Smart Solutions: Balancing wallpaper, tile and other bathroom design

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

While it can be fun to add a little pizzazz to your bathroom, you might still run the risk of going overboard, especially when you have a passion for more daring designs that may conflict with existing features.

It’s important to find a wallpaper motif that is pleasing to the eye before pairing it with the features that are already in place.

That was the case for Connie from Traverse City who reached out to me for advice via email:

I want to wallpaper my bathroom. Ideally, I would love to do something bold, but I feel like I’m limited by the tile in the shower.  I don’t want the room to look “hodge podge” with competing patterns. I suppose I could do a small print or stripe, but I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. Any suggestions?

Thanks for your help!


In our subsequent email correspondence, she describes her home as a four-year-old Craftsman and her primary colors as navy blue and white. The bathroom walls are a soft pale gray (with maybe a touch of taupe), while the tile in the shower leans more toward tan and brown tones. 

Though Connie is hesitant to go over the top in a small space, the wallpaper patterns she favors are quite bold. Among her top picks were florals, toile and paisley in her preferred shade of blue. 

Here are my thoughts:

While I do agree that a small print or stripe might not be worth the effort since that look doesn’t seem to appeal to you, I still think it’s worthwhile to explore the playful patterns that catch your eye.

First, I would suggest selecting a few favorites and contacting the sources to see if they offer larger sample sizes for a small fee.

If these whimsical patterns compete too much with the shower tile, you might consider framing one or more of these wallpaper panels to display in the bathroom as art. This effect lets you inject a bold pattern into the space without getting too close to the existing tile.

Another way to break up a busy paper is to add a neutral element like a wall cabinet or a mirror.  

You might also try a paint treatment that resembles wallpaper. This way you can customize your pattern and the color palette.

Since you seem drawn to distinctive details like the designs you chose that feature abstract faces, you could showcase some bold artwork in your bathroom in place of wallpaper.  

One pattern you found that I think could still be a strong contender is the Brownstone Terrace Wallpaper in Blue and White by Ashford House for York Wallcoverings. While it has a bold motif, the look remains somewhat subdued.  

The same can be said for the Chesapeake Blyth Blue Toile Wallpaper at The classic motif provides a pretty backdrop that just might complement the other tones in the room.

A pretty pattern in a shade of blue just may complement the tan and brown tones found in the shower tile.

Lastly, the images I received from Thibaut are similar to one of their patterns you picked, but they represent their more current selections. I say you should play with a few wallpaper samples and see where that takes you. And don’t settle for any solution that doesn’t make you happy every time you see it.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at