As a designer looking at the walls in a customer’s house, you ask yourself, “What can I do with these walls?” Have you considered wall covering? You might have used wall covering several years ago and then walked away from it when the designs became stagnant, consumers only wanted to use borders and it became more of a do-it-yourself project. You forgot about it when faux painting and tromp l’oeil became all the rage, or you left wall covering behind because the profit was taken out of it by the 800-numbers and big box stores. Walls have been void of interesting pattern for far too long. It’s time to revisit wall coverings.
Wall covering designs are more exciting then ever due to innovations in technology and the development of new substrates . . . and yes, you can make money selling wall coverings again.
FROM THE FASHION RUNWAY TO THE WALL
If you have not sold wall coverings in the last 10 years, the look has changed dramatically. Haute couture is showing fabric with lots of shimmer, beading, crystal and embellishments of all kinds (see page 22) and this trend is one of the most dramatic looks being directly translated to wall coverings.
According to Suzanne Ashley, director of product development for Seabrook Wallcoverings, “New innovations in technology have allowed the wall coverings industry to create wall coverings with more shimmer and texture using metallic, pearlized, glittered and dimensional inks. Wall coverings are being embellished with glass bead and sand designs, which give visual and tactile texture. The newest embellishment on the market is Wall Jewels™,” states Ashley. “They are available in gold, silver or copper metal filigree medallions and Swarovski Crystal® starbursts, which can be applied to your wall covering to create a customized look. We are also being reintroduced to flock using more colorful fibers with sheen.”
Fashion has introduced an abundance of pattern. We can thank the huge influence of the green movement for our first pattern category, encouraging fashion to take a cue from the environment for design motifs, color and fabrics. “Florals, leaves, tree branches, butterflies and birds are often presented in silhouette with a layered effect to create shadow as seen in fashion and wall coverings,” says Ashley. “Another very popular wall covering choice, grass cloth, is made from natural materials of grasses, bamboo, sisal and more.
A second pattern category is Global Ethnic. This is represented by a blending of motifs from around the world resulting in a multicultural approach that does not focus on any particular area. “In wall covering, we see the use of paisley, ombré, fretwork, medallions, mosaics and other tile looks in deep rich colors with metallic accents as well as neutrals,” states Ashley.
Next we see the retro geometric patterns influencing fashion. Ashley tells us, “In the world of wall covering this translates into circles, squares, rectangles and stylized floral. The scale here is typically large and the color is bold. We see bright colors playing off black and color infused metallic.”
Finally, we cannot forget the traditional influences in fashion. “Patterns such as houndstooth, damask, stripe, toile, Jacobean, and chinoiserie are given a new look with the use of exaggerated scale and a fresh twist on color,” says Ashley.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
“Due to the bold color and large dramatic scale of many traditional and contemporary designs, wall covering sidewalls are being featured as art on a focal wall in the room,” according to Ashley at Seabrook, “with a more textural pattern used as a complimentary companion.” These grand scaled designs are great solutions to homes with high ceilings and open floor plans, but don’t be afraid to use large patterns in smaller rooms to create a delightful surprise. Also, let’s not forget the fifth wall: the ceiling. Ceilings are being papered more than ever before, with dramatic patterns that make a statement.
As a designer, the most important thing to remember is that only 10 percent of the population (usually designers) can visualize how a papered wall will look when finished. This means your customers, who fall into the other 90 percent, need all of the help you can give them. Wall covering books are great for the initial selection. Show the room-set photos of the selected patterns to your customers so they can really get a feel for these oversized patterns. Order memo samples of the selected patterns to tack up on the walls in your customers’ homes so they can see the whole design and get comfortable with the pattern and scale. If you have a showroom where customers can visit, it would be a great idea to display some of these large-scale patterns in vignettes. Remember, too, that wall covering is also a product that is touch-and-feel as well as visual.
Thanks to technology wall coverings have become easier to hang and remove. We are seeing the use of superior, more substantial paper substrates and the new non-woven fabric substrate by wall coverings manufacturers.
“Non-woven substrates create an interesting visual background where the actual fibers are enhanced by the inks and beautiful dramatic patterns can be printed,” says Seabrook’s Ashley, “while still allowing the substrate to be breathable. This is advantageous in areas of the country or rooms in your home that have major moisture issues.”
Another attribute of the non-woven substrate is that it is easy to hang and even easier to remove. Just pull on a corner and the entire strip will easily release from the wall; if the wall has been prepared properly prior to hanging.
Many manufacturers today are also steering away from pre-pasted wall coverings. They are finding that it is much easier to use a paint roller to apply adhesive to the wall or directly to the back of the paper. Just think, no more water trays and the drippy mess.
FROM THE WALL TO THE BANK
Wall covering had fallen out of favor with designers because it was not profitable. Many wall covering companies, those no longer in business, were treating wall coverings as a commodity instead of the fashion statement that it is. We know that a designer cannot make any money in selecting a paint color, but today there is money to be made in wall covering.
As a designer you may ask, “How can I compete with the 800-numbers, Internet and big box stores?” Look for wall covering companies that cater to the interior designer. Companies, such as Seabrook, have programs in place to protect the selection and sale of the interior designer. According to Ashley, “There are no suggested retail prices in our wall covering collections. Seabrook has gone totally to net pricing. This means you receive your cost and you figure your own selling price, giving you control over the profit you will make.”
Exclusive designer collections, such as Seabrook’s Van Luit, The Carlisle Co., Antonina Vella, Printers Guild Productions, and Society Hill, are not allowed to be sold on the internet, by 800-numbers or the big box stores. Wall Jewels™ also allow add-on sales with wall covering.
Now may be a good time as a designer to revisit the opportunities wall coverings have to offer.
Theresa Roh-Roberson is director of marketing and public relations for Seabrook Wallcoverings, Inc., Memphis, TN.