There is something special about murals.
Unlike canvas paintings or framed images, they are so big, bold and eccentric that they immediately command attention in any room. Sometimes they can even secure a house sale.
That was the case for retired businessman Gary Keeley when, 25 years ago, he first set foot in Byeballs Farm at Tindon End, Saffron Walden.
Room with a view: Artist John Pascoe’s hand-painted former studio in Islington, North London
‘I was looking for a renovation project but nothing like this,’ says Gary, 59.
‘There were brambles growing over the roof, weeds were poking through the floors and the moat was completely dry.’
Gary was on the point of turning his back on the wreck of a house when something caught his eye.
In the shadows of the drawing room he made out the faint colouring of some flowery, decorative, medieval murals.
‘They fascinated me and what really clinched it were the initials ‘S’ and ‘G’ on the work,’ says Gary.
‘My wife is Sharon; I am Gary so they were also our initials. It seemed like fate that we should own the house.’
Gary then spent two years restoring and reconfiguring the layout of the house, adding bathrooms.
With 2.5 acres of land, an orchard, heated pool, gym and party barn, Byeballs Farm is now for sale with Cheffins, priced £1.75million.
Murals date back to the Paleolithic period; the Romans used them extensively and they remain popular today, when a newly discovered Banksy will be front page news.
Tess Newall is one of the most sought-after mural artists in the country, before which she painted and decorated film sets.
‘Hand-painting adds charm and texture to a room,’ says Tess, who worked on the film Vita & Virginia about the Bloomsbury Group.
‘There is something magic about seeing brushstrokes knowing a person has painted it. Wallpaper has awkward joins whereas a mural celebrates the shape of a room.’
Murals are often used to create a sense of space. The opera set designer and artist John Pascoe did just that in his studio in a Victorian house in Islington, North London, where he created a mural that wrapped around the whole room, adding beams of sunlight to monuments, trees and lakes, making the room a kind of extension of nearby Clissold Park.
‘I believe that nature has an incredible power to enhance our well-being,’ says John who put the studio on the market last year. ‘I hope that I have created a slice of tranquility in the city.’
Back to nature: Botanical designs offer homeowners a sense of tranquility
For your own slice of tranquility Joanna Perry specialises in nature-inspired scenes from Japanese gardens to woodland.
Essentially the best murals are all about deception — they are fun. Modern-day parents often have their children’s nursery walls bedecked with scenes from Disney — Jungle Book is still a favourite — or in Barbie pink.
Birmingham-based Sweetart Murals offers bespoke designs while specialising in children’s and nursery pieces.
Bathrooms can be an inspiration. One vendor recently put his house on the market with a mural in his shower room that gave the impression the whole room was under the ocean.
The ceiling depicted the bottom of boats; the sun filtered through on fish swimming around, it was all very realistic.
We’ll miss many things about the house and the murals are top of the list
Sadly, though, many viewers with little children were less than impressed with the naked nymphs. So do be careful as murals can be a selling point but equally a detraction.
‘I recently advised a client with a Sistine-esque mural in the kitchen to paint over it,’ says Ed Jephson of Stacks Property Search.
‘I think a mural is too much an expression of the owner’s interest.’
Others take an inordinate pride in their murals.
‘Whenever we start planning the day we have to move from this house my wife, Sharon, breaks down in tears,’ says Gary Keeley of Byeballs Farm.
‘We’ll miss many things about the house and the murals are top of the list.’