When homeowners opt to go beyond the traditional white and beige walls that have long served as timeless blank canvases, wallpapers become a popular option. But the wallpapers of the past served as a design time capsule of sorts. Floral patterns evoked the ‘40s and ‘50s while wild psychedelic patterns were the trend of the 1960s. Sepia, avocado and harvest-gold prints and Americana were right at home in the 1970s. Eighties wallpapers captured the era’s new wave vibe or gilded excess.
The rub with wallpaper was that, with every new decade, existing or new homeowners were tasked with removing existing coverings to clear the canvas and begin again. However, thanks to thoughtful textile and interior designers, the use of wallpaper offers a significant upgrade from the materials of yesteryear, most importantly, it’s not just paper anymore, and it’s an option that’s here to stay. And thankfully, much more timeless.
Just ask Scottsdale-based interior designer Matthew Boland, who has been a major proponent of wall coverings since he observed the start of their comeback around five years ago. He’s also specific about using the broader term “wall covering” in this conversation, as laser-printed bespoke coverings and greater use of more resilient materials like vinyl have made his work all the more colorful.
“Sometimes it’s about a client wrapping her head around an old material and learning how to embrace it in a new way,” says Boland about the wall covering renaissance.
“After years of austere, minimal rooms with sparse adornment, my clients expressed a need for a more lush, layered and personalized look. Wall coverings are an easy way to add that extra character to a room. Even with a spread of contemporary furniture, wall coverings provide warmth and a cozy, cocoon-like feel.”
Boland cites grey as a popular color, due to its versatility, as well as blues and pinks. But he’s careful to point out that it’s more about the texture and construction than the actual color used.
The new wall coverings are using techniques like laser printing to create amazing multi-dimensional effects and optics. Some dramatic wall coverings are expressly designed for feature (accent) walls. Customers can also work with designers to custom scale a pattern so when it’s printed it harmonizes with the architecture of the home or the dimensions of the room.
Ralph Lauren, Rancho Rio
“Wall covering is more bespoke than it used to be because there are more players [wallpaper manufacturers] than there used to be, and more interesting ways to handle them,” Boland muses, citing some of his favorite wall covering producers, including Phillip Jeffries, Ralph Lauren, Kneedler Fauchere, Cole and Sons and Lori Weitzner.
“In high-traffic applications, we will use a vinyl wall covering because the medium has become so amazingly versatile and resilient,” he adds. “If you have kids dragging their toys or backpacks down the walls, have pets, or entertain a lot, it’s nice to have luxurious surfaces that are also easy to clean. We’ve done New York apartments with limited views where we used dynamic coverings that open up the space and compensate for the lack of view. We have done stairwells on multiple floors where adding wallpaper activated that space and connect the floors and interiors visually.”
“In high-traffic applications, we will use vinyl wall covering because the medium has become so amazingly versatile and resilient."
With Arizona and California clients redoing rooms with an ocean or desert view, Boland advises choosing a covering that’s a little darker or deeper. Interiors are so bright from the reflectivity of what’s coming in from the outdoors that the covering can help absorb the glare, much like glazing on windows.
One exception, which may go against some people’s conventional wisdom, is his advice to stick with paint in kids’ rooms. He reasons that, as today’s generation is exposed to many style ideas on social media, they are going to take decorating matters into their own hands, and on a frequent basis.
LOXO:ONIX. Photo by Katie Charlotte
Los Angeles-based artist Brook Perdigron’s work creating custom textile collections commissioned by interior designers in Los Angeles, New York, and Paris led to the formation of her own design firm, Brook Perdigon Textiles, in 2015. Although the business’ services also include the procurement of custom fine art, internationally-sourced antique textiles, vintage furniture and accessories, her growing wallpaper line is a natural outgrowth of her textile work.
As she sees it, wallpaper never went out of fashion. However, she’s observed that, over the past five to ten years, wallpaper has evolved from a background feature to more of a statement piece. Like Boland, she notes that due to advances in digital printing, many production limitations have been removed and more adventurous wallpaper has become easier to produce.
AKAN: ONYX. Photo by Katie Charlotte
“Wallpaper is experiencing an ‘anything goes’ moment,” Perdigon says. “While I’m not seeing a specific trend, there are many more niche designs on the market. From exciting geometrics to painterly murals, to more soothing textural patterns, a designer can find anything to fit the space and mood they’re trying to create. This makes it an easy way to add both subtle and bold personality to a room. With painted walls, you only get the shock or subtlety of the color, not the personality of the motif. You can really create a design narrative with wallpaper.”
"Depending on the room, wallpaper can be used to create a statement or add an extra dimension of texture."
Perdigon believes that, in most cases, wallpaper should be used for an entire room rather than just one accent wall. “Depending on the room, wallpaper can be used to create a statement or add an extra dimension of texture,” she says.
PATH: MIDNIGHT. Photo by Katie Charlotte
For smaller spaces, she recommends a wallpaper with subtle personality; for larger spaces, like a master bedroom or living room, a great printed texture or grass cloth will add warmth and texture.
“Part of the joy of living with pattern is having it surround you and letting your eye wander,” she explains. “If you choose a wallpaper you really love, it’s a joy to have it envelop you.”
House of Harris
The preppy Lily Pulitzer-flavored prints of North Carolina’s House of Harris generated a buzz during the Celebrity Connected pre-Emmy gifting suite late last summer. While the genteel prints and colors are informed by designing sisters Charlotte Harris Lucas and Liz Harris Carroll’s Southern upbringing, they conceived the collection to fit in with both masculine and feminine décor schemes.
House of Harris
“Our first collection pays homage to our North Carolina roots,” says Harris Lucas. Although the whimsical motifs and colors of our designs evoke images of fine Southern living, we rethought the motifs with a sophisticated and modern flair. While it can be argued that our made-in-USA line can add a touch of Southern flair to any home, what make the patterns versatile are the hints of punchy color combined with subtle textures. The palm fronds and bamboo lattices can work with a variety of decor styles from traditional to modern, or with a client’s personal eclectic mix of decor elements.”
Miami-based clothing and home accessories purveyor Preppy Pimp, meanwhile, took that beachy vibe to a bolder place with pop art inspired colors and larger scale patterns. Hobart C. Buppert III, co-founder and designer, notes that customers began requesting custom wallpaper following the success of the line’s pillow covers and patio accessories.
“If our clients request something, they often get it,” he says. “I don’t know if I would say that wallpaper has come back in fashion, but I think that because of greater variety designs, as well as new technology like self-adhesive, the market for wallpapers has expanded.”
"Preppy Pimp’s clients will commission wallpaper based on one of its existing textile prints, but adjust it with their own custom color palette."
Bupart adds that the majority of Preppy Pimp’s clients will commission wallpaper based on one of its existing textile prints, but adjust it with their own custom color palette. A few clients, however, trust the team to develop a completely original design based on the client’s input and design needs.
“We had a client who took a picture of a bright red starfish on a beach in Kenya and asked us to make wallpaper inspired by that starfish,” Buppert says. “In most cases, I would not say that wallpaper is functionally better than painted walls. However, that’s exactly what makes wallpaper special in my opinion.”