In the Paint
Children's tastes change fast. Yet parents often can't resist having a favorite character or theme painted on a child's bedroom walls.
Although simple stencil kits can be found at hardware and crafts stores, a custom mural by a decorative artist is a prized, personalized work of art.
The right mural can take a child through the teen years and take the room into its next incarnation. Sheppard Bear, co-owner of Fine Art Finishes in Capitol Hill, describes a room with a tree painted in each corner, depicting different seasons.
Branches and vines twining around the room's perimeter can say "rockabye baby" now and "Tuscan terrace" later. Gardens, skies, and abstracts like stripes and checkerboards also have staying power. Cartoon characters won't last long.
Popular gender-neutral themes include underwater scenes, safari and jungle pictures, and harlequin patterns. Barnyards and animals are consistent hits. Sports top the list for boys; gardens and fairies are big for girls. Muralists also incorporate portraits of children and their pets.
If a child gets a say in the mural, it's less likely to be used for pitching practice or scribbling. "In the 150 rooms I've done, I've never had to come back to do repairs for handprints or crayons," says painter Michael Fox of Gaithersburg. Prices can run from several hundred for a figure on a wall to $4,000 for a design that covers most walls and the ceiling. An underwater or barnyard scene averages $2,000; a ceiling of clouds is $400 to $800.
Most muralists are booked four to six weeks out; the painting can take anywhere from a half day to about a week.
Here are some custom artists recommended by designers and parents:
Eric Adkins, Northwest DC; 202-328-0185. High-end, meticulous work from this portraitist who painted details at real-estate developer Alan and Diane Kay's Merrywood estate in McLean.
Anthony Clayman, the Magic Tail, Bethesda; 301-806-3551; magictail.com. He'll do cartoon characters and Redskins rooms but also more refined illustrations. Reasonable prices, and he prides himself on fast work.
Creative Wallworks, Bethesda; 301-622-1031; creativewallworks.com. Artists Ellen Jacobson and Kathryn Lipton paint breezy, lighthearted scenes and help with the room decoration.
Decorative Specialists, Rockville; 877-717-2311; decorativespecialists.com. Designers choose Julie Kaufman's team to paint their own kids' rooms.
Dégagé, McLean; 703-356-5222; degage.com. This well-known faux and decorative painting firm does high-end, detailed work. A recent room for twins featured fire-breathing dragons and a castle.
Carol Eichner, Lovettsville; 540-822-5649; firstname.lastname@example.org. You can get a taste of Eich-ner's sweet–but not sappy–whimsical style at Bethesda's Blue House store, which she painted. A part-time horse trainer, she's a favorite of horse lovers and can include a child's horse in a mural.
Fine Art Finishes, Capitol Hill; 202-544-3142. Sheppard Bear and Brian Tysons' faux and mural painting, a favorite with designers, was featured in the 2003 National Symphony Orchestra Decorators' Show House.
Michael Fox, Chevy Chase DC; 202-237-8473. This children's room painter, working in Washington since 1995, is seeing the children he did nurseries for grown up enough to talk about their next murals.
David Michalski, Gaithersburg; 301-258-0819; ahappylittletree.com. Prices are reasonable, and he does Disney. Look for his work at Great Beginnings in Gaithersburg.
Molly Allen Studios, Chevy Chase, DC; 202-726-5266. Allen will follow her own realist, old-world style or work with clients to develop their own ideas.
Amy K. Tubbs, Alexandria; 703-587-2610; muralsbyamy.net. You can see her Matisse-inspired work at the Chevy Chase Pavilion. She likes working with children to develop a concept.