Large-scale digitally printed wallpaper was first popularized as single-wall focal points in retail stores. Now, wallpapers like Flavor Paper’s “Wild Thing” are making digital murals accessible to homeowners, too. (photo courtesy Flavor Paper)

Wallpaper: The Comeback Kid

By Ruthanne Johnson

Maybe you remember the pink-flowered wallpaper in your grandma’s house, or the floor-to-ceiling rows of wallpaper fruits. Those were the dark days of wallpaper, and no one seemed to care when it fell out of fashion in the late 1980s.

“Waynetopia”—a mural created by artist Wayne White—breathes life into this otherwise featureless room. Create a focal point by placing a “moon-boggling” mural in your dining room. (photo courtesy Flavor Paper)

In wallpaper’s heyday, artisans actually designed papers to reflect a home’s decór and architectural style. By the 1980s, however, mass production gave rise to cheap products with cookie-cutter designs. High-end wallpapers were still used in commercial applications, but mass-produced papers assumed the role of masking wall imperfections, and boring designs devoured rooms in many homes.

That was then, this is now. Wallpaper has made a splashy comeback, thanks to new technologies and striking designs from manufacturers like Flavor Paper, Osborne & Little, de Gournay, and Harlequin. Think brilliant silvers, golds and coppers. Corrugated metal, slate, wood and stone. Shimmery geometrics, bold gigantic flowers, and murals so lifelike they instantly whisk you into a forest or onto a mountaintop. “Today’s wallpapers can be everything from whimsical to classical,” says Lorraine Amant, senior designer at Guiry’s Color Source in Boulder.

Large-scale digitally printed wallpaper EazyWallz’s autumn leaves pattern are making digital murals accessible to homeowners. (photo courtesy Eazywallz)

Bold window displays played a large role in wallpaper’s revival. “Part of what helped modernize wallpaper was the single-wall concept (in retail stores) that created dramatic focal points, and the digital large-scale murals that were eye-grabbing,” says Jon Sherman, president and creative director of Brooklyn-based Flavor Paper. “Wallpaper does a fantastic job of that, which is something paint just can’t do.”

Sherman’s company hand screen-prints wallpaper, working with clients like The Today Show, Lenny Kravitz, Ann Taylor and Queen Latifah. There were only three companies making wallpaper when Flavor Paper opened shop in 2003; now there are hundreds.

Due to new technologies, cost is not as prohibitive either. Even a modest homeowner can afford higher-end products. “Wallpaper is such an easy way to make a dramatic change in a space for a relatively affordable amount,” Sherman says, noting that it costs about $400 to cover a 10-by-10-foot wall, which is reasonable when compared to the cost of painting, artwork and framing.

Initial Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re wondering if wallpaper is right for you, start with a single wall where the paper would make the most impact. Your wallpaper choice “should change a room’s mood and perspective, and make the space a place you want to be,” Sherman says. You might also start by papering a smaller powder room, office or kitchenette. “Small amounts of wallpaper are easy to swap out if you decide to change the look,” Amant says.

A calming forest scene was the perfect mural solution for this room that lacked a window. (photo by Boone Speed)

Wallpaper is no longer relegated to vertical walls either. “The fifth wall—the ceiling—is something that shouldn’t be ignored,” Sherman says. “It’s a contained area that doesn’t compete with furniture and gives you a nice escape, especially as you lie in bed.” The ceiling in Sherman’s bedroom wears Flavor Paper’s “Sheba” pattern. “It’s a relaxing ­Japanese pattern with a rhythmic flow,” perfect for settling into a good night’s sleep, he says.

Wallpaper has nontraditional uses as well, like papering stair risers. (photo courtesy Flavor Paper)

Wallpaper can also be applied to stair risers, beneath glass tabletops and inside lampshades. Boulder interior designer Donna Pocci suggests applying bolder wallpapers to canvas boards and hanging them above the bed, or leaning them against a mantel. “It’s a great way to save money (as opposed to papering an entire space), and it gives you this exotic pop of color.”

Gonzo Geometrics

The simple, clean lines of geometric patterns bring order to a space. They also add interest by injecting dimension where there is none. Today’s geometrics are both simple and intricate. “You might have a geometric shape that morphs into a floral or a landscape or something,” Sherman says, like his company’s “Musical Mandala” pattern that features a repeating kaleidoscope of geometrics filled with guitars and microphones. “It has a very distinct geometric flow, but when you step back you realize how detailed it is.”

Simple geometric patterns bring order to a space and inject dimension. (photo courtesy Flavor Paper)

Flavor Paper also crafts a stunning paper that replicates a South African textile design from the 1800s. But the half-inch-diameter circles in the traditional pattern were enlarged to 36-plus inches, resulting in “a simple geometric design that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the fabric,” Sherman says.

Geometrics also lend themselves nicely to ceilings, Amant says.

