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The Wall-to-Wall Charm of Home Murals

Each week, Mansion Global tackles a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week we look at how murals can transform a room.

Murals have the power to transform a space by immersing you in a scene or creating a dramatic statement. "They can add layers of interest, beauty and a larger range of color in a space," said Heather Hilliard of Heather Hilliard Design in San Francisco.

"Scenic murals in particular really open up a space and make it feel like a room within a room," she said.

Whether you opt to commission an artist to create a customized fresco or use decorative wallpaper to dramatic effect, follow these tips from the design pros for wall-to-wall perfection.

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Ask for a Mockup

"Murals can create a total environment and bring scenes that are typically seen outside, indoors. We've commissioned several, from scenic, hand-painted wall coverings to artists painting on custom-made canvases to fit a wall (around windows and doors) to actual frescos applied to fresh plaster.

"We always ask for several mockups so we can understand how different elements of the mural will hit moldings, doors, et cetera.

"We like to use them in more intimate spaces such as dining rooms and powder rooms, oftentimes keeping them very subtle so that they're not necessarily noticed right away, but bring people in as they start to take in the room.

"If you're using a canvas or paper, be sure to have a linen backing applied to the wall first. In case of damage, this will allow you to remove just the section needed and replace it with a new one."

Design by Frank Ponterio, a dining room wall becomes an artistic medium thanks to a custom mural. Richard Powers

– Frank Ponterio of Frank Ponterio design firm in Chicago

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Placement Makes Perfect

"Popular styles are based on chinoiserie with traditional Chinese or East Asian decorative influence. There are also scenic landscapes with foliage, architecture and people as well as decorative patterns from Islamic art and the Art Deco period. The mural will have a greater impact when applied to all the walls in a room—you want to feel enveloped in the design.

"For a music room we designed in Los Altos Hills [in California], we chose a design based on archived hand-painted panels to create a fantasy landscape of pre-Raj India. The clients already collected beautiful Indian miniature paintings, so the style resonated.

"A mural can be in any room, but we suggest placement in a special room that will be enjoyed by the homeowners and their guests. In the music room we designed, the panels were printed on non-woven paper and customized to the size of the space. Given the angles and vaulted ceiling, being able to customize heights and cuts of the panels was key to the layout.

"An artist can apply a finish coat to a hand-painted mural making it more resistant to marks and stains."

Designer Heather Hilliard commissioned a mural for a music room, which was first designed on panels, and then printed on non-woven paper and customized to the precise size of the space. David Duncan Livingston

— Heather Hilliard of Heather Hilliard Design in San Francisco

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Let Your Home be Your Guide

"Modern-style murals tend to be very abstract and colorful. A classic-style mural could be a painted scene; usually a landscape but often including animals or figures. You can pinch inspiration from these types of frescoes and incorporate classical elements into your home to great effect. For example, rather than attempting to replicate the Sistine Chapel in your home, replicate one simple aspect such as the clouds in the sky.

"If you're painting a detailed mural, make sure it's in a room that's bright. You don't want details to be lost in darkness. Reception rooms and dining rooms are the bes t, as murals are conversation starters."

Mural by Lucy Tiffney using Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan. Annie Sloan

— Annie Sloan, creator of Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan, based in Oxford, England

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Work With an Artist

"The allure of a mural is its flexibility. It doesn't need to be a literal interpretation of an entire wall with an abrupt start or stop. It can be trimmed out, faded out and doesn't require physical boundaries.

"It can go directly on the wall or onto paper or vinyl. Instead of opting for custom wallpaper this is hand-painted and artisan.

"Select an artist whose work speaks to you and be prepared to give them a bit of freedom. Make sure you measure the size and agree to pricing up front. You can review mockups, hand sketches and shop drawings or renderings to make sure it conveys the general look and vibe.

"The artist should be well versed in how to seal and protect it."

Designer Michelle Salz-Smith added interest to a yoga room with a hand-painted mural designed by artist Liesel Plambeck. Meghan Bob

— Michelle Salz-Smith, founder of Studio Surface design firm in Del Mar, California

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Keep the Overall Look Cohesive

"A mural adds drama and a custom look to any space. The style should be complementary to your home. The mural will be a focal point in a room, so the colors should work well with the décor and the scene should relate to the surroundings.

Foyers and dining rooms are my favorite spaces for murals. In a foyer, a mural sets the tone for the home. In a dining room, a mural adds a sense of drama and is a great conversation starter. A large bedroom is another room that can be enhanced with a mural. I also love covering a screen with a mural, which adds dimension to a room and can also be used as a room divider.

"I like the cohesive look and drama of covering an ent ire wall. However, a mural might simulate a painting and it could be very effective on just a portion of a wall."

"If a mural is in a high-traffic area, a coat of water-based polyurethane with a matte finish will protect it. Test a small section first to see if the colors bleed. If there is sunlight on the mural, use a ceramic film on the window or a window shade to block light during the sunny part of the day."

— New York-based Barbara Karpf, founder and president of DecoratorsBest, an online retailer for high-end textiles and wallpapers

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