Youthful Surroundings 

Stars in Their Eyes

Artist Lainie Gratz adorns her son's playroom with a unique celestial mural.

A big, boldly drawn brown-and-white ram depicting the constellation Aries floats beneath a green fly, the now-obsolete constellation Musca Borealis, in the unusual mural in 15-month-old Beau Gratz's playroom.

Beau's mother, mural artist Lainie Gratz, wanted to stay away from the standard storybook and cartoon images that are common in children's murals, she says. So she turned to an antique celestial atlas originally printed in 1825.

She found something whimsical enough for children and also sophisticated enough to appeal to adults. "I like the hard graphical image that at the same time possesses a quality of mystery and adventure," she says.

The mural hangs in the Gratzes' new home, a Fan duplex that Lainie and her husband, Steve, renovated into a single-family dwelling before moving in last fall.

The 26-year-old artist, who has a degree in painting from James Madison University, designed the mural using a relatively new technique in which the image was painted on a special canvas and applied to the wall like wallpaper. The process enables Gratz to complete murals at her studio and then move them to the location where they'll be displayed. That way, she says, "I'm not right on top of the client. I can work faster."

Gratz started the piece for her son's room with a thin canvas called theater muslin. Using the same soft green paint for the background of the mural that was used on the walls of the room ensured it would appear to be painted directly onto the wall. Gratz copied the image to a transparency and projected it onto the prepared muslin. After creating the general shapes and shading of the two images with latex paint, she used a brown Sharpie marker to outline and draw in details. Enigmatic stars are labeled on the head of the ram and the names of the unseen but nearby constellations of Triangulum and Pisces frame the picture.

The mural, which took a week to complete, was finished with several layers of varnish for protection. Gratz paid professional wallpaper hangers $130 to execute the installation and says the quality of their work was well worth it.

Whenever the family decides to move or store the mural, Gratz says, they can use a blow dryer to soften the glue and peel the mural off the wall.

In her studio, a short walk from her home, Gratz is working on another mural originally meant to hang on the opposite wall of the playroom. "It has turned into its own project, so I don't know whether it's going there or whether I might end up selling it," she says. Inspired by antique sea charts, the work in progress features a galleon plowing through elegant roiling waves toward mysterious lands.

"I wanted a dreamlike feeling — to capture a children's perspective on the world," Gratz says. She's also incorporating stitching and appliqué into the piece. "Adding different materials gives it so much more depth," she says.

Gratz is enchanted with the sense of floating and mystery in the old celestial and seafaring charts. She hopes to incorporate them into upcoming projects, including a series of pieces for a new inn at a regional winery. — M.M.

A Delicate Balance

In a search for harmony, some parents are applying ancient principles to their children's rooms.

Forget austere, forget monochromatic — and forget the futons and rice paper screens conjured up by the words feng shui.

Instead, push through a funky beaded curtain and find yourself at 4-year-old Fuller Reeves' surf shack. Palm trees, hula dancers and monkeys sway in the mural on the walls of the little boy's bedroom. There is nothing austere about this cheerful room, which is graced with seaside images and accents. Using ancient feng shui principles, his mother, Patty Reeves, says she's created a calm, nurturing space for her son.

Reeves applied 4,000-year-old Tibetan and Chinese principles to decorate her home, including her son's bedroom, under the guidance of former neighbor and feng shui practitioner Laura Magnusen of Organomix. Everything from color selection to furniture placement to closet organization is based on the art, which seeks to harmonize the living space with the "chi," or energy, that flows around us.

"It's not a playroom," Reeves says of the tidy room. "It's for winding down and for sleeping." Except for a simple white pail of stuffed animals, toys are put away or stored in other rooms. Soothing blues, greens and tans cover the walls and floor. Images of loved ones are important, she says, so family members are incorporated into her son's mural in the form of hula dancers. His cat is in the scene, but mirrors and electronic gadgets are absent. There is nothing under the bed because the space represents the subconscious, she says, and sleep comes easier when the subconscious is uncluttered. "He loves his room and sleeps well," Reeves says. "We have a very happy family."

