Decorating with wallpaper can add a new dimension to a room. You can impact a room’s personality and size with various wallpaper colors, textures and styles. Learn from the professionals how to create the statement you’re after with our exclusive decorating tips and trends.
Why Decorate Walls With Wallcovering?
Wallpaper sets the mood with color and design. A bright, cheerful print lightens up the whole room, while a dark and dramatic print immediately lends a formal, more elegant feeling. Wallpaper can also change the perception of a room’s size and dimension, making it look bigger, smaller, taller, or cozy.
With wallcoverings, you can create illusions of another era, erect faux columns to embellish a doorway, turn a bare-box bedroom into a flower-strewn bower or fill a windowless room with light and pizzazz. Because wallcoverings are available in so many colors, textures, patterns, and styles and are so easy to install, they have a place in every room in the house.
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Design Basics: How to Decorate Walls
Entire books have been written on the subject of design principles, but knowing just a few will make you feel more comfortable when making decisions for your home.
If you are decorating a small room, keep in mind that light colors on walls and ceilings, as well as wallcoverings featuring small patterns on light colors set against light-colored backgrounds, will make a room appear larger than it really is.
A light-colored carpet or bleached wood floor, and pale-colored lightweight window coverings further enhance the sense of spaciousness. Reflective surfaces, such as lacquered furniture and mirrors also expand the apparent size of a small room. Paring down to a minimum of furniture and accessory pieces opens up a room, while low small-scale furniture creates a light open effect.
Large rooms, on the contrary, can be cozied up and reduced in perceived size if they are decorated in rich intense colors, using wallcoverings and window treatments with large patterns featuring warm colors. Rough textures on carpets and upholstery and large-scale furniture items in darker colors will fill empty cold spaces.
If ceilings are too high or too low, they can easily be brought into line: dark colors, such as deep blue or brown, used on a high ceiling will “lower” it. Similarly, light colors (or white) will “raise” a low ceiling.
Color is the key to “squaring up” long narrow rooms: Simply decorate the short end walls in a dark warm color to bring them forward visually and decorate the long side walls in a light color so that they will recede and seem farther apart.
When arranging furniture in any sized room, be sure to take traffic-flow patterns into account. You don’t want to be bumping into a chair every time you pass through a room to get to the next one. Anchor the furniture arrangement with one large-scale piece, such as a sofa or armoire and, for balance, add other pieces with less weight and size.
Be sure that the eye has interesting things to focus on, both high and low in the room: you need a variety of heights. Choose a focal point around which the furniture will be grouped, e.g., a fireplace, attractive built-ins for a television or sound system, or a view out a window.
Finally, be sure to provide appropriate lighting. Rooms benefit from three types of lighting: general (overall ambient lighting); task (light directed onto small areas for such activities as reading or writing); and accent (to highlight desirable areas or create a mood) from wall-mounted sconces; for instance.
Color Basics: How to Decorate Walls
Since color is the basis for all decorating schemes, becoming “color smart” is vital! Understanding what color is, how colors affect you and how they relate to each other builds confidence in your ability to make wise decorating choices.
Explained scientifically, color is light, which is carried on wavelengths that the eye perceives and transmits to the brain. The brain processes this information so that you “see colors“.
Objects are “colored” because of their pigments. Pigments absorb some light colors and reflect other light colors. An object that you see as blue in fact absorbs all the other light colors but blue light. This unabsorbed light is reflected onto the eye, and the brain “sees” it as blue.
Every discussion of color and the relationship of one color to another begins with the color wheel, an arrangement of 12 colors in a circle in the order of the spectrum. (A rainbow in the sky exhibits the colors of the spectrum; so does light passing through a prism.)
The color wheel sets related colors close to each other and complementary colors opposite each other, making the color wheel an important reference point when selecting a color scheme.
Colors that fall opposite each other on the wheel (red and green; blue and orange; yellow and purple) are called complementary colors. When two complementary colors are viewed side by side, they intensify each other so that, for instance, red appears redder and green greener. For this reason, a decorating scheme based on complementary colors is bold and exciting.
