Interior Decorating

How to Update Your Wallpaper and Wallcoverings

  • HyggeLiG/Houzz


  • STUDIOrobert jamieson/Houzz

     (STUDIOrobert jamieson/Houzz)

  • Meriwether Inc/Houzz

     (Meriwether Inc/Houzz)

Wallcoverings can bring a room to life in a way that paint can’t easily match — whether they’re bold modern designs, elegant hand-painted papers or textured grass cloth. And with the range of products (at all price points) expanding in recent years, now is a great time to give wallpaper a try.

We caught up with San Francisco Bay Area interior designers Jemy Massie and Emily Ellis of Studio Revolution to get expert tips on choosing wallcoverings, current trends and hiring the right pro. Wondering when to consider wallpaper over paint? The answer, Massie and Ellis say, is anytime a clear focal point is lacking or a plain, uninteresting room needs more character.

Project: Adding wallpaper or a textured wallcovering to a room or niche

Why: To update your space with fresh color, pattern and texture

Things to consider:

  • Which room will you be wallpapering?
  • Whole room or accent wall?
  • In three words, how do you want your space to feel?

Where to use wallpaper: Wallpaper in a powder room is always a great idea, Massie and Ellis say. You can go for something fun and daring that would otherwise be too much in a larger room. Nooks, niches and closets offer a welcome surprise and are a good way to start small. Also think of wallpaper or a textured wallcovering in any space where you need a bit of oomph and a clear focal point, such as the bed wall in a master bedroom.

Tip for kitchens and baths: Wallpaper can be used in the kitchen or bathroom as well; just be sure the product you choose has a coating that will protect it from moisture. It’s also safest to avoid applying wallcoverings directly in a “splash zone.”

Know Your Material Options

  • Wallpaper. Wallpaper is typically paper printed with a pattern and coated with vinyl or another finish for durability. Vinyl-coated wallpaper is easily wiped clean, making it a good choice for heavy-traffic areas, as well as humid spaces like the kitchen and bath.
  • Hand-painted wallpaper. A specialty of companies like de Gournay, hand-painted wallpaper is custom-made to fit the space. This premium wall treatment is an investment akin to original artwork and is best for low-traffic spaces like a formal dining room or master suite.
  • Grass cloth wallcovering. Natural grasses and plants, such as jute, bamboo, sisal and silk, are woven together with thread and attached to a backing, often of rice paper. This heavy covering requires a strong adhesive. Grass cloth can stain, making it best for low-traffic areas.
  • Silk wallpaper. Hand-painted or solid colored silk is attached to a wallpaper backing, combining vibrant color with a luxurious texture. Delicate silk wallcoverings should be used in low-traffic areas.
  • Other wallcoverings. What with flocked wallpaper and textured wallcoverings that have the look and feel of leather, wood and more, the possibilities are just about limitless.

Historic wallpapers: If you live in an older home (such as an original Victorian or Craftsman) and would like to make design decisions consistent with its period and style, there are wallpaper companies that specialize in historic reproduction and historically inspired patterns. Two good places to start your search are Charles Rupert Designs and Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers.

DIY: Massie and Ellis don’t recommend hanging wallpaper yourself. They say there are often unexpected on-site issues. The walls may not be straight — the ceiling might be higher on one side of the room than the other. Wall surfaces often are imperfect. A professional will know how to prep the wall before papering.

The designers warn that the type of wallpaper you choose can make things harder as well. For instance, a very thin paper can require additional prep work fixing imperfections in the wall or even the application of a lining paper. And matching the seams of wallpaper with repeating patterns can be especially challenging.

Massie and Ellis say experienced DIYers tackling this task should practice in a small area first. A closet is a good place to practice your wallpapering skills.

Budget and temporary alternatives: If you rent your home or want the flexibility to change the wallcovering without much fuss, consider using wall decals or removable wallpaper instead. Wall decals have come a long way in recent years, making them a fresh and fun choice for children’s spaces and more.

Three Wallpaper Trends

1. Murals. Like an art piece for your entire wall, mural-style wallpaper is a wonderful way to personalize your space. Choose a mural that speaks to your interests or brings in nature, or have a custom one made from a photograph or favorite work of art.

2. Brick, concrete and wall paneling “paper.” Wallpapers that mimic the look of worn brick, industrial concrete or elegant wood paneling are an easier and cheaper way to add architectural details to your space.

3. Urban toile. Massie and Ellis say they love the urban toiles that are on the scene right now. The effect is classic traditionalism, but when you look up close, the content is surprising. A few of the designers’ favorites:

  • Brooklyn Toile by Flavor Paper (featuring Coney Island and Biggie Smalls)
  • Bay Area Toile by Flavor Paper (featuring Alice Waters, Too Short, BART and Fairyland)
  • New York Toile by Timorous Beasties (Is that a drug deal in progress with views of the Statue of Liberty?)

Whom to hire: A professional wallpaper installer will be able to handle imperfect walls, tricky patterns and any other snafus that may arise.

What to look for in a professional installer: When starting your search for a wallpaper pro, be sure to check references and ask friends for personal recommendations. Massie and Ellis advise choosing an installer with the following characteristics:

  • Experience. Practice makes perfect. The more experienced the installer, the better the results.
  • Problem-solving ability. An experienced installer will know how to tackle issues with wall imperfections, ceiling height differences or a particularly tricky type of paper.
  • Perfectionism and patience. The best qualities of any great installer!

Things to keep in mind when ordering wallpaper:

  • For budgeting purposes, there are online “wallpaper calculators.” Massie and Ellis use Wallpaper Direct to get a rough estimate.
  • Roll size varies between single and double-bolt sizes.
  • The unit of measurement varies by vendor: square foot, square yard, linear foot, meter, etc.
  • Make sure that the repeat widths and heights work for your wall. For example, a large wall with a small repeat will have the same pattern repeating often and might look too busy, Massie and Ellis say.
  • This is a terrific time to bring in a professional to help you decipher the technical details.

Cost. The cost for wallpaper and installation varies widely, depending on the quality of paper and regional costs of labor. Expect to pay $40 to $300 per roll and up (much more for custom work and hand-painted papers), and about $1.50 to $12 per square foot for professional installation.

How long will it take? Most in-stock wallpaper should take only a few weeks to arrive, but if you plan to order wallpaper from overseas or are placing a custom order, the wait time can be up to several months. Installation time depends on the size and scope of your project, with a single accent wall taking about a day.

First steps:

  1. Gather inspiration images (Houzz is a good place to begin).
  2. Contact an interior designer if you want access to designer wallpapers and the assistance of a design pro.
  3. Order samples of any wallcoverings you think you want to use and view them in your space.