Market Report: Beyond the Pale

With the endless array of beautiful and sophisticated wall coverings available today, plain white walls are quickly fading into the woodwork. “People are mixing and matching paint, wallpaper and fabrics to create unique effects,” says Todd Katz, co-owner of Siperstein’s Paint and Decorating Centers in Hamilton Township, New Jersey and other locations. “They love the wide range of colors, patterns, textures and styles, and they are not afraid to experiment.”

“Wall coverings make a statement that will stay there for some time,” says Michael Campbell, showroom associate at Croce, Inc., in Philadelphia, “so you want to choose something that you won’t get tired of too quickly.” And because walls “should complement both the look and function of a room, lighting, floors, furniture and the size of the room should all be taken into account.”

True Colors
A coat of paint is the easiest way to instantly transform a room. “There is no end in sight to what you can do with a can of paint,” says Toni C. Mott, interior designer and owner of Designing Spaces in Berwyn. In addition to the limitless color variety, there are faux finishes that will “give your walls the textured appearance of marble, stone, suede or even leather.”

Magnetic paint is a relatively new product that is steadily gaining popularity, according to Katz. At roughly $30 per quart, Liquid Magic Wall can be purchased at Siperstein’s and other specialty paint or craft stores. The gray, magnetically charged paint is often used as a base coat on one accent wall in a room, says Katz, and then painted over with the color of your choice. “It will enhance a kitchen or a children’s playroom, because it means you can put magnets all over the wall—not just on the refrigerator,” he says.

Metallic paint also is an interesting option, says Donna Quinn, owner of Tall Walls, Inc., in Yardley. In a dining room, or anyplace where you regularly use candles, “it will create a beautiful shimmering effect.” It can be used on an entire room, on just one wall, or only on selected strips, for a “monochromatic tone-on-tone look,” she says.

If flat color is too dull, consider adding a decorative touch. “A large wallpaper stencil can be used on an accent wall,” says Mott. Floral motifs are almost always popular, but “don’t be afraid to get creative with designs and styles,” she says. “Practically anything you can imagine is available.”

People are realizing that all the walls in a room do not have to be the same color. Choosing hues strategically “can shift focal points and create interesting architectural effects by highlighting some areas and downplaying others,” says Quinn.

You can achieve a similar effect by treating the ceiling as a fifth wall. Painting a high ceiling in a slightly darker color than the rest of the room will make it cozier and more inviting, says Katz, while painting ceilings in a lighter color will make a room appear more spacious.

Pretty Paper
“Wallpaper has had its ups and downs over the years,” says Katz, but “premiere brands like Waverly have helped to bring it back into the fold of home decorating.” No longer just flowers and stripes, the latest wallpaper designs have made it possible to achieve practically any look imaginable. As a general rule of thumb, he recommends small patterns for small rooms, where they won’t look too busy, and large patterns for large rooms where the design can be fully appreciated.

Textured wallpapers can add dimension and elegance to a room, according to Quinn. Flock wall-paper, which is made with shredded fibers that feels like velvet, is back in fashion. Another way to achieve texture is with anaglypta, a paintable wall covering embossed with a pattern. It is painted with a brush or a roller after it is hung on the wall, and the raised areas adopt the color of the paint, while the depressed areas remain white. With the great variety of patterns available, this is an inexpensive way to achieve any look, “from super-traditional to ultra-contemporary,” says Diane Prodromos, manager of Atlas Interior Home Fashions in Marlton.

Material World
Fabric as a wall covering has been around for ages, but people are experimenting with a wider range of patterns and textures than ever before, says Mott. Linen, cotton, burlap, silk and sheer fabrics all are popular, but practically anything will work with the proper technique.

There are several different methods, according to Mott. Either liquid starch or wallpaper paste can be used as a sealant, but starch has advantages because it provides a protective stain-resistant coating to the fabric, and makes it easy to remove without leaving any residue on walls. This came in handy for one of Mott’s clients, who had a spaghetti sauce explosion that stained the beautiful antique fabric in her kitchen. They were able to simply pull the fabric off the wall, throw it in the washing machine, and reapply it to the wall with more starch. “It looked as good as new,” says Mott.

Most fabrics are attached at the floor and ceiling lines, or just under the crown moldings, using a staple gun. Ribbon, a string of beads, or gimp trim—a narrow, ornamental fabric made of silk, wool or cotton that has a metallic wire or a coarse cord running through it—can cover the staples around the edges.

For homeowners who don’t want to attach fabric to the walls, Mott suggests mounting tension rods directly against a wall and draping the fabric from them. A large room also could be divided in this way. “Remember that you will need extra fabric in order to create a gathered look, similar to a curtain,” she says.

To create a soft, luxurious upholstered effect with fabric, Mott suggests using several layers of padded material, such as burlap or cotton underneath the decorative fabric. “This will also help to contain sound, and is great in a dining room, nursery, library or bedroom,” she says. “It is especially warm and inviting on the wall directly behind your bed.”