This spring, Oprah declared wallpaper is back.
But is it really? That depends on what you want to do in your home and, to a lesser degree, how much you’re willing to spend.
If rock bottom is your bottom line, then a simple paint job probably is the way to go. But if you were planning on spending a little more to get a really nice paint job – perhaps one with murals, borders or faux finishes – then you might want to consider wallpaper.
That’s because in the cyclical world of fashion and home furnishings, wallpaper is hot again.
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Decorators say that if you’re looking for drama, texture, warmth and personality, wallpaper is the way to go.
In their compact rowhouse in Brooklyn, designers Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke have wallpapered virtually every nook and cranny, including the interior of a glass-fronted bathroom cabinet and the inside of a closet.
For their foyer, they chose a pink and blue floral pattern and embellished it with paste-on colored rhinestones.
The guest bedroom has a directional vine pattern on the walls that takes the eye to the ceiling, where there’s a complementary but contrasting pattern of swirling flowers. Anne Goldsmith, a decorator in suburban New York, says you can make a bold statement in your bedroom by papering just the wall behind the bed. “It can just be really fun – a focal point in a boxy plain room without a lot of architectural detail,” she says.
GOOD IN A DOWN ECONOMY
With stylish patterns selling for $30 a roll or even less, wallpaper doesn’t have to cost much more than a really good paint job.
Scott Salvator, a Manhattan-based designer, says wallpaper is the perfect choice in a down economy because it decorates the room.
“You can put a mirror up but you don’t have to start buying artwork,” he says. “It’s a cheaper way to decorate.”
New York designer Elaine Griffin says wallpaper might be a little pricier, but not prohibitively so. And even the sour economy, she notes, hasn’t dampened the zeal of new parents to go all out for the first baby’s nursery.
“It’s the one recession-proof room in the house,” she says.
Great Falls, Va., resident Jennifer Singh considered the price difference between paint and wallpaper when she was decorating her home in suburban Washington but wasn’t deterred.
A jewelry designer with an eye for texture, pattern and color, she’s installed wallpaper in about half her home.
She chose a “masculine, highly textural” cork wallpaper for her husband’s study and an “organic, earthy” yellowish pattern with blades of straw for her kitchen. “I do remember wallpaper was more expensive than paint but not by a whole lot,” she says. “It was worth it.”
SHOULD YOU DO IT YOURSELF?
There are many do-it-yourself books on the market, but you probably don’t want to wallpaper yourself unless you’re supremely patient and good at following directions.
Goldsmith, who has a design business in Morristown, N.J., says it’s really not hard but it is time consuming. “My husband and I used to argue through the first roll,” she says, “then we’d get our jobs down and figure out who’s cutting and who’s holding.”
If you can afford it, you’re better off hiring a professional, according to Griffin and other decorators.
She notes that walls need to be prepped and in pristine condition, otherwise every imperfection is likely to show through.
OPTIONS FOR THE DESIGN CHALLENGED
Let’s face it: The average person does not have the eye of a decorator. But even the design-challenged can be a little bit adventurous with minimal risk.
Start by putting wallpaper in smaller spaces such as a hallway or foyer. If you fall in love with an expensive pattern, hang it on just one wall and paint the other three.
Wallpaper is a natural for a bathroom, where a dramatic pattern above the tile can deflect attention from less than perfect plumbing.
Or go for the natural look of grasscloth, which adds warmth and texture without a lot of pattern.
Pittsburgh decorator Toni McGonigle says that while her clientele in western Pennsylvania still prefers paint to wallpaper, she uses wallpaper in her 90-year-old home and appreciates the way it creates an instant effect. “It gives you a lot of bang for the buck,” she says.
Don’t forget the ceiling. As Salvator says, it’s one-sixth of a room. Papering a ceiling can make a room feel more intimate and divert attention from its size.
Nixon and Loecke suggest picking a pattern embedded with glass beads for a guest bedroom. In shimmering light, your guests might mistake it for the night sky.
Tips for wallpapering
Designers John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon, who recently hosted an open house at their Brooklyn townhouse with a wallpaper trade association, offer some tips on how to decorate with their favorite wall covering.
1. Create a “jewel box” in a tiny space like a foyer by covering the walls and ceiling with a single pattern, then jazzing it up with paste-on rhinestones or pearls. An entryway is also a good place for a pricey paper that may be too expensive in a larger room.
2. Use complementary patterns in rooms that open into each other, like a dining room to a kitchen to a pantry. Unify by using different shades of the same color.
3. Pick two separate but complementary patterns for the walls and ceiling in a bedroom, such as a curving vine pattern on the wall that draws the eye to a floral pattern above. It will create visual interest, which Loecke and Nixon note promotes contemplation.
4. Tropical designs are hot. Loecke and Nixon papered a pink-tiled bathroom with a banana leaf pattern in contrasting shades of green. The bold design is famously associated with the Beverly Hills Hotel.
5. Consider dramatic wallpapers for halls and passageways.
6. Use a rare, expensive or powerful pattern on a “feature” wall in a room, where it can serve the same function as art.
7. Woven and grasscloth papers are good for unifying wall space along a multi-story staircase and can serve as a neutral backdrop for a diverse art collection. A tight sisal weave has the added attraction of hiding nail holes.
8. Wallpaper can help divide open spaces into zones, such as in a bathroom where you might want to distinguish between the shower area and the sink.
9. Celebrate an asymmetrical wall with a bold pattern instead of trying to disguise it.
10. Don’t forget the closet. A great wallpaper could even inspire you to be a better dresser.
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