy hired her to “make it look less vacant.”

Whiting has been doing decorative painting for over 10 years, mostly interior work. “I do murals and faux finishes,” she said.

For the Brewery Square job, she started by checking out the site, and seeing what the existing, real, windows look like. The answer: “Mostly venetian blinds, and mostly closed.”

Whiting said she wanted to match the other windows, but also to have a little flair. So she raised the blinds just a bit on her painted windows, revealing houseplants, and a furry friend.

It took Whiting and an assistant three weeks to paint the panels. She did eight windows, each comprising two sheets of plywood, custom-cut to fit each opening.

On a recent visit to the site, Whiting pointed out how she had studied the direction of the sunlight hitting the building. Her calculations determined the direction of shadows cast by window frames onto the blinds, the cat, and the plants. The shadows have the best effect in the afternoon, with the sun in the southwest, she said. “In the morning, it doesn’t make as much sense.”

Whiting pointed out a plant she painted from life, in her studio. “The others, I just Googled.”

Whiting said she hopes passersby have an “oh, wait a second,” moment.

“If you’re just driving by, you may not notice,” she said. “Then you realize it’s painted and it’s cool that it’s painted.”

“I didn’t notice it at first,” said Mike Toftness (pictured), who walked by moments later. Then, he said, he thought, “Oh, wait a second. Hold on.” That’s not a real window at all.

Toftness walks by the building every day on his way to work at the post office. He said the new window treatments certainly make the building look less vacant. “It’s a vast improvement. I hope they keep it up.”

Whiting said she hopes other owners of vacant, boarded-up New Haven buildings will follow Brewery Square’s example. “There’s plenty of places that could be spruced up a little.”

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posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on March 18, 2014  11:36am

Awesome. It’s just a small thing, but it really makes a world of difference aesthetically. Kudos to the building owner for actually spending money to reduce blight.

posted by: Fairhavener on March 18, 2014  12:18pm

This building and area is quite underused and could be such a great hub for business sites and entertainment/recreation. Imagine if someone had the ability to actually start a Quinnipiac Brewery there again!

posted by: anonymous on March 18, 2014  12:51pm

Because property taxes are based on building condition, she’ll probably see a rise in her taxes after doing this (above and beyond the amount already proposed by Mayor Harp).

Is there a way to reverse this so that property owners have an incentive to do things like paint and maintain their properties?

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on March 18, 2014  12:58pm


I for one would be interested in an article on that building—what kind of shape is it in, what’s the interior like, why is it still vacant?  It looks at first glance as if it would be perfect for a restaurant or other commercial space; or maybe commercial downstairs and apartments upstairs.

posted by: Paul Wessel on March 18, 2014  1:06pm

Looks like a nice Bregamos Theater spot.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on March 18, 2014  1:09pm

Love it. Maybe it’s a sign to a different time in our culture, when woodwork on homes was carved, and folks saw the beauty in their homes and neighborhoods, and groomed, and maintained both.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 18, 2014  2:33pm

Very nice collaboration between community and artist.
Art and Vision combined???? Keep it up!

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on March 19, 2014  8:00am

They started doing this last year with blighted buildings in Bridgeport (albeit without as much artistic flair): http://www.thebridgeportnews.com/6599/vacant-houses-get-facelift/

posted by: Holly Whiting on March 20, 2014  7:05am

This was a fun project for sure. Thanks to my “assistant” Jon Rundstrom who did a tremendous job.

posted by: fastdriver on March 23, 2014  11:35pm

I wish they would do SOMETHING like this on River St! Is ANYTHING being done to revive that area? What a waste!