Got You Covered

An old favorite returns with a bold new look.

It's not your grandmother's damask.

That's what interior designer Leslie Shankman-Cohn often tells clients about the new oversized version of a traditional wallpaper motif. The same could be said of most current patterns in wallcoverings, a home décor trend that is steadily gaining in favor after a decade or so of the faux-finish rage.

"Wallpaper is more beautiful, dramatic, and colorful than ever," says Theresa Roh-Roberson, marketing rep for Seabrook, a Memphis-based national distributor of wallcovering, fabric, and accessories. "It's our biggest seller, so naturally we're glad to see a resurgence in its popularity. The first decade of this century was tough for wallcovering."

Around 1998, wallpaper sales hit the skids, as demand for faux finishes soared. "It all started with the high-end designers," says Roh-Roberson. "They were looking for the 'next big thing.' Once the high-end designers started using faux finishes and trompe l'oeil, so did the other designers. Then the media picked up on it, then the mass market." It's all a cycle, she adds, and now that cycle is swinging back toward wallpaper — but of course with a few fresh twists.

Just as big patterns and bold colors dominate in fashion, the same holds true in home design. "Even if you've got a traditional pattern such as damask," says Roh-Roberson, "it's more likely to be oversized, which gives it more drama." Among the more popular patterns are geometrics, harlequins, medallions, scrolls, and silhouettes, the latter of which includes a striking chandelier motif. Cool colors range from black and white to all shades of brown and blue, as well as a combination of the two. Purple, especially one that leans toward red, is popular, as are lime green and chartreuse.

"We're seeing hot pink, orange, turquoise, and lime green," says Vickie Shackelford, an interior designer with Virginia Rippee Interiors. "These colors are wonderful, bright, exciting. You can have a lot of fun with them."

Shackelford adds that she has always enjoyed using wallpaper and is recommending it to clients more often than she did even a year ago. "Faux finishes are not as popular, and that's okay," she says. "Too much of one thing gets old. A mix is much more interesting."

Unlike Shackelford, Shankman-Cohn, of Leslie Shankman Eclectic Interiors, has never been a big fan of wallpaper, but faux finishes are "passe," she says, "and we're using wallpaper more. I like it on one wall of a room or on ceilings for dramatic emphasis. I have always suggested wallpaper for ceilings, especially in bedrooms, using geometric, floral, trellis, or mitered-stripe patterns."

Roh-Roberson agrees that wallpapering one wall works well, particularly with the new patterns. "When you look at some of them, so bold and big, you know why. They could be overwhelming if you used them on four walls, but applying them to one wall gives great visual interest."

Wallcoverings can render textural interest too. At Seabrook, as Roh-Roberson flips through hefty books of pattern samples, she points to one with a sea-coral design and says, "Feel this. It's sand. The paper is printed with a glue and the sand is applied. It creates the design. Here's one with raised ink that has a sueded feel. Here's an embossed vinyl, very dimensional. And grass cloth is back in a big way. Texture is huge."

While some consider the new patterns contemporary, Roh-Roberson calls them transitional: "They can work in a contemporary or traditional setting, depending on how you furnish the room. And we still have plenty of traditional patterns, but with an updated look."

Giving a personalized touch to today's wallcoverings are "wall jewels" — such as crystal starbursts and harlequin-shaped metal pieces that consumers can buy in a bag of 28. "You just peel off the backing on the little dot of glue, and press on to the wallpaper," says Roh-Roberson. "That way you make it your own."

For those of you happy about wallpaper's return to interior décor, you'll especially like this: The new nonwoven backing is made with synthetic fibers that resist bubbling, and best of all, is easy to remove. So when it's time for a change, there's less tedious scraping. "If you prime your walls right," says Roh-Roberson, "you just pull a corner, and zip, a sheet will come off." 

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