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INTERIORS : Paper Unrolls in Off-the-Wall Texture, Color


"Whatever you have in your rooms, think first of your walls, for they are that which make your house a home." --Victorian designer William Morris 1834-1896

Walls these days are more likely to be sponged, speckled and glazed with muted colors of paint than finished in wallpaper. But the old standby wall covering hasn't gone away; it's just pulled back and regrouped. It is showing up in different guises. In fact, that wall you think is sponge-painted may actually be papered.

The look of wallpaper has been gradually changing--with more emphasis today on texture and color--as well as how it's being used--selectively rather than expansively. It is for example, much rarer today to see the pattern of a wallpaper the main theme of a room, with the same print repeated in bedding and draperies.

Changing tastes and the increasing cost of wallpaper have fueled the change.

"There is much more creativity now in the use of wallpapers," said Jan Turner Hering, a Corona del Mar interior designer. Hering said she does not use a lot of wallpaper in her work but finds that sometimes it is the best way to achieve a particular look. "I only use wallpaper about 10% of the time, and I usually like to use papers as a background color in a strong sense."

For example, in a small bedroom on Balboa Island, she wanted the moldings and the architectural details to pop out. "Most people think you can't put rich, strong color in a small room. But actually the opposite is true. Strong color and texture envelop the room in a way with a rich-colored wallpaper that you couldn't get otherwise."

The brightly colored paper she used in the room has a subtle stria or ribbed effect looks almost as if it's hand-painted.

In Southern California, the dominance of new construction has also influenced how wallpaper is used.

"Wallpapers are used very little in new construction, since walls have been spray textured, which is a very inexpensive way to create a wall," said Dolores Brucklmaier, West Coast regional manager for wallpaper manufacturer Brunschwig & Fils. To wallpaper one of these textured walls, she says, it must first be sanded and covered with a blank stock paper.

"That becomes an expensive proposition," Brucklmaier said, "but if the budget allows or if you use your imagination, wallpaper gives a wonderful look."

Among the places it is being used are in borders, to add accents or to suggest a tile or stone finish.

Paper-backed coverings include those embossed with wood and pulp that are designed to be painted, as well as burlap, grasses and other natural fibers that can be hung as regular wallpaper. In neutral shades, they add texture to a room. They can be left as is or painted over for a whole new look.


In Orange County, when wallpaper is used in a traditional way, it's often in older houses or in houses that want a French or English country ambience.

When it is being used in non-traditional ways, anything goes.

To be both innovative and to cut costs, Brucklmaier suggests using wallpaper borders to frame doors, windows, to act as ceiling moldings or to give the illusion of wainscoting by hanging them horizontally at chair rail height.

"Besides the traditional, formal papers, there are papers that look like tiles that can be used in a kitchen. In that case, the paper would be less expensive than tiles and just as easy to clean since the papers are vinyl coated," Brucklmaier said.

There are even papers that duplicate the looks of a sponged or a splattered wall as well as wood that's been aged for years.

Sometimes paper is showing up in unexpected places--such as the ceiling.

Hering cites the difference wallpaper made in a rather ordinary bathroom with sliding mirrored closet doors. The cranberry moire watered-silk look wallpaper she used added an elegance that regular paint could not.

"Take the paper off the wall, and you've got nothing," Hering said. The colorful paper allowed the white cabinets to visually come forward, creating a dramatic play of dark against light.

A green wallpaper with a matte finish was used by Hering in an entryway. A splattering of green dots over the paper created the depth and texture that Hering wanted for the wall. In the adjoining living room, she continued the green color using only paint.

In another case, Hering took a monochromatic handmade paper, had it cut it into 12-inch squares and then had the squares individually installed to get a shaded effect with textures alternating horizontally and vertically.

Hering also likes to use borders around door and window frames.

Major manufacturers of wall coverings such as Brunschwig & Fils have responded to the trend of less is more.

For spring 1993, the company introduced five new borders ranging from a flower and lace one to a decorative cable pattern. Borders can be used with companion papers, or separately to create entirely different looks.

Costa Mesa-based Country Life Designs shows 24 borders in their spring 1993 wallpaper book.

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