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Why Carrie Johnson’s hand-painted mural is the latest interior must-have

Children's bedroom with yellow walls, painted with cartoonish images of figures playing in a wood and having lunch
The designer Beata Heuman commissioned a Ludwig Bemelmans-inspired wall decoration for her daughter's bedroom - Simon Brown

The last time Carrie Johnson’s decorating decisions made the headlines, it was for rolls of designer wallpaper; now it’s for hand-painted murals that she has commissioned from the decorative artist Meg Boscawen for her children’s bedrooms.

One features circus tents, mythical characters, carriages and buses; another has a woodland theme that wraps around the room. “A mural can let a child’s imagination run free,” says Boscawen, “and as it is bespoke to the client, it can feel very personal.”

Johnson is leaping onto a trend that is becoming increasingly popular among tastemakers and social media influencers.

For those in the know, Tess Newall is the top choice for hand-painted wall decorations. She has worked for the TV presenter Laura Jackson and the shoe designer Charlotte Olympia, as well as interior design studios including Isabella Worsley and Turner Pocock.

One of her first mural commissions was for Jackson’s eldest daughter’s bedroom: “We came up with a design together that brought nature into the room and that could be a talking point for the children when we put them to bed. It’s so whimsical and beautiful, it’s both inspiring and calming,” says Jackson.

For her part, Newall particularly enjoys painting a mural in a child’s room. “I love knowing that what we are painting will become the backdrop to their plays and puppet shows, and perhaps even shape their imaginations and memories,” she says. “I can remember the decoration of my first bedrooms and playrooms so clearly and have no doubt that it influenced how I played and created. I try to imagine the children’s ‘view’, painting flowers to tower over them, and hiding little details, like a caterpillar wearing spectacles.”

Regardless of whether the mural is for a child or a grown-up, “Murals need to have a magic to them,” Newall believes.

They are certainly an investment: a hand-painted mural can cost from around £3,500 for five days’ work, which would cover a small room. Both Boscawen and Newall agree that it is a deeply collaborative process which starts with ideas from the client and sketches passing back and forth.

Newall says she advises clients to always think about what the room might be used for, in a time frame of at least the next five years. “I recently painted a playroom inspired by Greek mythology, in the style of a fresco,” she says. “The parents also use this room for occasional dinners and drinks parties, so while there are some of their children’s favourite creatures like Totoro hidden in there, it’s also a very beautiful and sophisticated space for adults to be in.”

Murals are definitely not the sole preserve of a child: the designer Paolo Moschino has had them painted in his West Sussex home, while Isabella Worsley has commissioned Newall and the artist Melissa White to paint designs for her projects, including one at Wildhive Callow Hall hotel in Derbyshire.

Moschino says his dining room – a key entertaining area for him and his partner, Philip – had previously felt “like a dark void; the delicate floral hand-painted mural brightened up the entire room and made it feel inviting,” he says.

For those wanting to adopt the decorative flourish in a low-key way, look to Louise Roe, founder of Sharwood England, who had her wardrobes hand-painted by the artist Amy Balfour with Bloomsbury-inspired motifs.

Doing it yourself is the budget-friendly option, if you have the skills. The designer Matilda Goad painted stripes on her four-poster bed using old sample paint pots, and Worsley advises that stencilling is “a great alternative for a more pared-back design motif – and often a more cost-effective option too.”

You can also get the same grand look of a mural with clever wallpaper or tiling. The interior designer Beata Heuman commissioned a bespoke wallpaper mural from the design company The Finished Effect, inspired by writer and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans, for her daughters’ room. “Some wallpapers do a brilliant job of capturing a more painterly feel,” Worsley agrees. There are the famous hand-painted wallpapers by de Gournay, which designer Martin Brudnizski has used in the club Annabel’s, and fabric house Schumacher’s panel series, created by artists.

For a more affordable option, Worsley has recently released a range of wallpapers, including her Cadogan Vine wallpaper which “retains a painted drag-effect ground, to give a more artisanal feel”, while Newall also has a range of her designs in wallpaper form. “I am frequently sent videos of little hands ‘picking’ the flowers from my Herbarium wallpaper, which is very heart-warming to see,” she says.

Mid-range brands such as Graham & Brown offer murals from £37 per square metre, while Surface View has a huge range of styles that can be printed on to bespoke murals, from £45, or tiles. Indeed, bathrooms and kitchens are not immune from the mural trend: the designer Sophie Ashby recently commissioned the artist Anna Glover for a kitchen-dining area, while the French Lebanese designer Annabel Karim Kassar hand-painted a stunning tile mural for a bedroom.

A mural wall isn’t for everyone – renters or frequent movers included – but for those who have invested, there are no regrets. Jackson says she was concerned that she might tire of her mural, “but actually the scene changes as I move furniture around, and it takes on a new life. It’s so special and bespoke to my family and will be integral to my children’s memories.”

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