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Winter Retreat Dining Room: An Interview with MJ Atelier


Maria Apelo Cruz, a New York Academy of Art master’s graduate with over 35 years of experience, collaborates with designers globally, offering expertise in various painting styles. Alongside husband Mike Jovanovic, she leads MJ Atelier, specializing in custom handmade wall coverings, glass, and furniture for the design trade. Their work is featured proudly in our Winter Retreat’s dining room, showcasing scaled botanical imagery of Palm Beach’s surroundings. We spoke with Maria Apelo Cruz on the process and details of the custom commission.


Can you tell us about your background and your body of work?

My training is in classical academic art with an emphasis on the decorative arts. I’ve worked for the interior design and film industries for 38 years. The constant observation and use of nature is at the core of what we do at MJ Atelier– whether it be traditional or abstract we always look to bring what surrounds us outside into a room or environment. We enjoy developing new decorative art techniques that designers can incorporate into their projects – the synergy between the arts and design is a fascinating one; we’ve developed strong visualization and manifestation skills because of the ever-changing needs of the industries we serve.


Where do you turn to for inspiration?

First and foremost, nature and then classical art forms based on nature, generally the use of decorative and figurative art in history. Much of what we do is unique to client and location – it’s different every time and hence becomes a puzzle or problem solving situation, luckily many of the problems have been solved by other artisans in the past. Being studied in all genres and decorative movements is helpful – we are always looking at historical reference.

P&I 618 Gol Kris Tamburello LR 246

What is the most rewarding part of your process as an artist?

The creative brainstorming that takes place before a project is fixed in form – I love the process of being given abstracts, researching and channeling what is possible. Working with others to create and bring a client’s vision to fruition and seeing the finished project enjoyed by others – we enjoy when the client enjoys.


What was the design directive and inspiration for the custom hand-painted wall covering in the Winter Retreat’s dining room?

Large, colorful and happy – painted in a realistic fashion using saturated colors – and the use of a particular color in certain flowers that appeared in other artwork owned by the client. The client was very involved in the design process.

Can you walk us through the steps you took to realize this commission?

The process involved the design team and client’s vision for the room followed by a scaled render on available elevations followed by life-size hand-painted samples for approval. We study the room taking into consideration the furniture and lighting plan before we start rendering ideas. The room was field-measured by a local installer as accurately as possible given that our final product is a large canvas format – meaning no seams except in corners allowing for freedom in composition and accuracy of design between windows, doors, around furniture and lighting.  Once all the details were established and the client approved the painted samples, we began the process of preparing all the large canvas pieces in our studio.

What was the process like working with our team?

Very inspiring and a moment of excitement and opportunity to create something unique. All details and important client requests were carefully communicated to us which made the project extremely custom and personal to the client.

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What were some challenges you faced with creating this installation?

There were no great challenges – only the preoccupation on our part to make sure the dimensions/measurements of all details lined up with architecture, planned lighting fixtures and furniture. We spent a great deal of time measuring while painting to make sure palm trees ended up dead center under sconces and details around windows did not get cut off.  We marked the final wallcovering thoroughly with tape indicating where the corners of the room started and stopped for the installer.


How long did the project take for you to complete from start to finish?

6 months planning and 3 months painting in studio.

Are there any stories or anecdotes of this installation that you’d like to share?

The installer called us during installation and commented that palm trees ended up dead center on electrical boxes – a detail he thought was a fluke – a proud moment for us all in studio.

Winter Retreat, Dining Room, Photography by Kris Tamburello
Winter Retreat, Dining Room, Photography by Kris Tamburello

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