Originally published in STIR®
A modern, design-driven take on fresco painting, murals can bring personality and timeless character to residential projects.

When Milwaukee resident Mary Bowers had her downstairs closet remodeled into a half-bath, the space wasn't large enough to accommodate much artwork. So the enterprising homeowner turned the walls themselves into art. Now the room bursts with red and orange poppies and bright green leaves on a dramatic black background.

The tiny space makes a big impression, and that's exactly the effect Bowers was seeking. "I wanted it to explode with color when people opened the door," she says. To create that effect, Bowers turned to Trillium Crafted Surfaces Ltd., a Milwaukee-based artist group.

"I knew immediately upon walking into Mary's house that she loved color," says Jennifer Innes, Trillium's design and color specialist. She and her partners Ray Strong and Kevin Schaefer worked with Bowers to develop a vivid design for the bathroom. The poppies were inspired by an oil sketch by turn-of-the-century portraitist John Singer Sargent and created using the following Trillium hand-tinted Sherwin-Williams coatings: Cashmere® Interior Latex paint, Eg-Shel underglaze and Illusions® Faux Finish Glazing Liquid™.

Custom murals help people inject their personality into their living spaces, Innes says. "The poppy piece definitely speaks to Mary's vibrant personality."

Maureen Kesselring of Ann Arbor, Mich., didn't want bold, but instead something calming and elegant on her walls. While traveling in Europe, she fell in love with Italian frescoes. "They have so much history," she says. "I wanted to bring a piece of that back to Michigan."

Kesselring hired artist Martin Soohoo to paint a sky full of angels in soft sepia colors on the domed ceiling of her master bedroom.

Soohoo drew ideas from classical reference books and consulted often with Kesselring throughout the process. "Martin paints with a Q-tip. I would stop by, and he would be on his back dotting away," Kesselring says. "He'd always ask for my input."

For the more than 40 angels on Kesselring's ceiling, Soohoo chose a soft palette of creamy whites, light blues and cinnamon for flesh tones, creating a look reminiscent of tea-washed linen. "It's very calming," says Kesselring.

Subtlety of color is paramount to Soohoo. "Whoever sees the mural can mentally control the color," he says. And as daylight moves through the room, it casts shadows across the soft hues that suggest other shades. "You see dusty purples that aren't even there."

Soohoo uses Sherwin-Williams primer as a base for all his murals to help the paintings endure over time. "I really like the body of the paint as it sets up," he says. "It bonds well." That's important to him because his clients are investing in a work of art, and he has invested "a part of my soul" in creating one for them.

"I would like to think that in 100 years, they'll still be there. I hope they'll be the subject of restoration rather than replacement."