Trends: Wallpaper that makes you say ‘wow’

Barbara Ballinger
Chicago Tribune

For years, paint has been touted as the go-to way to freshen walls and ceilings affordably and quickly.

Wallpaper was typically typecast as a more expensive treatment because of the cost to produce and purchase rolls. And it came with all sorts of caveats: Patience to hang and match patterns, coping with sometimes nasty adhesives, VOC inks and paints, and difficulty removing it without damaging walls. And it tended to age: Wallpaper that hung around awhile might start to tell a tale of outdated style — and tell it loudly.

But wallpaper’s making a big comeback, in part because enough time has elapsed from the late 1990s — and certainly its prior peak in the 1970s — when it generated buzz.

Today’s over-arching trend is greater personalization, a direction that’s informing many other areas of design. “When people buy wallpaper today, they’re less likely to walk into a showroom or store and buy rolls readily available,” says Sean Samet, executive director of the Wallcoverings Association, the nonprofit, Chicago-based trade organization representing manufacturers and distributors. They’re also less likely to follow old rules — use no more than one pattern in the same space, or apply to all four walls.

Here are six other trends inspiring its resurgence:

Bolder colors. Colors have shifted from dainty pastels to more vibrant hues such as blue, gold, orange and green. As part of the color boldness has come interest in metallic and other shiny papers. And neutrals, while not new, retain a hold, but often through stronger variations of what’s considered neutral such as grays, says Jack Ovadia, a designer whose Ovadia Design Group is based in New York.

Bigger patterns. While you can still easily find sweet stripes and florals, the latest designs reflect larger scale and more hip inspiration, such as oversized, retro-inspired trellises and geometric chevrons, says Jason Lowe, director of design professionals for the Decoration & Design Building in New York. Flavor Paper, a manufacturer based in Brooklyn, has licensed several Andy Warhol motifs, including his oversized florals, which transform the paper into art that attracts attention rather than simply serving as background, says company owner Jon Sherman. Natural materials are yet another muse, ranging from charred wood to rough stone and concrete. “People like the idea of taking a modern house without much charm and adding some grime and grit,” Sherman says.

More tactile. Don’t think of wallpaper as just one-dimensional. Three dimensional designs incorporate everything from feathers to crystals, felt and powders, says Samet. Grass cloth has returned, but now it may be lacquered for a more novel look, says Lowe. Maya Romanoff’s papers, known for years for upping the ante in this way, also include such fanciful elements as seashells, glass beads, and threads woven into hand-painted paper.

Photo real. Improvements in digital photography have helped inspire another trend — enlarging and repeating images with higher quality representation. Some wallpaper manufacturers secure their own photos; others license them from artists and other sources; and some use those sent in by designers or homeowners for highly personalized solutions. The end result is the same: a paper that nobody else may have, says Samet.

Novel placement. Wallpapers used to be installed primarily on four walls of a room, sometimes a ceiling. It’s also becoming commonplace to see papers on a single wall as a focal point, or even filling in as furnishings, such as a faux headboard installed behind a bed, says Samet.

Technological advances. Best of all may be that wallpapers no longer need to be considered a choice for forever. Papers from Tempaper are made with a self-adhesive backing that makes installation and removal easy. Designer Sayeh Pezeshki, founder of the Office Stylist, who likes as a resource, sees these removable papers as great options for renters, or folks like her, who “need to frequently update their space. To be able to wallpaper a wall or piece of furniture and just peel it off without damage is a design miracle,” she says.