Wallpaper: Back in the Game

It’s not your grandmother’s look any more. Find out why wallpaper has a growing appeal among trendsetters and younger buyers.

October 21, 2014

In recent years, wallpaper played a minor role in home décor, relegated mostly to powder rooms and otherwise pushed aside by paint, which has been considered the cheaper, faster way to freshen a room.

Wallpaper also didn’t fit the more modern aesthetic that gained hold in the last dozen years or so, says Paula Berberian, creative

director at Brewster Home Fashions, a fifth-generation family-owned wallpaper manufacturer in Randolph, Mass. And some buyers considered it far too personal a choice, as well as problematic to install and later remove.

But tastes change. Many younger buyers don’t remember their parents’ and grandparents’ homes covered in floral, striped, and velvet papers and are now gravitating to wallpaper as a chic update choice. “They consider it quite cool, along the lines of Mid-Century modern,” says Berberian.

It’s even catching on in parts of the country far from the trendsetting coasts.

“We just finished a Parade of Homes in Boise, Idaho, and Provo Utah, and most of the high-end houses incorporated some wallpaper—often big, bright, bold, large-scale geometrics,” says Robyn Shea, a salesperson at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in Boise who retails several wallpaper brands under her other business, Design Source 101.

There are other reasons for wallpaper’s growing appeal:

Easier to hang and remove: Papers have been vastly improved, and are easier to hang and remove without damaging walls. Some are fabricated on a nonwoven substrate, so they make it easier to hide surface imperfections, too, says Berberian. Jackie Just’s Murals Your Way, based in Minneapolis, are made to peel and stick, making them easier to apply, remove, and reuse elsewhere.

More environmentally friendly: Many wallpapers today are made from eco-wise materials, such as water-based prints that breathe. Some with new vinyl coatings hold up better to bathroom steam and can be wiped free of dirt, grease, and fingerprints.

Patterns are hipper and fresher-looking: Buyers should focus on overscaled geometrics including kaleidoscopes, Asian-inspired themes, trompe l’oeil photorealism shots of materials such as weathered wood and brick, horizontal and chevron patterns rather than traditional vertical stripes, and faux leathers, says Jon Sherman, owner of manufacturer Flavor Paper in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Colors are brighter: Think aquas, oranges, purples, greens, yellows, hot pinks, metallic silvers and golds, and contrasting white and black combos, says Jill Wagner at New York-based manufacturer Osborne & Little. Midtone pastels have made inroads, and, of course, gray, the hot neutral, makes the cut.

Texture has become more pronounced: Metallics and crystals are being incorporated, as well as bits of suede, gels, beads, and cosmetic-style powders that change with light and as people move past them, says Sherman. Even ’50s grass cloth has returned, but with a contemporary edge and in more than earth tones.

More inventive installations: Wallpaper is going beyond just a room’s four walls; nowadays, it’s viewed as a possibility for one accent wall, the ceiling, or in between ceiling beams or coffers, says Berberian. And it can be used to expand space, make it more intimate, or camouflage a problem, says general contractor Beverley Kruskol of M.Y. Pacific Builders in Los Angeles. Santa Monica, Calif.-based designer Kimball Hills of Rumba Style hadn’t used wallpaper in years, but is doing so with white grass cloth to brighten a client’s burled wood wall.

Price points vary: Some companies like Berberian’s offer single rolls from $40 up, and Just provides a fully customized 8-by-0-foot feature wall mural for between $500 and $800.

But since not all buyers yet are fans of wallpaper, professionals recommend that home owners weigh choices carefully unless they plan to stay for years. Here are more tips:

  • Dip a toe in slowly: If your clients are new to using wallpaper, they might want to start small, such as an accent wall in a bathroom, says Chicago designer Lisa Wolfe, who is a huge wallpaper fan. She also recommends it to break up large areas, or in a bedroom, entry hall, cozy den, breakfast room. Using it in a kitchen requires restraint since many equate to the dated kitchen paper of the past. Today’s buyers are still more inclined to tile backsplashes or paint. But if a home owners likes the idea, they should consider a perky, modern pattern.
  • Wallpaper borders are out, says Wagner of Osborne & Little.
  • A wallpaper whitewashing is a no-no: If an entire house is wallpapered, sellers might consider removing some before they list. And they should definitely clean or take down dirty, worn, or torn wallpaper, which is a huge turnoff.
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).


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