The Re-Emergence of Wallpaper


Wallpaper enjoys times of popularity and less-fashionable times too. Wallpaper first arrived in ancient China, when they glued rice paper onto walls as early as 200 B.C. Since then wallpaper wallcoverings continue to change to fit the times, from horse drawn carriage silhouettes to avocado green and mustard cartoons.

When I was growing up back east, my Mother sat down with her “decorator” (Yes! He arrived when we moved to our new house!) and carefully selected wallpaper for every single room of the house—including hallways and mudrooms. Admittedly, it was way too much, and the budding interior designer in me questioned why each room had to have it’s own patterned wallpaper statement—but naked walls were considered undressed and impoverished. 

nature print, tree mural wallpaper wallcovering

Fashion History of Wallpaper Wallcoverings

In the early half of the 20th century, every living room, dining room and “parlor” were festooned with floral bouquets and nosegays. You would expect that bedrooms would have either ribbons and clusters of fruit with flowers, or masculine hunting scenes with hounds and horses. The furniture itself was simple, solid, plain, and lasted forever. Wallpaper provided the interest and pattern that the post-depression middle class homes could afford.

The 50’s were bright and bubbly—literally. The patterns on the walls were fresh and bright images on a small scale—circles, overlapping triangles, kitties and bows, flowers that looked like children had drawn them, and cowboys. As we gradually embraced our former WWII enemies, the walls began to sprout Italian fountain scenes and charming geisha girls.

In the 60’s and 70’s—well—everything exploded and expanded in large, bright, bold psychedelic colors and swirls. Something new had swept over the country, and the patterns were expressed in literal waves, vibrations, cosmic geometrics and paisleys the size of pumpkins.  Marimekko, a Finnish design company, produced fabrics and wallpaper with repeats of big simple flowers as big as your head.

In the 90’s and ‘aughts, wallpaper went out of fashion. We saw a lot of color-texture walls, Venetian plaster, faux-finishes and paint murals. Wallpaper resources manufacturers and installers started to go out of business.

But, after a while the plain walls began to look boring.

What Now?

Enter the wallpapered feature wall. Today wallpapers are not for the whole house, but reserved for accent walls and special places. The new wallpapers are curated on dramatic entry walls, wrapped in niches, peeking from inside bookshelves, featured around master bed walls and  ceilings. The textures can be natural grass in a matte or shimmer finish, dense blankets of realistic cabbage roses, iridescent fish or butterflies, elegant geometrics, earth-toned tribal patterns and hand-drawn geometrics or stripes. Start with your powder room or the wall behind the credenza.

Here are some of the current styles available in new wallpapers:

Texture Inspired Patterns

There are now wallpapers that do an amazing job of imitating non-paper textures. They can look like concrete, agate slices, seagrass, leather, crackle texture, and more. In paper wallcoverings you can find more detail and deeper, more realistic textures than stamps or stencils create. You can have the alligator skin wall you always wanted, if you wanted that.

wallpaper wallcoverings, mural floral print, flower wall paper

Mural Prints

Bold mural wallpapers are not for the timid. In fact, they bring a lot of attention to themselves. To be called a “mural” print wallpaper, it isn’t a repeating pattern, but instead a large visual statement. It could be bold and bright, or muted and low contrast. In any case, it’s big. A mural print is not right for every room, but when it’s right, it’s very right.

embossed wallpaper wallcovering, foil wallpaper

Embellished or Embossed wallpapers

Wallpaper embellishments include non-paper components, like metallic foil, thick puffy inks, and other decorative additions.  Embossing presses texture into the paper, creating plateaus, ridges, and depressions in the paper surface. Both embellishments and embossing on wallpaper wallcoverings offer an unexpected surprise.

Understated Geometric Patterns

Geometric patterns technically include stripes, polka dots and other extremely simple patterns. They also include lines and shapes that connect into diamonds, complex grids, radial patterns, simple 3D illusions, and repeating geometry.

Wallpaper is making a comeback, as any design magazine will testify. But it’s not your Mother’s wallpaper approach anymore. Try it in your home, limiting papering to 1 or 2 focus areas. Knowing how to use wallpaper to enhance your home can be daunting, so get help if you need it. Employing the services of an interior designer or interior decorator can help you find the perfect wallpaper for your space.