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Wall murals are making a comeback, and they're easier than you think

  • 5 min to read
Mural

When Reenie Chase thinks of murals as home decor, her mind travels back to the chateau in the South of France where she once lived for a year.

“There was an old, painted mural in the dining room,” she says. “It wrapped all the way around with plaster chipping off the walls. It had scenes from around Provence. Vineyards.”

Chase — a Kirkwood artist who recently created a colorful, grant-funded mural on a building in Quarryville’s Huffnagle Park — would love to paint residential murals.

“With art there’s nothing like the original,” says Chase, who collects works from local artists and never hangs prints at home. “If you’re going to have a mural, I’d personally prefer to have one painted. Of course, you have to be willing to spend a little more.”

Cue one of the reasons that many people are opting instead to install murals that come in wallpaper form. Once reserved for the ultrawealthy, digital technology has opened wallpaper mural options to the masses.

Minted — a company known by many for holiday cards — sells peel-and-stick murals featuring everything from the Sonoma Coast to a sloth swinging from jungle vines. Those run $370 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot mural and $645 for 15-by-12.

Urban Outfitters, which has a 1.1 million-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center near Gap, offers wallpaper murals online for about $500. They are made up of individual panels that can be pieced together to create ocean surf, pine-covered mountains or several giant floral displays.


A longtime tradition

“Using large scale art on the walls to make a statement has been around since the beginning of time,” says Carol Miller, marketing manager at York Wallcoverings. “They have traditionally been used in formal settings and have now moved across the board with everything from pastoral scenes to renditions of street art.”

York-based York Wallcoverings is celebrating 125 years of manufacturing wallpaper in the area and bills itself as the oldest and largest wallcovering producer in the United States.

Miller says the company has been seeing an uptick in wallpaper mural sales. She points to a new collection that York Wallcoverings produced with Rifle Paper Co. The mural options in that collection have been selling so well that they inspired a large mural-only book expected to debut soon, she says.

Miller says murals offer a unique way to personalize a home. They work well with today’s more open design plans in that they can help define a particular space, she says.

As with all of its wallcoverings, the company aims to offer mural options for many price points and lifestyles, Miller says. That might be a city renter looking for a peel-and-stick option that won’t damage walls. It also might be someone in a luxury category who would appreciate glass beads and metalics to give their walls what she calls “a more bespoke property.”

The latter harkens back to the painted wallpaper murals of old.

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, north of Wilmington, Delaware, has for a few years used #wallpaperwednesdays on its social media platforms. There, Winterthur often highlights wallpaper murals like the Monuments of Paris — created by Joseph DuFour in the early 1800s and made using hundred of colors of hand-printed wood blocks. That’s the kind of wallpaper mural that fits with the 175-room former home of Henry Francis du Pont.

Racking your brain for closer old-school examples? There aren’t any wallpaper murals displayed at Historic Rock Ford or Wheatland or Longwood Gardens, where another DuPont once lived. Folks who may have been in the 12-bedroom Conestoga House over the years may remember an outdoor-themed wallpaper mural in a dining room of the home once owned by Christian Hershey, the first of the Hershey chocolate family to arrive in America. The mural is still there, but the room isn’t open to the public.


Prepare properly

Whether one is going the paint or wallpaper route for a mural, proper prep work is key.

“If you use the right paint materials it can be there for 30, 40 or even 50 years, in some state. They’d have to be touched up,” says Steve Wilson, an artist and partner at Red Raven Art Co. in Lancaster. He has painted murals for years in homes and on exterior walls like garages.

“Of course, there are murals over in Italy that have been there 400 years,” Wilson says, adding those were the days when mural artists would move into a client’s house for a year while they finished.

Clients have never asked Wilson to move in. But he concedes that wallpaper may fit with more budgets than hiring an artist.

Dee McCarty, a Mountville interior designer, went the wallpaper mural route for the couple who ended up with a fall mountain scene.

“They wanted something pretty for their neutral gym to brighten it up and motivate them while they work out,” she says.

While it might seem counterintuitive, large murals can work in small spaces, McCarty says.

“If the mural has movement — say, with trees or water — then it can actually widen a space,” she says. Be careful not to go too dark and make sure there’s a balance of light and dark, she advises.

One large wall mural featuring mountains and a stream garnered plenty of views last week. It’s seen on the wall behind Stevie Nicks’ piano as the singer laces up her roller skates for her version of the TikTok “Dreams” challenge, which Nicks posted on Tuesday, Oct. 13.


Hand-painted murals

Also be mindful of how furnishings will fit with a mural, says Sheri Smoker, of Room with A View design studio in Mount Joy. Often that wall will need to stand alone, she says.

Smoker has incorporated murals in a few clients’ homes over the years and has spent countless hours poring over wallpaper mural options.

“Usually the requests for murals are so specific that it can be challenging to marry what they want with what’s available,” Smoker says. In most cases she’s found an artist to paint one instead.

One of her favorite examples was for a client who loved the English countryside and wanted her dining room to express it. Featuring sheep and rolling hills, that mural blended perfectly with the view of the actual hills outside the window.

“It lent a very peaceful feel to the dining room,” she says.

Don’t automatically rule out hand-painted murals, Smoker suggests.

“It depends on the detail of the hand painting,” she says. “But it could sometimes be less expensive than a wallpaper mural if you want that professionally installed to make sure it’s lined up with proper cuts.”

Smoker has, however, used wallpaper murals, such as a couple featuring baseball scenes.


Photo murals

Let’s say you want a wall mural showing an aerial view of downtown Lancaster or of Amish farmers working their fields. Limitless Walls will sell you those and literally millions of other photo stock options. The company also will print a wall mural featuring a picture you take yourself.

Based in King, North Carolina, Limitless Walls has for about eight years been run by brothers whose grandfather built a tape and films company in Bucks County.

“We just sort of fell into it. We weren’t looking to get into the mural game because they were getting popular,” says one of the brothers, Mike Speeney “That just sort of happened around the same time, which was nice.”

Speeney says their typical residential wall mural customer is between the ages of 35 and 55. They also do big business with restaurants and hotels.

“White bricks are selling really well and really anything from sunsets to the beach,” he says. With popularity comes more competition.

“It’s really coming from Europe. From places like Sweden where murals are even more popular,” he says.

Back in Kirkwood, Chase says murals can offer a way to cater one’s home to their personal tastes. In an ideal world, those tastes appeal to others, too. She recalls a friend who painted an underwater mural in her basement complete with shark and mermaid.

“When they were trying to sell the house, her mother-in-law said, ‘You have to paint over that mural. Nobody is going to want that,’ ” Chase says. “She didn’t. And, well, that mural sold the house.”