In 1969 Horst P. Horst photographed Pauline de Rothschild peering into her wallpapered bedroom in Paris. The green wallpaper depicted a garden scene, with birds perched on leafy trees and vines climbing to the ceiling. The image, along with those of former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland’s red room at 550 Park Avenue in New York City, revealed wallpaper’s appeal and how best to apply it in the home.
More than 30 years later, wallpaper is making a comeback. According to the Global Wallcoverings Association, global wallpaper sales increased by 10 per cent in 2010, and a 2011 report by Global Industry Analysts Inc predicts that the wall coverings market will reach $26bn by 2015 as more people look to remodel and refurbish their homes.
Although wallpaper has often been associated with outdated interiors, today’s consumers are shopping from a range of contemporary patterns and easy to use materials: hand-printed or hand-blocked, three-dimensional, non-vinyl and mould-resistant papers are among the latest examples.
“Until the past decade, using wallpaper was a bit old fashioned,” says editor of Wallpaper* magazine and interior designer Michael Reynolds. “Now it’s about drawing from various visual periods, and wallpaper is being used [to add] a twist to an interior.”
Established companies such as de Gournay, Gracie Studio, Osborne & Little and Clarence House have responded to the demand to reissue classic patterns, while younger companies such as Flavor Paper, Catherine Hammerton and Rapture & Wright are turning to new techniques. More companies are adopting holography, producing unusual, textured finishes like natural grass, and creating papers with non-woven backings that are easier to apply and remove.
Updates on classic patterns with brighter colour palettes now offer bolder decorating options. Fromental, a company specialising in hand-painted and embroidered silk wallpapers, produce traditional chinoiserie designs in metallic colours over lacquered backgrounds. Meanwhile Rapture & Wright look to a number of design influences, from Japanese wood-block prints to the work of British artist Edward Bawden.
Fine artists are also tapping into the market as more people turn to wallpaper as a less expensive option to buying art. In 2010, London-based artist Georgia Horton launched her own eponymous wallpaper line, and in 2008 artist Kiki Smith designed wallpaper for Studio Printworks. A 2010 exhibition “Walls are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture”, at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, featured paper by artists such as Sarah Lucas, Thomas Demand, Damien Hirst and David Shrigley, alongside paper designs by Andy Warhol and William Morris.
Ed Godrich, creative director of Godrich Interiors in London, says wallpaper is most effective when applied generously throughout the home: “I use as much wallpaper as possible in a room to create maximum impact,” he says. “The pattern does not necessarily have to be bold, but the usage does, so that you effectively wrap a room in wallpaper – on walls and ceilings, skirting, and cornices.” Godrich prefers traditional prints in order to lend interiors an older aesthetic: “We design houses that look like they have been designed for over 25 years, so we prefer to use classic patterns.” To achieve this effect, Godrich typically uses bespoke wallpaper by de Gournay or vintage designs by William Morris.
Dominic Evans-Freke, director of de Gournay, a company that recreates traditional hand-painted styles and techniques popular among Europe’s 18th-century elite, credits the downward turn in the economy for the renewed interest. “I think wallpaper is making a comeback partly because when times are bad, you spend your money on something that shows its work and its value,” he says. “We are finding that people are very much over the ‘throw away’ culture and are prepared to spend a little more on something that will last for longer and not go out of fashion.”
Panels of de Gournay’s standard chinoiserie hand-painted papers range from £375 to £888 per panel, while their historic collection of chinoiserie scenes ranges from £871 to £1,479 per panel.
Reynolds adds that while people would traditionally hang paintings and photographs to elevate a space, such an investment is not an option for everyone. “Not everyone has the budget to buy fine art and photography,” says Reynolds. “Wallpaper has become a really efficient way to inject visual luxury into your space.”