Wallpaper making a comeback in home design — bigger, better, bolder

This article originally appeared in the Commercial Appeal on Jun. 19, 2009

To say that wallpaper is making a comeback is a definite understatement. In the space of a few years, it’s gone from stodgy and weak to totally chic.

Adorned with everything from glass beads to mirrored tiles to tiny Swarovski crystals, today’s papers are artistic, innovative and fun.

“I think people think of wallpaper as being ultra traditional,” said Stacy Senior Allan, marketing director for Thibaut Inc. “And it really hasn’t been for quite some time, but people are now starting to realize some of the great products that are out there.”

So after years of stripping paper down from walls, homeowners are once again hanging it up. But the paper they’re hanging doesn’t bear the same tired patterns of years past.

“Wallpaper companies like us, we’ve gotten more gutsy and experimental in what we do,” Senior Allan said. “We now use a lot of layering — metallics, all sorts of textures — to make it really different from paint so it’s worth the time and money and it enhances the character of the space.”

Homeowners and designers are taking the trend a step further, using unique papers in even more unique ways.

“Glam is in,” said registered interior designer Leslie Shankman-Cohn, a partner in Memphis-based Jill Hertz Interior Design.

Cohn added that in one current project, she’s using a soft green, pearlized, lattice-patterned paper on the ceiling of a white-walled entryway to call attention upward to the glass chandelier.

“It’s so very glam,” she said. “And the high-gloss white walls complement it because there’s a lot of color throughout the rest of the house.”

Even the patterns wallpaper manufacturers are turning out today differ from those in years past.

“Designs today are large-scale, more graphic, with brighter colors,” said Theresa Roh-Roberson, director of marketing and public relations for Memphis-based Seabrook Wallcoverings, a national wallpaper distributor. “You could have, for instance, a very traditional motif like a damask medallion, but instead of a small medallion, they’ve made it 12 inches big. So even though it’s a traditional damask, you’ve got this new twist. And it’s got a contemporary flavor because it’s a bright color, maybe fuchsia on a lime green background.”

To keep these modern motifs and intense colors from screaming too loudly, papers are being used in different applications than in the past. It’s very common these days to walk into a room where only one wall is papered — creating an instant focal point.

“A lot of times with these new designs that are larger scale, really, they’re like artwork for the wall,” Roh-Roberson said. “So you’ll do one focal wall with wall covering and treat it like a work of art.”

That’s not a new trend, but it is one the design world hasn’t seen in a while.

“I’m shocked that has come back, but I think the patterns now really work with that,” Senior Allan said. “A simple, graphic pattern can give a great effect. If you don’t have art or a lot of detail, it can really do a lot to a room. And you can pick a paint that picks up one of the colors in the paper for the rest of the walls.”

The world of wallpaper also hasn’t escaped another trend in home design: sustainability. Manufacturers are touting eco-friendly lines that incorporate water-based inks and natural materials.

“For example, cork wallpaper is back in,” Cohn said. “It was installed in the ’60s in my house and is still as beautiful and as current today as it was then. And grasscloth is back, but it isn’t your mother’s grasscloth. It may have a pink background with stenciling on top.

“Everything is more upscale and has more depth to it.”

One thing designers and manufacturers stress about wallpaper is that proper installation is key. Many homeowners shy away from wallcoverings because of a perceived fear that they’re difficult to take down. But with proper preparation, that’s rarely the case, Senior Allan said.

“If you prep your walls with a good-quality primer, the wallpaper will go up easily and come down easily,” she said. “It literally peels off the wall.”

Cohn added that wallpaper “is not a lifetime commitment.”

“But the prep work is as important, if not more important, than the choice of paper.”

And, she added, wallpaper is a great way to achieve a polished, pulled-together look in a space.

“You want people to walk in and say, ‘Wow, this room is wonderful,'” she said. “Wallpaper is a great way to achieve that.”

Stacey Wiedower is a home and design writer and a staff designer at Memphis-based Virginia Rippee & Associates Interior Design. Read more from her at

Five Tips for Knockout Walls:

Paper just one wall for an artistic accent. When used sparingly and in just the right spot, wallpaper can serve as a great focal point or even substitute for artwork in a space.

Go all-out in a powder room. Often windowless and devoid of architectural interest, small powder rooms are a perfect place to experiment with bold patterns and fun colors that would overpower a larger room.

Prep properly. Many people fear wallpaper because they think it’s difficult to take down, and when it’s improperly installed, it is. But when walls are prepared and primed correctly, almost any wallpaper will come down easily, the pros claim.

Use wallcoverings in unexpected ways. Try papering a ceiling to add another dimension to a room. Place a graphic-patterned paper in a large frame for instant artwork. Or consider using paper on the door panels of a small cabinet or on the back wall of bookshelves for a punch of color.

Have fun with it. Today’s papers feature a wide assortment of unusual add-ons that bring new layers of texture into a space. Look for flocked or metallic papers, or papers adorned with glass beads, sand, mirrors and more.


Image courtesy of the Commercial Appeal