Why (Not) Your Mother's Wallpaper?

Posted by — November 10, 2005

One of the more exciting trends today in interior design is mid 20 century modern, but retro with a twist. Modification of this motif is necessary because today’s new homes are, according to The National Association of Homebuilders, more than twice as large as they were in the 1950s, and 50 percent larger than they were in the 1970s.

Modern houses call for open floor plans with the spaces flowing into one another, instead of having smaller, separate rooms. The standard eight-foot ceiling has been raised to nine, ten, often twelve feet. This is true even in the “traditional” style home that most buyers prefer. Kitchens are open to family rooms or breakfast rooms or homework/computer areas. Bedrooms flow to sitting areas or dressing rooms, even mini breakfast bars. Bathrooms may have his and her compartments, dressing or exercise areas.

The homeowner is left in a quandary as to how to decorate these spaces. Can the spaces be unified, yet defined? In order to keep the open, spacious feeling, and still have it feel welcoming, designers and homeowners are looking again to wallpaper to warm large spaces. This is an option that your mother may have chosen, but this is not your mother’s wallpaper.

Wallpaper, like all design tools, is cyclical in nature; that is, for one reason or another it falls in and out of fashion. In the 1950s, minimalism played down vertical surfaces to emphasize interior space, often small rooms with low ceiling heights. During the 1970s bold modern wallpaper designs began showing up as rooms became larger and more open. But in the 1990s decorators began using paint and faux finishes because wallpaper was no longer user-friendly, either to apply or remove.

Today’s wallpaper is made of a breathable paper material, Easy-Wall, that is washable, easy to hang and easy to remove. It doesn’t trap moisture, is environmentally friendly, and it is beautiful. This new wallpaper from needs only a latex-painted wall, no special primer, and does not tear or wrinkle during installation. Because it is completely removable, it will not damage the wall.

One of the most common open spaces in today’s home is the Great Room, which often sports a lofty ceiling and combines living/family and dining areas. If the ceiling height is to be emphasized, soft vertical geometric patterns with large circles or diamonds are easy on the eyes and will blend with any decor. If the homeowner wants to “lower” the ceiling, horizontal patterns, crossing both living and dining areas with long drop lights from above, can be used. Today's wallpaper can even be applied horizontally.

A new book by Chesapeake Wallcoverings, “Open Spaces,” has many of these softer geometric designs to offer the D-I-Yer. Instead of a large oval or rectangular dining table in the center of the dining space, consider a square or round table that can be expanded for guests, but placed in one corner of the room. Here you can stack books, using book covers uniformly made of the same material, a lamp, and either a painting or a photo in a simple frame. To pull this area together, use pieces of the wallpaper for one of the following: the book covers, the lamp shade or the frame. With a couple of armchairs around the front, or on either side, you have created a peaceful place to read, write a letter or do homework. A bench or a loveseat placed in the opposite corner could give the space the air of a quiet library. Use a buffet/hutch or bookcase to showcase a few art objects with uncomplicated forms to keep the space simple and relaxing.

At the other end of the Great Room, usually where the fireplace and/or television are located, the continued, subtle pattern should again act as a complementing background. The fireplace, furniture or the television need to come forward. Using two loveseats instead of a sofa and two chairs, lessens the “clutter” of furniture, and using an ottoman with a unadorned tray instead of a cocktail table serves as extra seating and a footrest, as well as a coffee table. The new televisions, once hidden in bulky armoires, can now be either hung on the wall or can sit on a table, using less visual space. Use small, area rugs to define the spaces; a large rug will look too busy.

Bedrooms and bathrooms are taking on a new Zen quality, having evolved into private living rooms or sanctuaries. Here again the walls need to give only a subtle presence. The idea is to move away from overall, busy patterns to a more neutral palette that is calming and soothing. A painted wall in a large bedroom can appear flat and expansive, while a tone-on-tone wallpaper can add texture and depth.

Many of the wallpapers today offer beautiful textures and faux patterns that are easier to apply than the multi-stepped finishes shown on the networks. We are also seeing less high-tech and steel and more wood, with clean, unadorned lines. The bed, usually the focal point of the room, is presented without a skirt and only a couple of pillows. A soft paper treatment behind the bed subtly defines the space; it is not necessary to wallpaper every wall to achieve an enveloping feeling. The windows can be left untreated if privacy isn’t an issue or blinds or shutters are used. A sitting area in the room could have a comfortable, but not large, settee or armchair, table and lamp. This area, too, could be defined with a single papered wall of a soft, coordinating pattern.

In the bathroom, paper the wall opposite simple framed mirrors and have the delicate pattern gently reflected. Or paper the area surrounding the bath/soaking tub to define this relaxing spot. By defining areas, large “Open Spaces” are no longer daunting, but friendly and inviting.


For information about this article, e-mail jen@luxuryrealestate.com.

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