Adjoining colors (also called analogous colors) are those that exist next to each other on the color wheel. Decorating with adjoining colors produces a relaxing and welcoming ambiance.
Triad colors – three colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel-produce high-impact decorating schemes, particularly if one of the three colors is used predominantly and the other two play subordinate roles as accents.
Colors are said to be “warm” or “cool“. If you like to live in a cozy setting, wrapped in an ambiance reminiscent of a summer day, you’d be wise to select a decorating scheme based on warm colors. If you prefer the calm that prevails in colors that lack sun-drenched touches, you’ll be happiest in rooms decorated with cool colors.
Look again at the color wheel. Draw an imaginary line vertically through the middle. The cool receding colors fall to the left of this line. The warm advancing colors fall to the right.
However, these are not absolutes: for there are “warm” reds and “cool” reds, depending on the amount of yellow the red contains (making it a “warm red”) or the amount of blue it contains (making it a “cool” red). Any color can be made warmer by increasing its yellow content, while any color can be made cooler by increasing its blue content!
Colors look different in different lights. When contemplating a color to use in decorating, the light in which it is seen will greatly affect the way you perceive it. This is important to remember when picking wallcoverings in a store lit by fluorescent bulbs. Be sure to view samples of wallcoverings (or paints) in the rooms in which they will be used -both during the day and with the lights on at night, so that you get a true sense of how they will appear.
Colors have a real impact on how we behave and feel. This is partly a result of automatic behavioral responses to color. It is also partly due to learned responses influenced by age, sex, cultural background and other factors. This means your choice of colors will affect how comfortable you will be in your surroundings.
For example; green encourages feelings of emotional well-being; one feels tranquil and refreshed in green surroundings. Pale green tones are particularly soothing; they are an excellent color choice in a bedroom. Green’s popularity is so universal, it is often considered a “neutral” color.
Red is a passionate color, perceived as aggressive, strong and vital. Because it stimulates the appetite, red is a favorite color for decorating dining rooms. Yellow’s popularity is easy to understand, for it reminds us of sunshine and warmth and is always uplifting and cheery.
Though viewed as utilitarian and earthy, brown has a subtle richness and is associated with comfort and warmth, making it a favorite decorating color. Blue is a calming color you can enjoy forever without tiring of it. Blue is sometimes considered a “neutral” because of its enduring qualities and ability to partner with so many other colors.
Universally feminine and soothing, pink suggests innocence, softness and good health. Purple, sophisticated, mysterious and perceived as “expensive“, is known to settle emotions and suppress appetites, but it is a difficult color to live within large amounts over long periods of time.
Easy-living white, associated with purity and truthfulness, comes in many shades, both “cool” and “warm”, depending on its blue or yellow content. Black, a distinctive, bold and classic color, is a great background shade for layering on other colors, though it can be oppressive in large amounts.
Your personality, your favorite “look“, favorite colors and your individual rooms will all help you target the color family you will select for decorating.
Design and Color Trends: How to Decorate Walls
Because wallcoverings were first made to imitate tapestries, woven wall hangings and fine fabrics, some timeless patterns based on these early designs have retained their appeal to this day and are as elegant as they were centuries ago.
Damask designs derive from damask fabric (a woven material with its pattern reversed on the underside), which was popular during the early 15th century. It is characterized by perfectly balanced motifs, such as acanthus leaves, forming the repeat pattern.
Oriental patterns imitate colors and designs found in the art of China and the Far East. Stylized birds and floral elements are favorite motifs.
Crewel designs, usually imitative of bold embroidery stitches, reflect English and East Indian renditions of the “tree of life” pattern.
Documentary designs are based on old paper or fabric documents. The best known are the toile de Jouy designs, named for the region in France where fabrics of this type were manufactured in the late 18th century. Toiles nearly always depict romantic pastoral landscapes populated with animals and people in period dress.
