Wall coverings have come back in style

By Elaine Markoutsas

Universal UClick

Walls most often serve as a quiet backdrop for furnishings in a space. But enough of that. Today’s walls are talking — softly or boldly — with conviction, even though the most uber-fashionable ones are undercover.

Cladding the walls is hot in home decor. Even modernists confronted with bland, boxy, detail-void architecture are considering a bit of wall dressing — for texture, sheen, sparkle and, yes, pattern.

As a decorative tour de force, wallpaper has waxed and waned in popularity since its introduction in Europe in the 16th century. At the high end, rich grass cloths, hand-painted papers and murals, even fabric stretched on walls have long been in the arsenal of upscale interior designers, whose clients appreciate the character. They lend warmth and sophistication, so never mind the expense.

Some innovative companies such as Maya Romanoff have long pushed the envelope with the enormous potential of wallpaper, with handmade rice papers (the Chinese glued rice paper to their walls as early as 200 B.C.), metallic leaf, real metals, glass beads, mother of pearl, leather and wood veneers.

These days, wall coverings may not be entirely paper or even vinyl, whose prepasted rolls came into vogue in the 1950s. Materials such as sand, mica chips, glass, plastic, and mirrors can be incorporated. And there’s a trend to what is referred to in the trade as “paste up.” Simply put the paste on the wall and set the nonwoven wall covering in place. No mess — a shout out to those who have battled with vats of water, sticky surfaces and worse yet, endured the removal of stubborn layers with a steamer.

Another trend, kind of an off-shoot of decals but with stylish designs far removed from the tacky happy faces one might conjure, allows for creating your own composition with mega-scale paisleys, dots, squares or complex patterns, such as artwork, stripes, checkerboards, borders — you choose, reuse or replace with ease. A British company called Surface View has Just Stick It Up posters between 75 and 94 inches tall, based on chromolithographs from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Perhaps most exciting is the technology that has opened the creative door. Digital printing has paved the way to ginormous mural-like images. And gels and inks offer more complexities of color and textures.

Wall coverings can shimmer with a subtle metallic gold, silver, copper or platinum sheen, glittery specks or even Swarovski crystals. They can speak to you in braille or interact, changing color and pattern with your touch. Flavor Paper even offers a scratch- and-sniff banana and strawberry pattern in Warhol-esque images.

Wall coverings can light up with LEDs integrated into their faces — in an utterly chic way, from luxe to psychedelic effects. They can be customized, on a flat or embossed surface, allowing you to determine a palette with a paintbrush. Or, with a series of coordinated “picture frames,” insert your own family photos.

Besides dimensional textures, including real bamboo from manufacturer Phillip Jeffries and hand embroidery (in men’s fashions designer Joseph Abboud’s collection for Kenneth James), there’s actual 3-D, like larger-than-life porcelain teardrops spilling onto a wall covering surface.

Even more traditional patterns such as damask have been scaled up, sometimes isolated as nearly startling huge clusters against a solid ground and re-colored in fresh, even contemporary palettes such as hot pink or turquoise on white. Hints of Victoriana (velvety-flocked) and 1950s staples such as Mylar (a metallic with prints that often came across as gaudy) have reinvented themselves to find surprising audiences of 20-somethings. Even British designer Kelly Hoppen, known for her Zen-like minimal interiors, has a black flocked paper in her collection for Graham and Brown, which the company calls a fusion of Eastern and Western style.

“You’re seeing more of it in magazines, houses, on television,” says Paula Berberian, creative director of Brewster Home Fashions, a Boston-based family-owned company in business since 1956. “Stores like Forever 21 used black and white damask wallpaper, and this is appealing to a very young demographic.”

Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, retailers that sell fashion and home in an eclectic mix that includes vintage, whimsical and bohemian styles, feature wall coverings with overscale florals, trompe l’oeuil books on shelves, murals of forests, as well as charming line drawing scenes of Paris, London and Venice.

“People are less afraid of wall coverings,” says Molly McDermott Walsh, a spokeswoman for Thibaut and Anna French. Thibaut (pronounced tee-bo) is the nation’s oldest continually operating wallpaper firm, dating to 1886.

Add to that buyers’ increasing confidence in choosing decorating schemes, according to Sarah Cole, director of Farrow and Ball, a UK-based manufacturer of paint and wallpaper. Its papers are environmentally friendly, using zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. Another standard of environmental awareness within the industry is achieved with paper approved by the Forest Stewardship Council. Green features such as these are not lost on today’s more savvy consumers.

Cole says that an easy transition for those accustomed to painted walls is to “drags” — wallpaper with a strie effect (a woodgrain-like pattern). “Then move on to tone-on-tone stripes, and when you’re ready, patterns.”

“Bolder use of color and pattern is on the increase,” says Cole. So it’s not surprising that Jonathan Adler, a hip New York designer known for his happy chic colors and dynamic patterns, just launched a collection for WallPops.

Besides metallic Mylar substrates, there are washes or “pearlized” finishes that add a glimmer which beautifully catches the light — a feel-good touch of glam.

Maria and Ekaterina Yaschuk, London-based designers, like to think of “rescuing walls from the background,” making their Meystyle line of wall coverings part of the ambience. One pattern, Tempus, which looks like an umbrella top scattered with flowers, features LED lights and Swarovski crystals fully integrated in the material (an electrical socket or light switch is necessary). Hand-applied gold and silver dust add more shimmer.

Even grass cloths are being brushed with metallic washes: A new Phillip Jeffries wall covering called Saint Germain is a fetching shade of lavender with a whisper of silver on hemp. In addition, patterns are beginning to show up on grass cloths.

“Grass cloth appeals to a younger consumer,” says McDermott Walsh, and men and women respond to its crisp, clean look. “With so many new houses built with plain walls, it provides great texture,” she says.

Embossed surfaces, pleats and folding, skins (ostrich, snake, crocodile) and even stones like slate also are available. Sylvan, an Italian company, produces a colorful patchwork of textured animal patterns. Also, surface embellishments such as nailheads and rivets are detailing wall coverings as they do handbags and sofas (One new pattern from Phillip Jeffries has a concentric grid pattern in copper rivets).

The textured surfaces are very forgiving, and they cover less than perfect walls. But most DIY-ers may not want to tackle hanging them. Paula Berberian recommends contacting the National Guild of Professional Wallhangers (www.ngpp.org) for paper hangers in your area. On average, hanging one roll ranges between $30 and $60.

Scale has been trending up in the last five years (surely you’ve seen the now-iconic silhouette of a life- sized chandelier). Mural-sized scenes of forests or gardens and neoclassical sculptures can transport. Trompe l’oeuil stacks of books on shelves fashion a maintenance-free library. But mid-range patterns also are making a showing, and even miniprints can be distinguished by unexpected color teamings. Of course, there always will be aficionados of English chintz florals (please do match fabric and paper!) or French provincial miniprints.

Wall covering trends are as cyclical as fashion. Which is why McDermott Walsh says her aunts and uncles rolled their eyes when she said she and her husband were picking out papers for their home.

“They think it’s hilarious,” she says. But she showed off her grass cloth selection at a recent dinner party with contemporaries. Their reaction? “‘Wow, this is crazy. What is it?’ ” McDermott Walsh recalls. “They loved it!”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/08/2735627/wall-coverings-have-come-back.html#storylink=cpy

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