By Roger Hazard
The above images feature hand-printed wallpaper from historic wallpaper specialists Adelphi Paper Hangings. Visit their site for more information on these beautiful patterns.
Wallpaper has been around for centuries - dating back as far as the 1400s - but you would be forgiven for assuming it went extinct sometime around the late 1980s. While wallpaper all but disappeared from mainstream design as homeowners' tastes shifted towards neatly painted walls, paper lived on in corners of the design business.
People undertaking historical renovations continued to seek out authentic, period designs for parlors and bedrooms. Edgy designers snuck wild patterns into their designs as accent walls. And ultra-high end spaces continued to get decked out in hand-painted murals and luxurious textures.
Well, wallpaper is back, and not just for special cases. While homeowners might not be eager to coat every wall with it, they are selectively applying wallpaper to add interest and impact to their homes.
Here are some of the popular ways to use wallpaper:
Add a sense of luxury with textured paper.Unadorned sheetrock can appear plain even when painted an interesting color. For people seeking to create a high-end look using a subtle color palette, bare walls might not cut it. This is particularly true in modern spaces, which lack ornate details that would otherwise distract from plain sheetrock.
To bring in a luxurious feel, designers frequently turn to textured paper. Some papers are embossed with geometric patterns, which create interest as light plays across the wall. Some of these embossed papers can be painted after installation to better integrate them into the space. Other papers use fabric or natural fibers to create texture. Grasscloth - hugely popular in past decades - is seeing a resurgence as a way to add natural warmth to rooms. Fabrics including burlap, hemp, faux leather and velvet each bring a distinctive feel to a home and can contribute vibes ranging from warm-and-casual to sleek-and-formal.
Add wow with bold patterns. Most people associate wallpaper with patterns. When we think of dated designs, it's usually floral patterns that spring to mind. Papers with little floral designs set on a tight pattern repeat are still considered passé. But, like many elements of interior design, changing the scale of a design can drastically impact how it's perceived. For those looking to make an impression, large-scale floral patterns can do the trick.
I've also seen strong geometric patterns used to great effect. Designs featuring wide stripes, huge polka dots, or oversized checks or plaids introduce two or more colors onto the same wall and completely change how the room is perceived. While these powerful patterns can be combined with strong colors for maximum impact, they also can be used in a much more subtle way with tone-on-tone colorways.
Add a historical touch with authentic re-creations. If you're trying to bring back period charm to an older house, historically accurate paper hangings are a wonderful option. A number of small companies offer reproductions manufactured using the same hand-printing methods and materials that were used on the originals, before machine printing overtook the industry. These companies pour time into researching and perfecting the techniques used in past centuries and meticulously re-create designs from scraps of the original papers. Their patterns are printed using the original wood block methods, with one or more blocks for each color. Complex designs can involve as many as 10 colors and several dozen unique blocks. It's a labor-intensive process, but the results can be stunning.
If you're worried that covering all four walls of your dining room with an authentic chintz or damask would be overpowering, you might want to consider placing the paper on just one wall and carrying one of the colors from the pattern onto the remaining walls with paint. Another option for integrating historical patterns in a more subdued way is to add a chair rail or beadboard to the lower half of the room and place the wallpaper on the upper half. Use white or pale paint on the lower half of the walls to keep the room fresh and bright.
Add interest to small or boring rooms. Do you have a dull, windowless powder room? What about a guest bedroom without much in the way of architectural detail? Rooms that are only used occasionally are perfect candidates for wallpaper. Try stepping outside of the norm and looking for vibrant papers with interesting finishes. Because rooms like these do not need to mesh perfectly with the remainder of your home, you can have fun and create an exciting, unexpected space for your guests to enjoy. The right distinctive wallpaper will add plenty of interest to the plainest of rooms.
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