Interiors Spring 2012 | On The Paper Trail
On The Paper Trail
Trends may come and go, but the versatility of wallpaper endures and delights
People always ask me at parties, “What colours are hot this year?” “Is wallpaper really back!?” I just shake my head and swirl my wineglass. Because of course, there’s no single, all-purpose paint colour that’ll be “hot” in every home, and wallpaper is neither “in” or “out” at any moment, no matter what you see on magazine covers every January. Wallpaper simply was — and is — one of the most versatile elements in the arsenal of design.
If your experience with wallcoverings is confined to stripping out a dated ’80s house in which every surface, even the light switch covers, wore a coat of unsightly paper, wallpaper may be forever Out in your books.
But paper is still the quickest and easiest way to give your rooms a total personality transplant. Maybe it’s time to look again. Especially if you’re just starting out, and you don’t have art to hang. Papering can give you something fabulous to look at while you wait for your ship to come in. In fact, it could be argued that there may be more true artistry in a great wallcovering than in a piece of “manufactured art” from the big box décor store at your local super centre.
Try to see your rooms as having a background and a foreground. Some papers add background; others are big and bold and full, which makes them foreground. Then you have to ask yourself: What does your space need?
A “background-ey” paper provides a textural backdrop that knits random furnishings into a cohesive look. At 20 paces, a small, all-over print magically reduces to texture.
Foreground-type patterns have less-regular images and a much larger repeat. More for the eye to see and follow, so don’t inflict distress by placing a foreground in front of a foreground. A foreground paper used with quiet, undemanding solid-colour furniture creates impact without overkill. Actually, having no foreground is more often the problem.
Young couples decorating their first homes love the Brian Gluckstein condo chic model-suite look. Dark espresso floors, white walls and sofas in menswear grey. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but as your taste develops, you may ultimately find yourself wondering “is that all there is?”
The human eye craves stimulation and delights in pattern. Chic but formulaic interiors wake up nicely with the insertion of wallpaper. Giant damasks and two-colour Ikat geometrics are the go-to looks for these situations and, again, there’s no right or wrong. If this is your look, try the Farrow & Ball line. Two-colour block-printed papers with all-over, small repeats are done in a whole range of gorgeous colourways.
But why not stretch out a bit? This look has been done and done again. What about adding some subtle bling with glass beads and crystal dust applied to tone-on-tone patterns?
Or try an Asian-flavoured birds and branches pattern with lots of air in it. Graceful, nature-based cherry blossoms and butterflies will bring fresh shades into your space, providing a range of colour candidates for your accent pops: cushions, blankets, trays, vases and flowers.
A wider palette creates depth and thus, longevity, in an otherwise plain, neutral room. With every season, your new paper allows you to bring in fresh accessories, all tied together by your gorgeous wallpapered wall.
In older homes, when walls are damaged or ceilings cracked, paint can highlight every imperfection. If you’re not in a position to do the full repair right away, a good wallcovering will “paper over” the cracks and valleys (hence the phrase) until you’re ready and able to tackle the repair project properly.
For rooms with a vintage flavour, there are thicker, textured papers for walls and ceilings that mimic antique plasterwork relief patterns. Look for a product called Anaglypta (from the Greek: Ana meaning raised and Glypta meaning cameo). In an older house with Tudor flavour, this would look great in the foyer or inside the coffers of a beamed ceiling.
Another instance in which wallpaper can be your best friend is when you have disparate colours in the installed materials. The classic case: you’ve bought a fixer-upper and it’s got grey or green or (gasp!), peach sinks and toilets. Or perhaps bathroom wall tile that’s totally unrelated to both flooring and fixtures.
A paper that contains the grey, or the peach, plus some other, more appealing colours, can tame the oddball shades into a grouping that looks more “on purpose,” at least while you are saving up for the stick-of-dynamite solution.
Try pairing ’80s grey fixtures with a menswear pattern in dark camel with shots of charcoal. A paper that contains just a sliver of peach, among other shades that are more brick/brown/taupe, will reduce the peach to a footnote and take the room in a new direction.
A good vinyl or vinyl-coated paper can also stand in for a tile backsplash in a kitchen, and can sometimes even be applied over an existing, unsightly tile. Another classic call for wallpaper is when you’re creating a new baby’s room. I stay away from overtly baby-themed images, because little ones never stop — and before you know it, your infant will be walking around, speaking to you in sentences! Better to establish “the zone” with big colour-blocks in bright pastels, or fun stripes, than to have soothers and booties strung across the walls.
You might simply paint the baby’s room and add a border to bring in the theme and colour palette. Make sure Her Majesty can’t reach the border when whiling away naptime in her crib, though. They love to pick and peel and can have that stuff off in an afternoon! Another wallpaper genre you might find useful is the muralistic stuff: rough wood “cabin walls,” faux brick or stone blocks, or large intricate panel-moulding motifs like you’d see in an ancient apartment in Paris. Because these are obviously not the genuine materials, it may be best to use them in a tonguein- cheek way. A tiny powder room with monster panel moulds brings a touch of irony to a funky home. Likewise a wall of “books on shelves” in a closet or alcovesized space is a visual pun. These are fun, and can even be educational, like a map of Canada on your kids’ bedroom wall — or ceiling. In a dining room or large hall, look at the antique panel maps of London and Paris, which can be hung inside fine wood frames made with mouldings. To totally redefine your space, hang grasscloth. It’s a sexy and sophisticated background with a calm, earthy Asian vibe. Mount a collection of masks or carvings on it and throw some light on the wall, to establish a stunning Zen flavour. Neat-freaks may not like the way the grass fibres butt up against one another at the seams. This is all part of the look, but it’s not for everyone. And that’s the point. Every house, every family and every room wants to have its own look.
Take the time to see what’s available and to identify your particular wallpaper personality — before you take the plunge. Figure out if you’re working with the house or against it. Go to the best, professional wallpaper store you can find (I have used Bay City in Hamilton for over 25 years; their staff knows all there is to know). In-stock rolls eliminate the wait and you can even go home with a piece to tape on the wall and “try on,” to see how you feel about it.
A day or so later, the big reveal: a room transformed … with wallpaper — changing homes since 200 BC.
Toby Yull is a Dundas writer and designer who celebrated the 25th anniversary of her consulting business in 2011. Her work makes occasional appearances in Hamilton and Interiors magazines. Visit her at www.tobyyull.com.