House & Home

Bigger prints, bolder colors, technological advances fuel a wallpaper resurgence

Herrington is a new take on the classic houndstooth pattern. TRI-KES has treated it in a variety of ways, from tone on tone to black on white and metallics.
Herrington is a new take on the classic houndstooth pattern. TRI-KES has treated it in a variety of ways, from tone on tone to black on white and metallics. Tribune News Service

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

Wallpaper was typecast as a more expensive treatment. And it came with all sorts of caveats: patience to hang and match patterns, coping with adhesives, VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) 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 And it tended to age: Wallpaper that hung around awhile might start to tell a tale of outdated style — and tell it loudly.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 is 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 overarching 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, a nonprofit trade organization in Chicago.

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.

“The re-emergence of wallpaper is very much part of the trend of allowing people to tell their story through color and print,” says Charlotte Cosby, creative head of London-based Farrow & Ball, a manufacturer of paint and wallpaper.

Here are six other trends inspiring its resurgence:

▪ Bolder colors. Colors have shifted from 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, though not new, retain a hold, but often through stronger variations of what’s considered neutral such as grays, says designer Jack Ovadia, of Ovadia Design Group in New York.

▪ Bigger patterns. Although you can still find 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 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 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 one-dimensional. Three-dimensional designs incorporate everything from feathers to crystals, felt and powders, says Samet.

Grass cloth has returned but may be lacquered for a more novel look, says Lowe. Maya Romanoff’s papers, known 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. Flavor Paper stepped into this niche with a selection of readily available images that can be sized to fit specific dimensions, or it will take buyers’ high-resolution digital images and turn them into full-scale wall murals.

▪ Novel placement. Wallpapers used to be installed primarily on four walls of a room, sometimes a ceiling. It’s becoming commonplace to see papers on a single wall as a focal point or filling in as furnishings, such as a faux headboard behind a bed, says Samet. Cosby recommends papering the backs of cupboards or bookshelves and within the panels of doors.

▪ 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. The caveat with this New Jersey company’s product is that it needs to be installed atop well-primed and -painted walls.

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.