Wallpaper…. A Design Friend

Wallpaper…. mention it to any younger person and they’ll talk about a background pattern for their iphone. But I’m talking about the stuff that comes in rolls for walls – hard copy! Often already glued, you cut it into required lengths, wet it or peel the backing, then haul it and you up a steep ladder trying not to create folds in the slippery sucker while slowly and carefully attaching it to the wall without creases or tears. Press repeat for the next length. Perhaps I’ve just answer my own question about why I rarely see wall paper used in Australia. We’re just happier hovering over paint charts and then slapping paint on walls with near abandon. Wallpapering is a skill but always being one for a challenge I’m exploring the world of wallpapers…..

When was the last time that you used wallpaper in your home? My answer is never. Paint has always been my friend…. straight out of the tin pre-mixed colour or when I was feeling really artsy…… French washed, milk washed, stencilled or a gravelly warm Tuscan effect. But this is about to change as I play with options for creating an interesting home out of an essentially a very boxy, featureless home..and anyway its fun!

Whenever I travel to the UK, France and Italy (sigh) I’m impressed by the way wallpaper is seen as an essential design element and used extensively. Not just in old homes and cottages but in city apartments and modern homes too. I think we’re missing an opportunity here.

A country floral design by Colefax and Fowler

Why can wallpaper be a useful design element?

1. To create interest and a strong focal point in a room

Wallpaper is a wonderful creative element to introduce texture, colour and tonal quality to a room. Wall ” paper” can also be textured fabric such as wool or velvet. It can be a laminate. We’ve come a long way from the 1950’s laminates with orange pineapples as a feature design! New laminates can be textured wood effects that can look quote stunning.

2. To cover a slightly imperfect wall… I did say slightly.. you need a good even surface to stick the paper too but minor plastering defects can be disguised.

3. To appear to change the dimensions of a room. Take a long room and create a feature wall at the far end using 3D wall paper like the one below and you’ll bring the wall in to create a square effect to the room.

4.  Wallpaper can be used to tell a story about the room and create an integrating element in your home. Remember the home is essential a narrative..it tells a story of an architectural age, a way of life, what people value most and wallpaper can create stories or reflect the story of the home. If each room in the house has a different character it can end up being a hotch-potch of ideas rather than an easy flow of colour, form and integrated design.

A Chinoiserie panel adds a luxurious element to this period bathroom

Different Wallpaper Designs

Stories in Wallpaper: Murals

The Chinoiserie panel above of a tree and birds is a beautiful example of wall paper adding a luxury element to a room. Wallpaper can be expensive and if the design is busy it can create chaos to the mood of a room. Working with a single panel or a single image is a great way to develop a focus design element. The classic storytelling fabric and wall paper is Toile de Jouey. The French design that intricately portrays village life in rural France often on linen with line drawings in black or navy blue. Other wall papers can tell a simpler story like the one below but it  still has a naive child-like artistic quality.

A story wallpaper bringing subtle colour and imagery to a room. Wallpaper by Schumacher

The Feature wall

This is a very busy but beautiful modernist design created by Arte company

The image above is a great example of a feature wall design that adds a 3D quality, texture and a wealth of colour coordinating options for a large room- from monochrome, a range of blues, burgundies through to purple. It’s simply stunning!

Textured wallpaper

The late designer, Stuart Rattle used a grey wool flannel fabric to line the walls of one of his interiors. It looked stunning. Linen is also often used. I remember being utterly intrigued as a child in an episode of Agatha Christie’s detective adventures where a series of house guests died after dining in a particular room. The canny detective found cyanide had been impregnated in the velvet textured wallpaper and fumes had been killing the unwitting guests as they ate! Ah ha! This gave me a suspicious regard for textured wallpaper but fiction can leave a lingering distortion! I think its safe!

Softly Whimsical

The examples above demonstrate that wallpaper need not be bold and demanding- whimsy, soft colouring and subtle effects can also be achieved.

How much does wall paper cost?

In Australia Bunnings sell wallpaper! So anywhere from $25-50 on average a roll. But if you’re going down the wallpaper path you can spend up to $5,000 a roll if you want custom designed wall paper. The Brits do stunning wallpaper designs and I tend to favour the quality of brands such as Osborne and Little, Designers Guild, Nina Campbell and Colefax and Fowler. On average you’ll pay $140-200 a metre which sounds a lot but if you’re doing a panel it’s still cheaper than a good art work!

Applying Wallpaper

This is where I hand you over to Youtube videos or suggest you engage the services of a professional wallpaper hanger. You’re spending money on a design feature that needs precision, care and expertise in installation. Wrapping yourself in gluey wall paper may be great as fly paper to attract annoying insects but it’s not the best way forward to enhance your interior design! Have fun and explore!





Words by Nora Vitins
Images with thanks to the design studios mentioned.

30 May 2021 | Life-Style

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