Paper Goods

Wallpaper is making a fierce comeback, thanks to fresh colors, cool textures and sophisticated finishes.

Hollywood, if you’re listening, Paul Sperling has a suggestion. “People often come into my shop requesting wallpaper they’ve seen in the movies,” says the owner of Colonial Wallpaper in Queen Village. “They should list wallpaper styles in the credits at the end.”

Sperling, who took over the business from his aunt and uncle in the 1970s — when loud florals and tacky vinyls were all the rage — has seen sales escalate in the last few years, something he attributes to a growing “niche” paper market that’s attracting a younger customer. “I’m seeing 30-year-olds buying wallpaper now,” he says. “That’s because it’s come such a long way. People really care about design, and good design sells, whether it’s cars or wallpaper.”

Today’s papers are more sophisticated—in color, pattern and finish. At Sperling’s shop on Passyunk Avenue, decorated with a few dramatic wallpaper panels and oversized sample books lined up on spare wooden shelves, he sells boutique lines like hand-blocked papers by Brooklyn’s Paper Mills, hand-screened flocked and metallic papers by New Orleans’ Flavor Paper, and handmade retro, vintage-style papers by San Francisco’s Melinamade.

“We’re seeing a lot more artistic, smaller wallpaper companies emerging,” says Sperling. “They’re doing some really interesting things.” It’s a stretch from the classic lines he carries, such as Bradbury & Bradbury, Sanderson and William Morris, which his business was founded on.

As wallpaper moves into the 21st century, bright colors have taken center stage. At JW Showroom at Philadelphia’s Marketplace Design Center, which carries lines including Osborne & Little, Designers Guild and Nina Campbell, hot pinks, grass greens, bold oranges and not-so-mellow yellows abound. “You’re even seeing the more traditional stuff in brights,” says showroom owner Joseph Caminiti. “It’s a new twist on the classics.”

New color combinations — such as Osborne & Little’s turquoise blue and chartreuse green Jersey Lily design or the raspberry, orange and gold, paisley-inspired modern floral Pearl Trail, and Designers Guild’s red, orange and fuchsia-striped Arafura — are fresh, modern and unexpected. “The palettes are rich and exciting,” says Chestnut Hill wallpaper hanger Ruth Bowen. These colors, she says, are often seen in big patterns, from florals to geometric shapes to thick, fat stripes. “The last time wallpaper was used this much, it was the Victorian era.”

Wyndmoor interior designer Rebecca Paul favors a cooler color scheme that’s rich in texture. Her choice for the bedroom she decorated at this past fall’s DogHaus designer showhouse in Chestnut Hill was a shimmery ice-blue patterned paper by Studio Printworks. “Elegance is big now in design,” she says. “Sometimes it’s about muted layers of tone on tone rather than going for the bold.”

If you are looking for texture more than color, this is wallpaper’s big moment. “There’s a ton of new stuff on the market,” says Bowen. “Glass beads mounted on paper, micro-thin wood veneers, mica papers, grasscloths. If it’s tactile, it’s in right now.”

The Maya Romanoff collection includes all of the above, as well as embossed papers, inlaid metal leaf and sand-flocked papers. Popular in the ’50s and ’60s, flocked papers are experiencing a resurgence; Designers Guild’s very-green Cloisonné is a new spin on the classic.

From woven leather to nubby silks, these luxury papers make a powerful statement — at a powerful price. “You can spend anywhere from $80 for a single roll to $5,000 or $6,000 for a hand-painted panel,” says Bowen. She suggests using them sparingly, either on an accent wall in a bedroom or in a smaller space. “Powder rooms are good places to go crazy with textures, bold colors or big patterns,” says Bowen. “They’re asking for drama.”

One of the most dramatic trends to hit the market is metallics, from the weathered metal look to faux tile patterns to old-fashioned polka dots on a metallic
background. In tones ranging from silver to matte gold to copper, they’re edgy without being over-the-top.

Once you’ve found the look you want, where do you put it? First of all, never do it yourself. “Some papers can be easier to hang than others,” says Bowen, “but it’s not something to tackle unless you know what you’re doing.”

Think of the ceiling as a fifth wall. “People forget about the ceiling, and it can add a whole other dimension to a room,” says Paul.

Tone it down in rooms where you spend a lot of time, like living and family rooms, says Bowen, and reserve big prints for smaller rooms or rooms that aren’t used as often. “Since dining rooms aren’t used every day, they can be incredibly dramatic, and wallpaper can make that drama happen,” she says. Kitchens and bathrooms are the rooms most commonly wallpapered, but now people are papering bars, alcoves, vestibules, small hallways and nurseries.

When selecting a paper, no matter what the space, Bowen tells clients: “Choose the wallpaper you fall madly in love with.”