Ever since the Chinese started gluing rice paper on their walls during ancient times, wallpaper has come in and out of vogue. Today’s wallpapers are mostly water-based and are not only safe and environmentally friendly but also gorgeous. Although wallpaper has been around for ages, there’s something very new and exciting about today’s wallpapers. Think bright and vivid colors, rich texture, and above all, luxury. Wallpaper is back as the latest trend — particularly the high-end papers, which include everything from customizable designs and hand-painted patterns to papers that incorporate paper-thin stone and gilded threads, which add to a strong textural appeal.
Michelle Morgan Harrison, owner and principal designer at New Canaan-based Morgan Harrison Home, includes wallpaper in almost every interior design project. “I particularly like wallpaper behind a bookshelf and on ceilings, and I use it quite often,” she says. “Homeowners can customize their choice of wallpaper, right down to how many birds they want on a tree.”
Paula Chnowski, who owns Colby’s of Ridgefield, an interior design store, with her husband, Jim, has spent years taking classes and keeping up with wallpaper trends. She agrees that wallpaper is definitely back in vogue. “It’s all about texture, and not just the pattern or the wallpaper covering an entire room,” she says, noting that since high-end wallpapers cost more than traditional wallpapers, it makes sense to use them on an accent wall. “I think the foyer is the most important room in the house,” she declares. “It’s the first room people see and it makes the first impression. Anyone can paint a room, but wallpaper creates a mood and reflects a personality.”
Carey Karlan, interior designer and owner of Last Detail Interior Design in Darien, has also observed a resurgence in the use of wallpaper, beginning with grasscloth, which, she explains, has a texture that adds a sense of solidness and purpose, and makes walls feel thick. “I tend to use wallpaper in spaces in which people pass through quickly, such as foyers, powder rooms, closets and dressing rooms (even on the ceiling!), and dining rooms,” she says. “I chose a black painted grasscloth backed with a silver metallic for a Sutton Place foyer that we recently designed, for example, and a bold chevron in contrasting colors for a dining area in a Rowayton home.”
Carey adds that geometrics, horizontal and oversize stripes, medallion patterns, digital photography that’s blown up, and papers with bronze, silver, and gold accents are all trending. “We chose an Osborne & Little wallpaper with a pale sea glass background overlaid with a metallic print for a young girl’s room, recently. …The walls had lots of angles and breaks, and the wallpaper helped smooth them out,” she says.
Making a statement
Wallpaper today is easier to hang and remove than in the past, and some is even reusable, such as murals that can be peeled off and moved to another wall. Young homeowners are discovering the trendy, fresh look of wallpaper, and are inspired by hip, bold designs that include everything from trompe l’oeil to woodland to seaside motifs. Most noticeable are the new textures, which include faux wood, which is actually composed of a thin layer of wood veneer and is more cost-effective than wood paneling. There are also papers that include fine, thin stone and glass, metallics, raffia, and grass fibers. Even mica flakes have been incorporated into some papers. As if that weren’t enough, there are faux collections that feature everything from snakeskin to marble. All these elements have resurfaced for a brand-new look of wallpaper.
So where else is this new breed of wallpaper being installed? It’s no longer relegated to a room’s four flat walls. It can expand a look, personalize a space, and cover a multitude of problems. It can be used behind bookcases, as a one-wall focal point, and even on ceilings. New vinyl-coated wallpapers work well in the bathroom because they don’t fold or buckle from steam. Even children’s bedrooms are now flaunting pretty patterns that are easy to wipe clean of fingerprints and stains.
Frank Cohen, manager for all Design & Décor centers for Ring’s End, a family-owned company rooted in Connecticut and southern New York, has an extensive knowledge of wall coverings, having grown up in a family whose business centered on the product and having been personally involved in the wallpaper business for 35 years. “I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to wallpaper,” he says, pointing out that 10 of the company’s 12 stores now carry high-end wallcoverings, including Phillip Jeffries, Scalamandre, and Cole & Son, to name a few. Whitney Jennison, a designer at the Darien store, explains that some people don’t realize that Ring’s End offers such high-end wallpaper brands, and are pleasantly surprised when they come in and see them. “Many of our clients are young homeowners,” she observes, “and they don’t want the wallpaper that they remember from their parents’ homes.”
While there is so much that is new about wallpaper, Michelle Morgan Harrison points out that it is an investment and should be expected to last a number of years. “Technology has improved the way wallpaper is configured today,” she says.
Certainly technology has brought digital printing onto water-resistant papers. Some wallpapers are laminated, while others are stain-resistant and are strong and durable enough that they don’t tear. High-end papers often feature matching fabrics. Some of the higher end papers are hand-painted on silk, and still others are embossed for a three-dimensional effect or embroidered. It’s as if the sky, and not the walls or ceiling, is the limit.