Paisley patterns have a historical background, too: their motifs are based on organic shapes that first appeared on fine woolen shawls woven in Kashmir in the 17th century.
Some early wallcoverings were made of actual materials, such as grasscloth, burlap, linen, silk, and wool, They are still available but are now manufactured with a durable paper backing, which makes for easy application.
Today, modern printing techniques have made it possible to replicate these real materials on either paper or vinyl, thus creating faux grasscloth and linen, etc. Likewise, simulated wood grains, bricks, stucco, and cork are now possible and popular, because the cost of decorating with the wall covering version is far less than with the real material.
Today’s tastes have popularized the geometrics – stripes, plaids, polka dots, and checks, as well as classic lattice, grille, and tile designs. Contemporary demands for faux finishes have given rise to a proliferation of exciting wall coverings replicating marble and other stones, while the popularity of the country look has seen a burst of patterns with coordinating country themes.
Florals never lose their appeal: they simply change their “look” every decade or so, swinging from bold and bright to soft and muted. The newest styles in wallcoverings, which have enormous appeal for the contemporary decorator, are novelty patterns with motifs for use in kitchens, bathrooms and children’s rooms – further proof that patterns exist to suit every taste.
The demand today may be responsible for launching new styles and patterns, but it’s contemporary technology that has improved the quality of printing and reproduction and made possible such developments as die-cut borders, which are sculpted, pierced and self-sticking.
Colors trends change with the seasons, as well as the years. There are, however, a few major trends emerging that will likely remain a major force in the marketplace for several years.
First, we’re seeing the disappearance of “jewel tones“. These are the hunter greens, burgundy and navy tones that have been popular for many years. In their place are lighter, subtler tones of these shades. Look for sage greens, mauve-pinks and sea blues to replace the vibrant hues of the early nineties.
Additionally, look for a new color tone “purple” to emerge with greater force. This hue, from rich lilacs to deep eggplants, is showing up in all areas of home furnishings and is becoming a major force in wallcovering design.
Neutrals will always be in vogue. Clean, classy and contemporary, tans, creams, taupes, and white will always be a fashion “yes“. At the same time, a new set of neutrals is emerging. Shades of gray and copper are being blended into the neutral mix, adding a richer complement of tones for depth and distinction.
An offshoot of gray and copper are metallics, which probably won’t become a widespread trend but will pop up with increasing frequency. Look for silvers and golds to play a part in more mainstream wallcoverings, rather than just very elegant or novelty looks.
How to Decorate Walls With Wallcovering
Analyze Your Home
Room by room, list the following:
- The assets (the room’s best features, which you’ll want to highlight)
- The liabilities (the room’s problem areas, which you’ll want to downplay or camouflage)
- The size – the shape (square? long? L-shaped?)
- The windows (too many? too few? placed awkwardly? strangely proportioned?)
- The ceilings (too high ? too low?)
- Take special note of architectural features such as fireplaces, mantels, moldings, pipes, ducts, radiators, etc.
In each room, you’ll want to highlight the best features by drawing attention to them with wallcovering, borders, coordinated designs or special paint colors and treatments that set them apart from the rest of the room.
Similarly, you will want to downplay problem zones by covering them with wallcovering that matches the walls, hiding them with decorative screens or planning built-ins to camouflage the offending items.
Define the Room Uses
Ask yourself these three questions:
- What is the function of each room?
- Does it get a lot of use?
- Is it a high-traffic area?
The function of a room will influence the way you decorate it. You want to put your best face forward in a “public” room, such as a hallway, living or dining room. Colors should be warm and welcoming, the furnishings comfortable, the style or “look” exciting.
In heavily used areas, such as a family room, kitchen or hallway, durability must also be considered, dictating washable, wear-friendly wallcoverings and sturdy stain-resistant fabrics.
In getaway rooms, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, dens, and home offices, you can relax a little in your choice of fabrics and wallcoverings, because they will be less exposed to wear and tear than in other areas of the house.
