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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Turning Homes into Works of Art

Jul 24, 2012 12:08PM ● By Megy Karydes

For Debby Spertus, lead artist and owner of Evanston-based Signature Mural and Finish, art in our lives is not merely an option. For her, it’s the way things become magical. “Remember in one of the Madeline [children’s] books, she notices a crack in the ceiling that looks like a rabbit?” Spertus asks. “It’s that childhood innocence, that magic and fantasy, that art can create. It’s these things that kids will remember when they grow up. I love that our work can offer those experiences to both kids and adults alike.”

Spertus, whose company specializes in murals, faux finishes and architectural decor, is often called upon to paint murals in the nurseries of newborns or young children and those rooms, she says, are among her favorites. Some of her clients know exactly what they want painted, but for those that don’t, she’ll bring books, portfolios and a sketchpad and pencils.

For more formal spaces such as entry halls or master bedrooms, where clients are looking for interesting faux finishes, Spertus brings a large collection of boards, asking them to concentrate on colors, techniques and textures they like and how they feel about certain designs. “Then we’ll set those aside and more often than not, we see a pattern emerging,” she explains.

Requests for low - or no - VOC (volatile organic compound) paint were minimal a few years ago, but have become more commonplace in her discussions with clients, especially for children’s rooms.

“At least half of the nurseries we do today we use low- or no-VOC paint because the client has requested it,” she says. “In addition to not wanting to expose a baby to those harmful chemicals, the parents don’t want to inhale them, either. For that matter, neither do I! Luckily, the quality and price of these eco-friendly paints now are on par with the others, so deciding on using them is easier than before, when you either had to pay a lot more for quality paint or settle for lesser-quality paints.” Spertus uses both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams paints because of their wide selection of colors and high quality, and recommends the selection at the Sherwin-Williams store in Kenilworth.

As far as Spertus is concerned, any surface is fair game. “If paints sticks to it, I’ll do it. And I consider the ceiling a fifth wall,” Spertus says with a laugh. It used to be when her Debby Spertusdaughters came home from school and saw something new painted in their home, they would be surprised. “Nowadays, it’s not unusual, since they’ve grown up with a mother who loves to paint and tries out new ideas in her own home.”

For some, the children’s room is just an entrée to other rooms. Once they see how easily and beautifully paint transforms a space, her clients will ask Spertus to do another part of their home, such as a hallway or dining room. “Faux finishes, medallions on the ceiling and murals can easily elevate any room in your home into something very elegant,” she notes.

While most of her clients contract for residential projects, a third of her business is commercial work. “Word of mouth is one way people find us, but my website is my best form of advertising. It conveys my personality, in addition to being a large portfolio of my work,” says Spertus.

For those initially nervous about designing or having a mural done in their home, Spertus advises them to just relax and enjoy the process. “It’s just paint,” she reminds them. “We are not moving any walls, a construction crew will not be in your home; it’s not like you’re making a commitment to build an addition.”

“I have clients who come with a very clear vision of what they want done, and that’s fine,” she says. “There are others who have no idea, and we’ll work together to figure it out,” says Spertus. The result, she says, is almost always magical. “Once they see what happens with that paint when it comes alive, any fears or concerns they once had quickly disappear.” Then they start eyeing other surfaces around their home.

For more information, call 847-477-1853 or visit

Megy Karydes is a professional writer who loves the arts in any form. Reach her at