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Which Wallpaper to Choose?

April 30 2010

Wallpapers haven’t had their day since the grasscloth era of the 1970s, and papers with complementing borders in the 1980s. Instead, interiors have showcased faux finishes, textured walls and even textured paints, courtesy of designers like Ralph Lauren.

However, fashions change, and what was old is new again. Wallpaper is back.

Designers are revisiting wallpapers to help them make a statement and to take advantage of new technologies, including easily strippable paper.  The new wallpapers are also easier care, washable and hardier than earlier papers.  And the design possibilities are endless – large print, small print, vintage, geometric contemporary, floral, Asian or specialty designs, to name only a few choices.
New trends in wallpapers are leaning toward recognizing archival and vintage designs.  As older homes, especially Victorians, Prairies, and Arts and Crafts styles are renovated, many designers are using era-specific inspirations that complement the home’s architectural and cultural style, rather than trying to force new designs onto an old template.  

The trick is to honor the original design of the home.  Let’s say you have an Arts and Crafts bungalow, and your interior design inspiration is “Pottery Barn.” Go to the Internet and look up Arts and Crafts design on Google, and you’ll see that one of the themes for the era was geometrics to complement the clean and simple uncluttered architecture. Choose a geometric patterned wallpaper, and your home will look current, in a hip, contemporary way. 

The following list offers types of wallpapers from which to choose:

Damask Designs

Damask is a classic, formal design.  Usually a large-scale design, new colors make damask a great choice for formal rooms.  Damask can be lushly floral bouquets in urns surrounded by acanthus leaves, or they can be stylized for a more contemporary look.  Usually found in two colors per design, damask can be as subtle or dramatic as you wish.  Tone on tone in soft buttery shades can be made dramatic in red and black or black and white. 


Another two color design, Toile can reproduce repeated pastoral scenes in black and white, blue and white, blue and yellow, red and white, and other combinations.  Also, usually large scale in print, you’ll often find Toile in bedrooms and baths or dining rooms.  The drama of the colors and business of the print usually means subtle décor elsewhere in the room with the pattern repeated on the bed furnishings or chairs. 

Retro styles

A resurgence of retro styles means lots of fun.  Early American styles can be purchased in a geometric checked backdrop with stylized stars in assorted colors.  Pentagonal tile motifs popular way-back-when are honored in retro-designed wallpapers taken from authentic sources.  Kitschier designs from the 1940s to the 1970s can offer sputnik-inspired outer space designs, Americana rodeo or western, Mexicana, and pop art designs. 


The newest trend in metallic wallpapers is glass bead wallpaper.  Recommended to be installed by professionals, goggles and gloves must be worn when installing, but the effect is gorgeous in a bath or small entry hall.  Other metallics such as mylar papers tend to give a retro look, some even coming in a combination grasscloth with metallic background or even flocked velvet with metallic papers.  Pearlized designs made of natural sea shells are also a wonderful, organic trend.

Geometrics and contemporary

Geometric and contemporary looking designs actually date back to Early America.  Surprisingly simple, graphic designs were used in Colonial and Georgian homes.  Victorians also had a number of simple, graphic motifs which can be utilized to update an interior.  These designs tended to have a fairly small repeat. 

Larger scale geometrics work well, but still should be scaled to the room.  Ceiling heights were often only 8 feet in 1960s-era homes, and designs must be carefully chosen not to overwhelm the room.  No matter the scale or design, colors can be authenticated back to early American, or updated to current trends in retro designs. 


Florals are bolder and more versatile than ever.   From subtle designs that won’t overpower a room to big prints that wow a room, there is a floral appropriate for every home.  Found in a myriad of colors and combinations, you can pick your favorite flower or design and use it almost anywhere.  Updated colors extend the versatility of florals.  Large, bold designs give a contemporary feel, while smaller repeat designs are more classic and retro.


Usually considered a bedroom choice, multi-colored Oriental prints have changed to include more masculine tastes in colors and simplified designs.  Since the Oriental prints tend to be busy, even though they are delicate, they are usually best with simplified furnishings without a lot of accessories.  Some of the most beautiful patterns featuring birds and blossoms are Orientals.  Other Oriental trends include the comeback of updated grasscloths and Asian ricepapers. 

Whatever the design of your home, you can find great wallpapers for any room in updated colors, themes, and styles.