Move Over, Arches: This Is the Throwback Painted Mural Trend Design Nerds Will Be Talking About All Year

published Jan 15, 2023
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Maybe you’ve sensed a shift in the world of interior design back toward more traditional, ornate spaces — your social media feeds and favorite magazine pages flooded with homes featuring crown and picture frame molding, classic plaid upholstery, board-and-batten walls, and stately Persian rugs. Homes with original character have long been coveted, but a renewed reverence for traditional details seems to be playing out in the housing market and many of home renovations I’m seeing right now on Instagram and TikTok. Renters are getting in on the action in reversible ways, and those that have moved into more modern homes are also emulating these intricate details to add character to otherwise bland spaces.

So far, a lot of the DIYing in this mini-design movement has centered on adding some classic architectural features. But what if I told you though that the latest (and maybe most-budget friendly?) iteration of the adding vintage character trend has people reaching for paint cans and brushes versus their tool boxes? That’s right, trompe-l’oeil (French for “to fool the eye”) architectural charm is trendy, old-meets-new paint application. Translation: Instead of hanging moldings or picture frame trim, people are starting to paint them instead.

Take this 500-square-foot studio rented by Calvin Hrezik, for example. The apartment itself is fairly standard for New York City living: plain white walls, wood floors, and not a whole lot of living space. In spite of that, Hrezik has created an opulent, Parisian-feeling home — not only with furnishings and decor, but also the clever use of paint. An interior designer by trade, he thought outside the box to add character into a “blank canvas of a box” apartment. “I brought in my oh-so-talented muralist friend Colton Ackerman to collaborate on trompe-l’œil paintings throughout but in a cartoonish, campy, ‘Mary Poppins’ way,” he says.

The entry hallway is home to a row of closets painted entirely in Benjamin Moore’s San Antonio Rose (027) for a cohesive, enveloping look. On top of that peachy-orange base, the duo created whimsical, almost doodle-like renderings of picture frame molding in a contrasting red color. Benjamin Moore’s Coastal Cottage (1164) rules the living space, where painted garlands and curtains extend down from the apartment’s ceiling line. “The tassels dance on the tops of the Benjamin Moore Coastal Cottage walls around the main area,” Hrezik adds, “tying off a faux curtain into the entrance and closet hallway, complete with a painting of my cat, Disco Stardust, participating in her favorite pastime of pawing at pigeons.” 

In the bathroom, you’ll find even more fool-the-eye fodder, this time in the form of “wallpaper.” Here, Hrezik commissioned Ackerman to paint “frames filled with a few of my favorite things, inspired by the idea of flooding all of the bathroom walls with my queer art collection.” The color used for these whimsical outlines was Benjamin Moore’s Gentleman’s Gray (2062-20), and the design sits above the bath’s tall blue tiled wainscoting in the shower surround.

Sure, these painted features may be a little more stylized than your typical crown molding or box panels, but there’s no denying that the painted mural trend could be headed from abstract geometric shapes and arches into this trompe-l’oeil territory.

While this trend requires some skill and time, it’s a super-budget friendly way to add character and charm to your home. You can freehand these designs if you’re comfortable with that or team up with a pro like Hrezik did. When it comes to picture frame molding in particular though, the look can be really achieved with just a few colors and some strategic measuring, painting, and taping to create the shadows that pieces of real molding would cast. I can’t wait to see more of this in 2023 because the year is young for paint ideas!