Wallpaper commanding a superstar role

By Claire McCall

Wallpaper is experiencing a surge in popularity but this time the choices are extensive and really quite fun.

Pip Studio wallpaper and vintage world map mural  from Paper Room. Photo / Supplied
Pip Studio wallpaper and vintage world map mural from Paper Room. Photo / Supplied

Anyone with even a passing interest in interiors can't help but have noticed that wallpaper is currently commanding a superstar role in the passion play of vertical expression. Over the past decade, wallpaper has made a breathtaking leap in design terms and New Zealanders are finally embracing the benefits of pattern, texture, colour and form that comes with these coverings. But what are the hottest looks around - and how can you use them in your home?


Banish the images of Grandma's swirly florals and psychedelic shapes in dirty brown, yellow and orange hung to disguise a past-its-prime surface. A more accurate description of wallpaper these days, according to Sarah Sheild of Paper Room Ltd on Auckland's North Shore, is "wall art".

"One of the biggest hurdles that wallpaper once faced was our old-fashioned view of it. Now papers are designed by fine artists - they are designer quality," says Sarah.


The hottest trend to come out of the United Kingdom (where the majority of designer papers are made) is not just a flat pattern but papers that have items attached to the sticky-backed base. These add-ons range from stitched folded pleats of paper, to buttons and puzzle pieces. For the romantically inclined there are also spangly crystal droplets and even glamorous sequins as in Tracy Kendall's dramatic sequinned dress (from Paper Room Ltd). In 2010, Kendall won the Scarlet Opus award at the international Decorex show for the Best "On Trend" product with her "fabulous darling" Silver Sequin spot wallpaper - and now these papers have reached our shores. These bespoke 3D papers are bought in single drops and, like art, can be hung as a feature for maximum impact.


On the other hand, Chris Gee of Netti and Gee, a boutique supplier, says he believes his clients are no longer seeing wallpaper as an ornamental tool to be used sparingly. "They seem to be backing away from that kind of add-on style of decorating to addressing whole spaces with wallpaper in the way that it was used historically." A "modern" twist is to combine panelling, paint and paper so that paper is carried along the top third of a wall with a tonal paint finish below or the ratio (paint to paper) is halved or reversed. Though the photographic papers still achieve a good response, the artisanal quality of vintage-style papers is also increasingly appreciated.


Digital images translated on to wallpaper are now commonplace and they give a realistic, contemporary finish rather than the traditional hand-blocked or vintage-style papers. The imagery is often of everyday objects such as ornate frames, pretty plates, forks and spoons, musical instruments or a stack of books. Again, these can be used as a single drop or on feature walls, an inexpensive way to incorporate wallpaper in your decor.


According to interior designer Shelleece Stanaway, geometric shapes are "huge". We're talking big, bold papers featuring diamonds, hexagons, faceted designs and raggedy stripes. Even Cole & Sons (available here through Icon Textiles), a manufacturer of hand-printed wallpaper and a company that has been around since the 1875, is getting into geometrics. Shelleece has just used a brightly coloured geometric paper as a feature in a house. "My clients are a lot more educated about wallpaper and they see it in magazines and online so they ask me about it," says Shelleece.


If you're not so keen on going all out with pattern or photographic image, there's always the option of combining paper and paint. Anaglypta is a white, embossed wallpaper that can be painted over in the colour of your choice. This is by no means a new idea. The product was developed way back in the 1880s and the Victorians embraced it because of its washable properties. But these days, says artist and stylist Anna Church, the designs it is embossed with have been updated. "Painting anaglypta is a great way to achieve colour and texture on your walls that is often more subtle than using patterned wallpaper," she says. Another idea is to use the silver anaglypta-style papers on your ceiling to emulate a pressed-steel ceiling - that's a big impression for a small outlay.


"The nostalgia factor is a trend that we've noticed whether it's from way back, such as the 19th century, or more recent 'retro' nostalgia." That's according to Annabel Taylor from Paper Room Ltd. Annabel cites the new collections of the British Ellie Pop brand as an example, calling the designs "Victoriana Pop Art" - tradition with a funky twist. Then there are the papers that feature photographic images of cassette tapes or ghetto blasters. Very 80s. Very now.


Take a look at this scene of a room - see that glorious floor-to-ceiling bookshelf with volumes stacked hither and thither? Don't you just covet it? Look again. It's not real; it's a clever illusion provided by wallpaper. Trompe l'oeil tactics are in full swing in the world of wallpaper. These tricky designs mimic items of furniture, outdoor scenes, flights of stairs, doorways, drapes, in fact anything you can imagine (and often you are). UK-based Deborah Bowness has designed a wall of vintage art prints above a sofa - but don't sit on it. "She's so clever, it's so hard to tell what is real and what isn't," says Sarah of Paper Room, the New Zealand retailer of the Bowness papers.


Wallpaper is a bit of a misnomer for some applications that this decorative product has. "Never throw out any leftover pieces," laments Annabel from Paper Room. There are, it seems, myriad methods to explore your creativity with the paper drop. Here are a few ideas: use it under glass as a table top, use behind glass as a kitchen splashback; certain papers can be made into a lampshade to match your scheme; use on the rises of stairwells covered with a sealant to protect it; line a drawer or shelves or cover a box. Stylist Anna Church loves to make bunting out of leftover wallpaper to hang in kids' rooms while interior designer Shelleece Stanaway is just waiting for a client who will allow her to shape an ornate bedhead from wallpaper to stick to the wall behind like a decal.


And finally, here's one that is either cutting-edge cool or just plain crazy. According to Chris Gee of Netti and Gee, outdoor wallpaper is the latest rage in alfresco decoration. We don't mean bringing a scene of nature into your living room, in fact quite the opposite. Chris is going to road test one of the en plein air papers by installing it on a wall surrounding his pool at his Auckland home. It remains to be seen how the papers, purportedly designed for British wind and rain, withstand our Kiwi climate!


* icontextiles.co.nz

* paperroom.co.nz

* nettiandgee.co.nz

* annachurch.co.nz

* shelleecestanaway.co.nz

* Malcolm Fabrics 0800 376 988

- NZ Herald

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