Describe the Look You Love
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you attracted to contemporary styles, country themes, traditional looks or eclectic mixes?
- Is your lifestyle casual or formal?
For some people, defining the look they love is difficult. The choices are many and complicated by the fact that, today, the lines between styles are not drawn as rigidly as they once were. This is evident in the popularity of eclectic-style decorating, which incorporates furnishings that span many periods and “looks.”
The best way to establish a style preference is to cut out magazine pictures of rooms and furnishings that you find appealing and file them together in a folder or binder. Collect color samples, and wallcovering and fabric swatches. Soon, you’ll see a trend emerge, as your “ideas file” reveals repeated patterns, colors, and styles of decorating.
Your lifestyle is also a consideration. If you are a casual person and like to “put your feet up,” you’ll want to decorate in a way where comfort and ease are paramount. If, on the other hand, you are a more traditional person and like things to be orderly and formal, you’ll likely be most happy in an environment that is upscale and elegant, sophisticated and balanced.
Choose a Color Scheme
Everybody has favorite colors and color combinations, but many people don’t know what they like. Look analytically at your wardrobe and you’ll see colors you obviously like – since you choose to wear them! Some of your clothing – a scarf or tie for instance – likely has patterns incorporating several colors. Look at how well these colors go together, and you’ll get an idea of how to select your multicolored palette for decorating.
Successful decorating schemes work well when they use a maximum of three colors. One should be the main color (used on the walls or for window treatments or carpeting, since these are the biggest surfaces to decorate); the other one or two colors should be used in smaller amounts as accents.
Many patterned fabrics and wallcoverings make choosing a color scheme easy because they contain a good combination of colors, which you can see at a glance work well together. Wallcovering books are particularly useful because the coordinating patterns are presented side by side
In an appealingly decorated room, fabrics and wallcoverings do not contain more than three or, at most, four different patterns; they also have common elements, such as motifs and colors. You can create a dynamic space by combining stripes, plaids or checks and floral, in both small – and large-scale patterns, as long as there are some solid areas in one of the colors to provide balance.
Make the Rooms Relate
In decorating a house where rooms lead off an entrance hall – or in an apartment where rooms lead off one another or can be viewed from a central point – it is essential to formulate a decorating plan for all the rooms.
Even if they will not be redecorated at one time, they need to be linked from a design sense, using colors or patterns that will appear, in some form, in all the rooms. Individual rooms, such as a kitchen, child’s bedroom, den or a bathroom, may be decorated in any style without giving thought to their neighboring spaces if they are out of view of the main entrance.
The hallway gives the first impression of a house or apartment, so this is a natural place to start a scheme. Since you have already collected samples and pictures, you now know the “look” you want to create and the elements required to achieve it.
Choosing a wallcovering to suit that style is easy because the titles of wallcovering books will lead you to patterns that represent particular styles. Successfully decorated hallways often incorporate designs that are “balanced”, for example, a patterned stripe, damask, simple geometric or even the textured effect of linen or grasscloth.
The next room encountered is usually the living room. Here, it is best to have a restful design on the walls, rather than one that is busy and overwhelmingly bold. How do you relate to the living room to the entrance hall? One way is to creatively mix a linen-look wallcovering in the hall with a color-coordinated toile de Jouy, for example, in the living room – or the reverse – thus tying the two rooms together without using the exact same wallcovering.
You can use these same coordinating patterns in fabrics for window coverings, upholstery and cushions to further link the two rooms together.
In many of today’s homes, condominiums and apartments, the L-shaped living/dining room is a standard feature. While the wall treatments in these areas should relate to each other, it is not necessary to limit yourself to one pattern.
A coordinating wallcovering will visually define the rooms; they are easy to select because coordinating coverings are shown together in sample books. Table runners, placemats and dining chairs sewn and upholstered from fabric that coordinates with the living room wallcovering will further unify the room.
In homes with a separate dining room, wallcoverings can be totally different in mood and color from those in the living room but should relate in some way to the hallway.
