PARENTING : Gaga Over Murals : Parents are going wild with ideas for hand-painted decorations for their children's bedrooms and bathrooms.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to Valley Life

Karen Seaman, a mural painter, remembers thinking she deserved a mother-of-the-year award when she hung a mobile over her daughter's crib 20 years ago.

Now parents go wild decorating their children's rooms and bathrooms, she said, and there is a growing demand for hand-painted murals. Parents have asked her to paint everything from full-scale 20-foot forest scenes to "Jungle Book" characters--accented by a bedside fabric palm tree--to a giant Laker's player making a slam-dunk into a real basketball hoop--attached to the wall for both its three-dimensional effect and its play value.

"People are just getting more inventive with children's rooms in general," said Seaman, 44, owner of Chatsworth-based Mural Majority. "They're trying to maximize as much space as possible, and there's a lot of emphasis now on stimulation, making the rooms exciting and interesting to young children."

The interest isn't just coming from the well-to-do. Nancy Bocash, mural painter and owner of Wall Fantasy in Woodland Hills, says she has "literally gone into people's homes--and they have no furniture--but they want me to paint their kids' rooms." Murals typically cost between $200 and $500, although they can run as much as $2,000 to $3,000. A mural can cost less than would wallpapering, said Bocash, and it offers a one-of-a-kind individuality that paper cannot guarantee.

Some parents ask for a more conservative, tied-together look, carrying a theme or color scheme throughout the room, including everything from the comforter to the stuffed animals on the shelves, Seaman said.

Bocash said she can usually tell what type of mural parents will go for by assessing the colors, the furniture and the style of the rest of the home. But for some parents, the chance to commission a mural in their child's room may offer them an opportunity to run with a creative impulse they would never dare follow in the rest of the house. One family for whom Bocash recently worked had a home done entirely in off-white, including furniture, carpeting and accessories. They wanted to go wild with color and design in their baby's room. "I figured this is their escape room," Bocash said.

Seaman tries to discover early on whether the parents are having the mural done for themselves--to satisfy a decorating need--or to delight the child. "Some parents make a point of ensuring the mural will be well within the child's reach, and easy for the child to see," Seaman said. Others seem to be satisfying a drive to create a perfect-looking environment for a soon-to-arrive newborn.

Some parents want the room decorated with their own favorite characters, Bocash said. One father insisted on doing a new nursery with Flintstone characters.

Other parents favor mosaic art materials, although this is far less common and much more expensive. Merle Fishman of Projectile in Sherman Oaks recently did a 4-foot wall mosaic painting of a couple's children outside a dining room. The mural, made of tile, glass, stone and pottery, cost about $2,000, Fishman said. "The kids didn't know about it. They were surprised."

Many people are "trying to express something about themselves in their homes. They want something everyone else won't have."

The painters use washable, high-grade, odor-free interior latex for the murals, and often let the children fill in between the lines and co-sign the mural. The average mural takes two to three days from conception to completion.

The greatest demand now, according to Seaman and Bocash, is for jungle animals, cowboys and Indians, castles, rainbows, "Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" characters, trains and planes. For older kids, giant blow-ups of favorite baseball cards, spaceships, sport scenes and video characters are popular.

They caution parents to keep in mind how quickly children grow and how rapidly their tastes change from infancy to elementary age. "Even at 3 or 4, children may not want bouncy lambs running across their room," Seaman said. Kids start a real interest in their room's design about age 5, said Bocash, who added that after that point, "Sesame Street" characters and cowboys will be passed over for something that looks more like an older child's room.

Where to Go

Information: Wall Fantasy, (818) 884-1652; Projectile, (818) 501-3614; Mural Majority, (818) 718-4057.

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