Pretty as Paper

BY DAWN KLINGENSMITH ON APRIL 23RD, 2017

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Paint can bring a space to life, but sometimes a room needs something a little bit fancier. Enter wallpaper … again. With the current resurgence in wallpaper’s popularity, many people once again are rolling prints into their home décor. However, if doing a whole room in wallpaper isn’t your thing, savvy designers are finding some “off-the-wall” uses for it. Wallpaper has long been used to line the insides of hutches, cabinets and bookcases, providing an unexpected pop of color, says Molly McDermott Walsh, VP of marketing, Farrow & Ball, New York City.

More recently, people have begun to paper the ceiling to create a “conversation-worthy” effect, she says.

That’s not the only way interior design has gone topsy-turvy of late. Instead of paint or paper, people are installing upholstery on the walls. Sometimes, the fabric is stretched over a layer of batting and tacked down in places for a soft, quilted look and feel.

Alternately, upholstered panels can be hung on the wall, and a certain type of wall upholstery has paper backing that installs like wallpaper.

The latter two application methods are easier for DIYers. “Generally, though, I would always leave wallpaper to professionals and that’s doubly so for wall upholstery,” says interior designer Katherine Shenaman of West Palm Beach, Florida.

To be sure, covering walls with fabric has a long history throughout the world. Fabric brings color, pattern, texture and dimensionality into a room; paint and wallpaper fall flat by comparison.

Cleaning fabric-covered walls is challenging if not impossible, so kitchens, bathrooms and high-traffic areas aren’t wise choices for wall upholstery, Shenaman says.

Fabric harbors odors and dust, so upholstered walls offer little joy or comfort to allergy sufferers, she adds.

On the plus side, upholstered walls dampen sound and look “really cozy and nice” in a bedroom, Shenaman says.

A small nook with lushly upholstered walls “ends up feeling like a little jewel box,” she adds.

The safest wallpaper choices for the ceiling are monochromatic, textured prints or non-directional patterns, says Walsh, adding that anything bolder would be especially distracting in a bedroom.

An experienced do-it-yourselfer can single-handedly paper walls, but for ceilings, it’s better to have a helper so one person can hold the roll while the other smooths out the paper.

Installing wallpaper to one section of the ceiling over an open floor plan, and framing the section with molding, helps to delineate the space beneath it for a specific purpose, says Walsh: “When it’s over the dining area or the play area or the media area, it really creates a zone.”

There also are many new, unique options from which to choose.

“I’ve seen wallpaper now that’s actually made from pheasant feathers, gold leaf, leather. The list goes on,” says Jamie Beckwith, designer and creator of the Jamie Beckwith Collection, Nashville.

Wallpaper is a safer choice for most rooms than one might expect because it’s no longer as difficult to remove. Wallpaper doesn’t just peel off, however.

Wallpaper has a broad price range, as well, with a mid-range cost of about $45 per roll. But with renowned designers and artists putting their work (in some cases, hand-painted originals) on both wallpaper and tile, the sky is the limit when it comes to price.

Do-it-yourselfers can capably hang wallpaper, but if it’s badly installed or misaligned, “it looks horrible,” warns Florence de Dampierre, author of “Walls: The Best Decorative Treatments” (Rizzoli, 2011). Some newer wallpapers “are stronger and easier to line up,” she says, and some even go on dry.

Wallpaper may be more sensitive than tile to humidity levels and certain climates.

Before wallpapering, a big part of the process is getting the walls back to good condition. The prep work can be extensive as opposed to just painting.

Flat paint minimizes the appearance of flaws, “so you can almost get away with not repairing all the defects,” Beckwith adds, whereas wallpaper and tile require a flawlessly smooth surface for proper adherence.

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