After years of being upstaged by neutral backgrounds and faux paint finishes, wallpaper is forging a comeback as successfully as Teri Hatcher on Desperate Housewives. Beautiful, vibrant and very, very trendy, wall covering is the sexiest decorating star of 2006—easier to install than ever with options, textures, sizes and color combinations for every budget and taste.
But before we get to the good stuff, you might be curious as to
how—and where—wall coverings began.
PULP NON-FICTION: 105 AD
We can all thank Ts’ai Lun for his ingenuity in mixing mulberry
bark and bamboo fibers with water and then pounding the concoction
like crazy with some kind of wooden tool until it was rendered into
a pulpy glop. We can be glad that he then poured this substance
onto a large piece of cloth (coarsely woven enough to allow water
to drain through), spread it around thinly and then left the remains
to dry. Later, peeling the dried substance off of the fabric, he
was left with a lightweight, transportable paper-like sheet (oh,
so much better than the chisel and stone tablet).
It is Ts’ai Lun who is credited with the development of a
material—paper—that revolutionized his country and the
But what we are interested in, wallpaper, came much later in our
world’s history. It was French King Louis XI who, in 1481,
commissioned 50 rolls of painted paper adorned with angels on a
blue background to be created by the artist Jean Bourdichon.
Of course, the gentleman complied and soon well-heeled copycats
throughout Europe were commissioning artists to create similar papers
for their own humble castles. Paper wall coverings become all the
WALLPAPER TAKES WING
We then look to Jean-Michel Papillon, who, in the burgeoning 1700s,
designed repeats into his paper patterns; then flutter over to America,
where the oddly named Plunkett Fleeson began printing wallpaper
in Philadelphia. And on and on . . .
But enough of this history! Most of us are just interested in the
here and now: the fascinating, beautiful wall coverings of today.
A cleverly applied paper can make a smaller room look spacious,
make a dark room appear light and airy, or a light room seem cozy
and intimate. Vertical stripes can elongate an interior; horizontal
stripes can make it appear wider.
TODAY’S WALL COVERINGS
And, while wall covering has traditionally been used on all four
walls of a room, “some of the larger scale prints,”
says Paula Berberian of Brewster Wallcovering, “can be used
in a ‘feature’ wall situation” in conjunction
with, for example, a complementary paint color.
Berberian says that the use of a feature wall is drawing a younger
crowd. “Many of the feature walls we see today are being produced
in some very funky colors that have taken on a retro feel,”
says Berberian, “which is a very popular trend with the 20
to 40 age demographic.”
Berberian also cites the popularity of murals in today’s interiors,
a dramatic means to bring a feature wall into focus. “Murals
provide an excellent opportunity to create a special retreat in
one’s home and for children to make a statement about their
personalities and interests.”
Mural-style borders and large-scale patterns create dramatic impact
in any room. The company 4walls.com, for instance, offers a 53-inch
high by 12-foot wide mural in one single piece—not a series
of difficult panels that need to be matched up. These are easy to
install, durable and ultimately more affordable than commissioning
a hand painted mural.
Graham & Brown Inc. also offers digital murals that they say
bring murals “kicking and screaming into this century.”
Six feet wide by eight and a half feet high, these murals, including
water droplets, flowers and other large, vibrant images, come in
PRINTS & PATTERNS
“Thank goodness prints are back in fashion,” sighs Jaima
Brown of Jaima Brown Home. “We had such boring walls for such
a long time!” Prints are flourishing and we can see influences
coming from flowers, leaves and also modern retro motifs. Floral
motifs run from the feminine and graceful, influenced by today’s
call for more dresses and skirts in women’s fashion, to bold,
graphic retro designs.
About pattern, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen for Graham & Brown Inc.
says, “Pattern is a pleasure, an indulgence and a design delight
that was denied to us in many late 20th century interiors.”
His collection of wall coverings aims to bring back the delight
of pattern to the world of design today, only this time in a look
that is updated and suitable for contemporary life.
Too, the use of pattern—especially repetition in pattern—in
a child’s room provides, as Seabrook Wallcovering notes, “a
sense of stability and problem solving.”
“Texture,” says Jaima Brown, “is one of the biggest
trends occurring overall in wall covering products. It is the dimensional
quality to the touch that is the most important element within this
trend.” Berberian adds, “Today’s textured wall
coverings add a sense of depth and interest to a room like no other
design element.” Imagine, for example, a completely smooth
room with no texture, no pattern. Not exactly inviting, is it? Texture
is this image’s antithesis.
The texture trend was inspired, in part, by the layering of design
that you may have spied in the most recent clothing seasons. Notice,
with younger people, for example, how leggings are layered under
skirts, how long sleeve shirts are layered under short sleeve shirts
and how lingerie is layered under camisoles or tank tops, which
in turn are layered under boat neck three-quarter sleeve tops. Take
this layering trend and apply it to interior design. “Using
more trim and more layers of texture in design,” says Jaima
Brown, “only creates a more upscale look.”
Also consider texture garnered from simulated wood grain, bricks,
stucco-like looks and cork styles, all of which are becoming easier
to imitate in paper form.
HOT COLOR TRENDS
What’s not: Jewel tones are disappearing rapidly—steer
clear of hunter green, sapphire blue, deep cranberry and citrine.
These colors are being replaced with lighter greens, pinks and sea
blues. Deep eggplant, however, remains popular, as purple is a strong
force in today’s color palettes.
Where it’s at: Also called “the new black,” Chocolate
is popular paired with just about anything:
• With Lime: A new color combination that is fresh and can
go into any room décor. Think ’50s diner.
• With Aqua (Seaglass, Turquoise): An elegant color combo
that creates soothing, more modern looks to interiors. Aqua is a
retro color but updated when mixed with brown rather than pink.
• With Coral: The newest comeback this year, Coral is a fashion
forward color already seen in the popularity of coral jewelry. Coral
tones look great with browns, limes and navy or just on its own.
• With Turquoise: Turquoise, says Jaima Brown, is inspired
from the natural stone and is a new, hot combination when partnered
with coral. The colors of the underwater world are having an influence
on this trend. Shells, and sea life in general with large foliage
is going to be in trend for this year.
Retro tones. Hot pinks paired with bright yellow, black and white.
Muted tones: Instead of charcoal gray, think light gray mixed with
pink. Instead of sapphire blue, think about a gray blue. Tones are
much more understated and sophisticated, or crazy wild. There are
few in betweens.