Five years ago, Cindy Creasy-Woolfolk searched for help for her son Woodson, then 7 years old, whose attention was wandering at school. She was surprised to find that feng shui could be the answer. According to her friend Robyn Bentley, who runs a business as the "Feng Shui Diva," parents often discover the powerful benefits of feng shui when they're searching for solutions to their children's challenges.

Following Bentley's suggestions, Creasy-Woolfolk positioned Woodson's bed so that the crown of his head pointed in the "wisdom" direction. She also suggested turning his desk so that he faced that way when he did his homework.

Creasy-Woolfolk thinks these simple changes led to improvement: "I saw his creativity increase, he started getting good citizen awards, [and] he was elected school president the last year of elementary school."

When Woodson experienced a rough transition in middle school, Creasy-Woolfolk says she realized she'd rearranged the room, inadvertently negating the feng shui elements. Since she's returned the furniture to the correct alignment, she says, teachers have noticed that her son's time management is improving.

At Bentley's suggestion, Creasy-Woolfolk recently added a display of awards and pictures of heroes opposite Woodson's bed so he sees it when he first wakes up. The display is at eye level, reflecting the feng shui focus on the needs of the individual. Woodson Creasy-Woolfolk, now 11, says he likes the positive energy of the furniture placement. "It helps me focus," he says.

Creating balance and harmony is the essence of feng shui. — M.M.

Hello City Life

The Borkeys leave Ginter Park to become urban pioneers, giving their children a taste of independent living.

While many families move to the suburbs because of the kids, Lin and Kathleen Borkey did just the opposite. A year and a half ago, they and their three teenagers moved from the suburbs to a loft in Manchester.

The children in their blended "Brady Bunch" family, as they call it — "E-Bo" Elizabeth, 13; Jack, 13; and Cameron, 15 — spend equal time with their other parents, so losing a yard wasn't a big problem. And because the three teens attend private schools, changing school districts wasn't either.

The Borkeys don't seem to mind leaving the yard behind. "I don't own a snow shovel, I don't own a rake — I don't want one," says Lin, who confesses that he never was a yard work kind of guy.

So Lin and Kathleen purged themselves of all yard gear, as well as much of their furniture, save two dining room pieces from grandmothers, at a giant yard sale before leaving their large 100-year-old home in Ginter Park.

Their new industrial setting called for a different look, they say, and they've adapted with bright colors and simple furnishings.

Not that the new digs are cramped quarters. The family's three-bedroom, two-bath condo in the Manchester Lofts building soon turned into a four-bedroom, three-bath unit after they bought the unit next door and put in French doors to connect the two. Now they have 3,600 square feet of loft space with exposed raw-wood beams and ceilings, which is only about 600 square feet less than their house. They originally thought they'd give the kids one side of the space, but later figured out a better way to split it up.

The condo's 23-foot ceilings allow each of the teenagers' rooms to have two levels. A downstairs living area has couches, televisions and a place to study. The Borkeys worked with a contractor to add spiral staircases leading to the lofts containing their beds; from them, the kids can look out onto city views. They say it's like having their own apartments.

"It's a pretty popular place to sleep over," says Kathleen, who was host to between 60 and 70 kids for a Halloween party. Afterward she received calls from parents who'd heard about the apartment from their children and wanted a tour.

While the novelty has worn off a little, the kids are getting accustomed to downtown city life. They ride their bikes to Shockoe Espresso for hot chocolate. They take family outings to James River Park. Kathleen takes the dog for a swim near Tredegar Ironworks. Lin and Kathleen ride their electric bikes to the Bottom to go to dinner.

Do they ever feel unsafe in the area? Lin says no — there just aren't that many people in Manchester yet, he says, pointing out that Ginter Park had its problems too. "We think this whole area is going to boom; we feel like urban pioneers," he says.

They also like that they can leave home and feel comfortable that things are secure. When you own a house and go away, you worry about it, Lin says. And "having to worry less about things is just a more efficient way to live."

And because their house was 100 years old, he says, it was in a constant state of construction. "We finished that house the day we moved out," he says. With less maintenance and fewer construction hassles, the Borkeys say they're able to concentrate on what's important: spending time with their kids. — C.N.




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