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Not your mother's wallpaper

Courtesy of Amy Kopp
Wallpaper can change the energy in a room, whether it features a more subtle pattern or a bold design.

When I started in the interior design business, wallcoverings had been making a comeback for several years. I remember showing grasscloth samples to a client, hoping to transform her ordinary dining room into something fabulous.

She mentioned her parents had just stripped grasscloth from the den they had papered in the 1970s, feeling it was dated. It took a lot to convince her that she’d love the look, and the paper would feel fresh and current.

I was surprised to learn that wallpapers have actually been around for more than 500 years. Wallcoverings were an alternative to more expensive textile hangings such as woven tapestries or embroidered panels.

The paper would brighten and insulate the rooms for the less elite who couldn’t afford tapestries. The paper would sometimes be tacked to the wall directly instead of the more popular installation method of applying wheat paste.

Modern applications

Recently, I attended the annual Designer Showcase in San Francisco, where Bay Area designers transformed an 18,000-square-foot Presidio Heights mansion to support tuition assistance at San Francisco University High School.

The first thing I noticed is that every room had wallcoverings. We saw bold patterns on the walls, metallics and prints on ceilings, and some designers even papered inside closets. Some jumped right out, and others were the perfect subtle addition to the room.

One designer was inspired by a party he attended last year at Houghton Hall, an English estate built in the 1720s for the country’s first prime minister. The current homeowner, Rose Cholmondeley, discovered five untouched original hand-painted wallpaper panels in her attic.

The British luxury interiors company de Gournay revived the pattern and invited designers from around the world to celebrate its beauty. It’s now available for everyone’s English country estates, or maybe just a fabulous powder room.

Murals are becoming more popular than ever. This usually involves several panels to create a large-scale design. We recently did a cherry blossom mural on two walls of a powder room and painted the other two walls the same gray background as the paper so it felt seamless. The effect was stunning.

I love using mural scenes for baby nurseries. Friends have shown me photos of dramatic large-scale floral panels they want to place on one wall in their bedrooms or nurseries, creating a romantic or whimsical feel to the room.

Wallcoverings can completely change the energy in a room. The colors, textures and designs are endless. For those who are a little timid, starting with a powder room, den or a single bedroom wall is a great place to experiment. For those who are bold and fearless, the possibilities are endless.

Celeste Randolph is an interior designer in Los Altos. For more information, visit

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