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Artist Carla Oberlander surveys her work (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)
Artist Carla Oberlander surveys her work (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

Imagine walking into a painting and being able to live or work there.

That is exactly what painter and muralist Carla Oberlander wants you to experience when you enter one of the restaurants, stores or homes where one of her pieces hangs.

Oberlander paints scenes, people and places. But walls are not her only canvas, she also takes her paint brush to ceilings, floors, windows and furniture.

With a background that is more restaurant than art school-based, Oberlander has done everything in the dining industry, from bartending for the Manhattan’s O’Neal’s restaurant chain to owning her own restaurants in Minneapolis and Greenwich Village. But the decor of an establishment is what always struck her first.

“Everytime I went into a place I would look at and talk about the decor,” she said.

After 30 years in the restaurant industry she began painting murals professionally. Her work quickly got her jobs painting in restaurants and homes in New York City, as well as Westchester County and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

“I transform the environment, add character and do it with everything from painting the furniture to interior design,” she said. “Mostly I do dramatic transformations in restaurants, hotels and B & Bs.”

Last year Oberlander opened up her own space, Olive Studio, on Front Street in Greenport to showcase her work. Nearly every part of the shop’s interior is painted — including the walls, floor and furniture.

“It’s better for people to walk into a painting, which is what they kind of do,” she said.

Diners at Emilio's sit surrounded by Oberlander's art on the walls and pizza counter (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)
Diners at Emilio’s are surrounded by Oberlander’s art on the walls and pizza counter (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

Oberlander is now transforming Emilio’s of Greenport on Main Street. Currently she is painting wall murals, but will also paint the ceilings, floors, as well as the tables and chairs.

“People eat with their eyes,” said Oberlander, a Manhattan and part-time Southold resident. “I wanted the walls to look as good as the food tastes.”

Emilio Trotta, owner of Emilio’s, agrees. A fixture in Greenport for 10 years, he’s looking to make his establishment look less pizzeria and more Italian restaurant.

“I’m fixing it to be a casual coastal, family Italian restaurant,” Trotta said. “I want you to walk into Italy, I already have the food to go with it.”

Trotta met Oberlander when she was opening her Front Street studio and began coming in to eat. Oberlander struck up a conversation with her ideas and soon gave Trotta a full presentation, which he accepted.

Trotta was not afraid to admit it was time to make some changes, as he is in the process of turning his bakery café into a wine bar, which Oberlander will also paint.

Trotta recited a quote by his father, who also ran a pizzeria before him. “You can’t keep your head in a pot of sauce in the back, you have to stop, step back and look around, see what’s going on,” he said.

“That’s what I’m doing now,” Trotta said. “Besides being a talented artist, Carla also knows the restaurant business, she’s been in it.”

Now that winter has settled in Greenport, Trotta hopes to have the painting and changes done by April.

After Oberlander finishes painting Emilio’s, she will travel to Pennsylvania to paint an art deco home theater inside a private residence. She will return to Greenport on weekends to open her studio and because she says she has fallen hopelessly in love with the North Fork.

Olive Studio is located at 8 Front Street in Greenport. For more examples of Oberlander’s work, visit olivemurals.com.

Emilio’s of Greenport is located at 400 Main Street. For more information visit emiliosofgreenport.com.

Walking into Oberlander's studio on Front street is like walking into one of her paintings (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)
Walking into Oberlander’s studio on Front street is like walking into one of her paintings  (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)
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