Make Mine Natural

Brick, fabric and stone are popular ways to add texture and interest to walls, but these materials are expensive and labor-intensive. Digital wallpaper look-alikes fool the eye and are so realistic you can almost feel the textures of snakeskin, leather, corrugated metal, fabric, grass or wood in their designs.

To create a reclaimed look, Amant suggests mixing designs on different walls. “For instance, you could have a rustic corrugated look on one wall and then stone or rustic reclaimed wood on another wall.” She’s used a reclaimed-wood pattern at wainscoting height and put a stone or brick look-alike above it.

Make Room for Flowers

Wallpaper flowers are blooming bigger than ever. (photo by Ellen Mesu/Ellie Cashman Design)

Today’s floral wallpapers are nothing like the ones in your grandmother’s house. Contemporary designs range from large-scale prints to modern graphics, still lifes and vintage-inspired botanicals. “Florals are generally used in homes that on some level want to keep a traditional look,” Sherman says. “However, today’s cutting-edge florals are blown up. They’re just massive, and they rule a room. They are like a piece of art in and of themselves.” The rest of the room is furnished around these massive florals “with something that is usually very contemporary and clean-lined.”

Keep in mind that less is more with bold floral patterns, Amant advises. “Maybe just stick with a single wall and not an entire room, unless you want to feel like you’re in a coffin of flowers.”

Shimmer & Shine

Reflective wallpaper was hand-screen-printed for Lenny Kravitz’s New Orleans home. He’s since sold the house but the paper remains. (photo courtesy Flavor Paper)

Metallic wallpapers can transform a boring space into something downright captivating. Copper, silver, brass, tin and gold motifs are perfect for making small rooms appear larger, because light bounces off the paper’s reflective tones. Some manufacturers even make papers with flashy sequin designs.

Metallic details also add a contemporary feel to traditional patterns and décor, and they blend nicely into just about any room. Sherman says, “If you have older brick walls or some stuffy chesterfield furniture, metallics on the ceiling or on one wall would open up the room and make it feel more modern without being overwhelming.”

3-D in a Big Way

New technology has allowed mural wallpapers to explode. “The industry is enamored with life-size art murals,” Sherman says, which range from abstracts and cityscapes, to vacation destinations, nature scenes, fine-art replications and oversized greenery and florals. Murals create a dramatic backdrop in just about any space, like a pastoral scene in a dining room or a nighttime cityscape behind a bed or fronds of greenery on a kitchen backsplash. You can even create custom murals from your own digital images.

Create a focal point by placing a “moon-boggling” mural in your dining room. (photo courtesy Eazywallz)

Photo murals draw in the eye and add depth and intrigue to spaces, Sherman says. A recent Flavor Paper mural created by artist Wayne White is one of his favorites. “‘Waynetopia’ isn’t for everyone and it requires a particular space,” he says, “but it’s just mind-blowing.”

Amant suggests using murals on walls that are a room’s focal point. “You’ll want the furniture to play off the mural,” she says. “Like putting a gigantic mural of a picture window with a scenic escape behind a headboard in a bedroom.”

Indeed, today’s world of wallpaper choices lets you escape to just about anywhere you wish to be.


Wallpaper Resources

There are hundreds of wallpaper designers and manufacturers, and even more suppliers. Here’s a short list to get you started. A simple Google search will bring up dozens more. Take a look around to see the stunning change wallpaper could make in your home.

The Best Wallpaper Place
(www.thebestwallpaperplace.com): Supplier of designer wallpaper and wall coverings online, with brands such as Arte, Zoffany, Yo Yo Designs and Osborne & Little.

de Gournay
(www.degournay.com): Produces a range of superbly handcrafted wallpapers with unique scenes and vibrant and contrasting colors.

Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home
(www.domino.com) This isn’t a manufacturer, rather it’s a book filled with great home-decorating ideas, including wallpapering.

Eazywallz
(www.eazywallz.com): Offers innovative, ­large-scale, self-adhesive and custom wall murals and wallpaper designs online.

Flavor Paper
(www.flavorpaper.com): One-of-a-kind wallpapers digitally printed with designs that incorporate geometrics, florals, murals, fine art, traditional patterns, metallics and natural materials.

Graham & Brown
(www.grahambrown.com): Offers everything from florals and geometrics to damasks, solids and murals in a wide range of styles.

Harlequin
(www.harlequin.uk.com): A design house that features Standing Ovation, a fashion-inspired couture collection of designer wallpapers.

Rollout
(wallpaper.rollout.ca): Canadian-based custom wallpaper company that creates boutique-like patterns with a fresh, young vibe.

Tracy Kendall
(www.tracykendall.com): Specialty wallpapers that often involve hand-sewn elements like buttons, sequins, metallic letters or puzzle pieces.

Twenty2
(www.twenty2.net): Brooklyn-based company with a collection of prints that include cool geometrics, modern murals, grass-cloth papers and unique 3-D designs.

—R.J.

Relaxing, digitally printed patterns can add visual interest and create a calm ambience. (photo by Federica Carlet, courtesy Flavor Paper)