Disregard old memories of what wallpaper used to be—those shabby chic floral patterns and shades of dusky rose striping. To the delight of interior designers, who have been nudging clients to be more open minded, wallpaper has made a comeback in the design world, and it’s no longer just for historic B&Bs or formal dining rooms. From mural papers that fill an accent wall with a breathtaking vista, to contemporary patterns like palm fronds, modernized toile, or bold-hued illustrations, homeowners are welcoming a change from solid painted rooms.
“I feel as if there has been a shift in people’s thinking about wallpaper, and it’s been a long time coming,” says Maryline Damour, cofounder and principal designer at Damour Drake in Kingston. “With edgy and irreverent takes on traditional wallpaper that companies like Flavor Paper and Timorous Beasties are doing, people are appreciating wallpaper as works of art that can enhance a room rather than the dizzying wall coverings we remember as children.”
But just because wallpaper has caught on as the chic wallcovering-of-choice after years of single-tone eggshell paints, it doesn’t mean that everyone who’s redoing a room has been immediately on board. Damour says that her clients who grew up with wallpaper in the 1970s tend to be more resistant. But she encourages them to think beyond those bold orange, yellow, and chartreuse patterns in the kitchens of their childhood homes.
“The younger generation has grown up with more sophisticated, elegant wallpaper and tend to be more open to using it,” Damour says. “Large-scale florals have been popular for a while, as well as pencil drawings and more modern imagery. Plus, you might be surprised by the extent of wallpaper these days. There are reflective surfaces, wallpapers with texture, even scratch-and-sniff.”
Damour recently worked on a loft in Brooklyn, for instance, that had a window on only one side of the apartment. She used Anthropologie’s Etched Arcadia mural paper, a sophisticated, gray-toned illustration of lush trees and the sky beyond them, which allowed her to reference views of the trees outside of the one window.
Damour is also the founder of the Kingston Design Showhouse, a project that highlights the work of local designers, artisans, and other home vendors by having them each design a room in a restored home in Kingston. The inaugural Showhouse took place in a Midtown Kingston home built in the 1800s last October and featured more than 10 designers. One participant, interior designer and stylist Kate Cummings of Ulster County-based design agency Freestyle Restyle, worked with local artist Jason O’Malley of Rural Modernist to create a custom wallpaper for one room, which became a conversation piece for Showhouse visitors.
According to Cummings, the pair tag-teamed on the “1880s-meets-1980s” wallpaper art, which was titled Neo-Victorian Icons of Nu Wave Pt. 1, that featured illustrations of ’80s music icons Debbie Harry, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux, and Morrissey. “The house was a dark Victorian and my room, a Rock & Roll Femme Den, needed a good intro; the front hall was the perfect venue to display the wallpaper,” she says. “It was tons of fun to watch people first recognize what it was, and then try to name the musicians. Overall, there was a lot of engagement. It did what it was supposed to do, and that was to get people to connect with each other and interact with the interiors, which served as a cohesive link to the other spaces, mainly through custom color.”
The neo-Victorian paper that Cummings and O’Malley created is just one example of the creative freedom homeowners now have when it comes to original custom designs. “I think wallpaper is timeless; the difference now is that technology and digital printing have made it so much more fun and accessible to make. You can literally do anything you think of; there are no rules, when there used to be many,” Cummings explains. “Right now, I’m noticing a lot of abstract murals that surround the room. It’s an old tradition being done in a new way. With prints, there’s a lot of whimsy happening and it’s getting bolder; I love the sense of humor it adds to a space. Pretty is nice, but character is what does it for me.”
For those who might worry that a bold wallpaper could become overbearing to live with over time, or make it more difficult to resell a house after a few years, today’s wallpapers are easier to remove; some are just unpeel like a vinyl sticker, should your décor needs change. Michael Van Nort, designer and co-owner of FRED, a home furnishings retailer and interior design company in High Falls, suggests an even easier way to change your walls without the commitment: “For clients that do not want to commit to installing wallpaper, or for those who do not own their own home, an excellent way to use wallpaper is to purchase multiple frames of the same size and hang a grid of nine or 16 in a hallway, or over a sofa. Inexpensive 20” by 20” frames from Ikea would do the trick” he explains. “Otherwise, our clients lean toward botanicals, aviary patterns, and grasscloth wallpapers. We also love a good chinoiserie design.”
Van Nort, along with FRED’s co-owner Charles Farruggio, have both been involved with interior design for about two decades each, and are full-on proponents of wallpaper’s popularity. Farruggio says he hasn’t seen his clients even hesitate at the thought of adding wallpaper. “We love to paper an entire room for a cohesive look; powder rooms and guest bedrooms are great places to use wallpaper,” he says. “Maybe because we are so enthusiastic about wallpaper, our clients are too.” Van Nort adds: “I wouldn’t say wallpaper is making a comeback–I would say wallpaper has made a comeback.”
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