You can create a traditional look with a wallcovering-border chair rail that divides the wall horizontally and features different (but coordinating) wallcovering patterns above and below the “rail.” Or you could use handsome damasks or simple documentaries, which decorate traditional dining rooms with panache.
If a contemporary dining room is your choice, look for a striped, geometric or sophisticated faux-finish wallcovering pattern.
Kitchens have emerged as one of the most stylishly and boldly decorated rooms, thanks to the vast number of scrubbable wall coverings available today. The choice of the design is usually determined by the style of the cabinetry in the room. Kitchen-theme motifs (fruits, vegetables and natural designs, such as plants, leaves, botanicals) and linen-looks are all colorful and interesting choices.
These same scrubbable wallcoverings mean that bathrooms can look as luxurious and lively as the rest of the house. Because you don’t spend a lot of time in these rooms, it is here that decorating rules can be overlooked.
This is particularly true in small powder rooms, where large-scale designs can create tremendous impact – especially if the wallcoverings are applied to the ceiling as well as the walls and if the window coverings are sewn in matching the fabric. If you feel compelled to tie all these rooms with the hallway or adjoining room, consider painting their baseboards and trim in the same color.
Bedrooms are places for relaxing as well as sleeping, so the right mood is very important here. You can choose a color that you have used elsewhere in the house, even as an accent or one that has appeared in a pattern. In the bedroom, patterns should be cool, restful and fairly simple – neither overwhelming nor frenetically busy. Blues and greens, yellows and pinks, clean open florals, paisleys, simple stripes or plaids, traditional chintzes or documentaries are all good choices for the bedroom.
Other rooms, such as a study, guest room, sewing room or den/office, are places where you can be bold and experimental. Patterns can be mixed and matched on walls and ceilings. Foliage designs can bring the outside in, along with wicker, bamboo, and cane or trellis designs.
Decide Where To Begin
If you are starting from scratch, with no furnishings or hard to change features, you are lucky! Here’s your opportunity to follow the earlier suggestions and map out a color and pattern scheme that will take you through to the end of your decorating project, even if you intend to do a few rooms now and the rest later.
If you want to entertain your friends as soon as possible and get settled in a comfortable living and dining room, then you should begin to decorate in these two rooms first. If, on the other hand, comfort in your bedroom is of paramount importance, you should start there. The choice is yours.
If you are redecorating and already have many elements firmly in place, the task of selecting colors and wallcoverings is a little harder because you’ll need to take into account and work with existing furniture, carpets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, etc.
Make a Room Look Bigger
In general, light colors add a feeling of spaciousness. In particular, striped wallcoverings are a sure bet for adding height to a room. Stripes visually raise the height of the ceiling by drawing the eye upward.
At the same time, pastel colors broaden the room and make the expanse of the wall seem larger. Together, subtle stripes and pastel colors can make a room seem bigger overall by drawing the eye both upward and sideways.
If you want to achieve a feeling of spaciousness in a small area, a hallway or throughout an entire room, stick to neutral and light colors.
So the best way to achieve an open feeling is with light or neutral colors in a widely spaced pattern, like diamonds or mid-sized flowers, with lots of white space in between. This gives an airy, open feeling to the room.
Make a Room More Cozy
Small prints or very large prints can also draw the eye inward, making the room feel closed in.
Small prints help define a space and create a cozy, inviting atmosphere, as in kitchens or bedrooms.
Small prints, like mini-florals, ginghams, and all-over diamonds, are “busy” designs and keep the eye focused within the room. These do not necessarily make the room appear smaller, but certainly more intimate.
Add Drama to a Room
Dark colors and large floral prints definitely add drama to a room. Deep hues like navy blues, hunter greens, and burgundies add richness and depth to the atmosphere in a room.
Large-scale and all-over florals make a definite statement, and it’s often one of elegance and formality. That’s one reason these types of patterns are usually used in formal dining rooms or living rooms. The other reason is that the room itself must be large enough to accommodate the expansive pattern.