Frustrated by the small size of the dining room in her historic home, Fayetteville interior designer Jessica DeBari decided to open it up with a landscape mural. A classically trained portrait painter, DeBari drew inspiration from a trip she took to Kyoto, Japan, several years ago, where she saw an exhibition by 18th-19th century artist Katsushika Hokusai.
“He did these beautiful, very large-scale screens of trees in the mist, and animals in the mist … it was so gorgeous and so simple,” she said. Hokusai’s art changed how DeBari approached mural painting: “I felt like it was a big challenge to figure out how to paint so simply but beautifully.” She thought a lot about using a light hand. “Murals can be overwhelming if they’re over-painted,” she said. “You have to be loose and light. Kind of like [Hokusai’s] screens.” For her own trees-in-the mist, DeBari returned to the elements of an English landscape from her fine art background, but brushed them in an “extremely light, Eastern way.” Upon seeing the “new” dining room, DeBari said friends and family told her the room felt doubled in size.
DeBari, 37, infused a similar but subtler landscape of mountains as the backdrop for her son’s bedroom mural. In this sleepy-boy dream world, the Iron Giant (from the animated film of the same name), a massive ship with white sails and a rocket ship weightlessly drift and bounce off the room’s baseboards and doorways in a scheme of neutral tones so finely textured that the room almost feels alive. Using a restoration technique she learned while in New York, DeBari first treated the walls with a special type of French plaster with specks of reflective metals in it, which became the basis of her work. “I tried to make the color palette inconspicuous to the wall color,” she said. “I kept mixing the wall back into all the paints that I put on it, so that nothing ever varied dramatically, from lightness to darkness.”
After living on the East Coast for several years, DeBari returned to her native Northwest Arkansas with her husband in 2014, and in 2017 started DeBari Home, an interior design and home decor company. Her educational background (she studied in Italy for her master’s in fine art), combined with years of restoration work with decorative painting companies in Washington, D.C., and New York, helped her develop the techniques and keen eye needed to create high-end interiors with an old-world feel.
Working on custom jobs in Manhattan for designers like Thomas Pheasant and Darryl Carter, DeBari became accustomed to mixing paint colors by hand, curating a color palette that would work with every aspect of an interior, from the glaze on a piece of antique furniture, to ornate chinoiserie, or reflective brass finishes on lighting fixtures. “You know, the type of work you do for billionaire clients,” she said. DeBari still takes the same approach. She never paints straight out of a store-bought can.
“I tend to be a little pickier about colors than most people because of my art background and because it was my job for many years with decorative painting studios to custom-mix colors that would perfectly coordinate with everything that somebody had in their room,” she said. “I thought if I could do that for billionaires, I could do it for myself for free, and for my clients on a lower budget.”