Design Inspiration Color & Paint

Ghia House’s Fresco-Like Hand-Painted Mural Only Looks Like Plaster

The trick to achieving one is already in your home.
Julie Vadnal Avatar
Ghia dining room with mural of trees and dancing characters
Photography by Julie Goldstone; Styling by Merisa Libbey

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Although artist Xavier Donnelly and Ghia founder Melanie Masarin have known each other since their college days (she at Brown and he at the Rhode Island School of Design), their most magical collaboration to date has been the dining room in her company’s office, which is actually a house. (We wrote all about the space here.) 

Ghia dining room with mural of trees and dancing characters
Photography by Julie Goldstone; Styling by Merisa Libbey

The walls were primed in Backdrop’s Disco Nap paint, so Donnelly, the creative director for hospitality group Ash, used that as a starting point for what he calls a “sun-drenched, craggy, rocky summer-beach experience” mural that gives off fresco vibes. We’ll drink (a NA cocktail) to that. Here’s how he made it happen. 

What was your inspiration? 
I was thinking about this amazing, sun-drenched, craggy, rocky summer-beach experience, the kind you have in Italy or France. Then I interpreted that into this almost mystical, legendary lens, just because all those places have this insane ancient history. I love the idea of all these nymphs and gods and creatures and characters inhabiting this landscape and partaking in a joyous party. I wanted to impart a sense of lightheartedness and joy and mirth.

Empty dining room with hanging lantern
Courtesy of Ghia

It looks like you started with the lantern first.
I did that several months before as a housewarming gift. It was originally in the dining room, but I felt that it was a little too much. The medium was different and it wasn’t quite working, so it ended up somewhere else in the house. 

What was your process like?
I used acrylics and paintbrushes, and, honestly, I had a sketch that I made—and then I completely ignored it the whole time. Didn’t use it at all. 

Room with pastel-like clouds on walls
Courtesy of Ghia

How long did it take to paint?
I did it pretty quickly over a long weekend—an intense long weekend, but the house was empty. I really wanted to get it done before people were back in there. I had it all to myself, and I had a lot of Ghia and music, and I just started feeling it.

It looks like the colors are a bit washed out—did you dilute them?
Super diluted. I wanted it to feel a little plastery, a little fresco-y. And one of the ways to accomplish that without actually painting on wet plaster is to use a diluted paint and a dry brush on top of that. It makes it look really faded.

Mural in progress
Courtesy of Ghia

Real talk: If someone wanted to do this at home, could they? Or should they just hire you?
Anybody can attempt anything—it just depends. I would happily do it. I also think that it’s a really worthwhile investment to have an artist, whether it’s me or somebody else, do this work in your house. It’s expensive, for sure, but it’s really impactful and can be so personal. That being said, I am doing a collection of wallpapers with Backdrop, and one of them is in the same vein as this mural. So that would be another way to get your hands on something like that. 

Mural in progress with paintbrushes
Courtesy of Ghia

What was Melanie’s reaction when she saw it?
I think she liked it, but I fled before she got to the house to see it. That’s always such a nerve-racking moment, right? You’re just like, Oh, I hope they really like it because that took a long time. But I’m the type of person who, if she said that she hated it—she didn’t, but if she did—I would be like, Okay, let’s start over. But thankfully I didn’t have to. She was overjoyed.

Peek into kitchen from living room
Photography by Julie Goldstone; Styling by Merisa Libbey

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Julie Vadnal

Deputy Editor

Julie Vadnal is the deputy editor of Domino. She edits and writes stories about shopping for new and vintage furniture, covers new products (and the tastemakers who love them), and tours the homes of cool creatives. She lives in Brooklyn.