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If a Wall Could Talk, It Might Cry Out to Be Touched

March 15, 1997|From Associated Press

Designers are looking beyond paint and wallpaper for decorative interest on the walls.

"Visual warmth and textural contrasts are in," New York designer Michael Love says, "and wood, stone and fabric offer them in spades."

But they aren't for the indecisive.

Stone is eternal, and wood is almost as indestructible. Fabric is surprisingly durable if it is tightly woven and in a color that won't show dirt.

Millicent Gappell, a Los Angeles designer, says the use of wood and stone is in keeping with today's interest in ecology and nature. And Charles Gandy, an Atlanta designer, says the textures appeal to the cult of personal decorating, which is hot right now.

"When you use something other than paint, it shows you have gone that extra mile," Gandy says.

The interest in things rustic leads to the use of stone. Because it is heavy and bulky, natural stone is hard to work with. Gandy selects stone tiles or faux stone, a composite that is lighter than the real thing.

The popularity of 18th and 19th century English and European styles contributes to the desire for wood paneling and fabric walls.

Fabric can add visual softness and elegance and act as a buffer against noise. It is also versatile. A French toile de Jouy or a light floral print will create a feminine bower. Dark velvet, corduroy, plaid or tweed produces a masculine setting.

Textured walls cost more for material and installation than more traditional coverings.

"But," Love says, "I would rather have clients put more money into the backgrounds and less into the furniture because the background is what gives a room character, especially a smaller room lacking architectural detail.

"Look at old houses. If you took every stick of furniture out, the rooms would still be interesting. It's like a well-cut suit. The only accessory you need is a pin on the lapel."

For low-budget projects such as rentals, Love offers two ideas for do-it-yourselfers. One is to nail ready-made bamboo blinds to a wall. The other is to use sisal. Both have a natural, textured look but are relatively inexpensive and easy to remove.

Gappell says the preference for natural materials has grown with increased focus on the home as a haven.

"It's a tough world out there, and natural materials renew our spirit," she says. "Natural materials may be more expensive to buy and take more effort to install, but I don't know of any man-made products that get more beautiful as they get older and last for such a long time."

When Gappell rebuilt her home after the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake, she said, she put California redwood and fabric on the walls and granite on the floors.

"The walls look gorgeous, but mainly I wanted to provide some acoustic controls, a necessity since I also replaced carpeting with granite floors and have no draperies because the views are so great."

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