Wallpaper Stands Out, Literally

Putting Pearls, Bamboo, Suede, Grass and Other Textures on the Walls for a 3-D Effect

When guests walk into the powder room of Katie Stein’s Darien, Conn., home, “people’s first reaction is to reach out and touch the walls,” says Ms. Stein. That’s because the walls are completely encrusted in glass beads.

Desiring a look that was “sophisticated but with a little whimsy,” Ms. Stein, a 41-year-old mother of three, called in interior designer Annie Mahoney to spruce up the previously neglected room. Ms. Mahoney chose a three-dimensional wallpaper called Bianca Beadazzled by Maya Romanoff, a designer who has been creating textured papers since 1969. “The light hits the surface in different ways, it creates a kind of a magical feeling,” Ms. Mahoney says.

As wallpaper enjoys a revival in popularity, embellished papers are a particularly bright spot. Sales of three-dimensional wall coverings are the fastest growing of all residential wallpapers, according to the Wallcoverings Association, a trade group that represents more than 60 manufacturers and distributors. The industry is projecting an increase in sales of residential tactile, dimensional and embellished wallpapers of more than 21% by 2013, according to market-research firm Freedonia Group. Global sales of wallpaper have gone up 30% over the past five years.

Tactile wallcoverings used to be seen only in large-scale, commercial projects. Los Angeles-based manufacturer [ in the US]  attributes the rise in glittering walls to enhanced technology. “Until recently, silkscreening was very expensive and you needed large runs to make the numbers work,” . Higher-quality digital printers and computer software mean the firm can create custom wall coverings as small as 1,000 square feet and still make money…

A five-fold increase in sales of embellished grasscloth wallcoverings in the past five years. “With more materials available today, consumers are experimenting,”… “We’re moving away from minimalism, especially in the younger markets, where consumers are looking at pattern and sparkle to make a bold statement.”

Gina Shaw, vice president of product development at York Wallcoverings, the oldest and one of the largest wallpaper manufacturers in the U.S., sees the trend as a result of better adhesive materials and printing machinery. Consumers also like its variable nature, she says.

“The tactile surfaces bring in a different visual aspect to wallcoverings because the light play changes with the time of day,” Ms. Shaw says. She noticed the popularity of grasscloth a few years ago and says the trend now has moved to glitter, sand, printed cork and mica sheets.

The technology to create grasscloth wallcoverings first emerged in the 1940s, when it was popular in kitchens, though modern versions include thinner cuts of bamboo with mylar, gold, and Swarovski crystals woven in. The roots of tactile wallpaper go back further. “Stanford White had bamboo glued to the walls of his summer house, and Marcel Proust had cork on the walls in his bedroom,” says Charles Riley, a New York interior designer, who recently incorporated embedded beads and strategically placed pearls into the wallpaper of homes in Englewood, N.J., and San Francisco. “It’s a high-glam look, and it starts to approach an architectural treatment of a space,” he says.

Swarovski Crystals, which has been offering its gems to wallcovering manufacturers for a few years, is getting in on the game itself. The Wattens, Austria-based company recently launched its Elements wallcovering collection. Set to arrive in the U.S. later this year, the line of mica, crystal, and Geode, which mimics the look of crushed quartz, has been a huge success, says Christoph Kargruber, vice president of global marketing, since its March debut in Europe. Prices range from $800 to $2,100 to paper a 10×10-foot wall.

The papers can be overwhelming, and decorators underscore the importance of incorporating shimmery and 3-D surfaces only onto small areas, such as accent walls and powder rooms—or to the ceiling for a subtle effect. Mr. Riley notes the look is a style commitment, as it is more work to switch it out after a season or two than a painted surface. “Maybe you’ll like it in five or 10 years” he says. “Maybe you’ll change it out.”

Most designers agree that these embellished papers, even those with high dimension and serious sparkle, mesh well with the modern and mid-century furniture designs that have been so popular in recent years, adding a layer of richness that doesn’t clash with the minimalism.

To clean textured wallcoverings, grasscloth manufacturer Phillips Jeffries Ltd. recommends vacuuming walls with a soft brush attachment, though the Fairfield, N.J.-based company says that textured wallpaper is more forgiving of dirt than flat paint. Interior designer Ms. Mahoney agrees: “Paint shows handprints, dings, etc., while a textured wallpaper will show far less.” She adds that many wallpapers are treated with a stain-repellant finish.

Designers recommend experienced wallpaper-hangers. “Because the papers are so heavy, you really need someone who knows what he is doing,” Mr. Riley says.

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s, on the other hand, feels differently. It says most of its customers are prepared to hang these papers themselves.

Cristina Niccolini, who lives in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore, Md., says she wanted a few modern touches when she gut-renovated her 1920s Lawrence Hall Fowler-designed home.

For the dining room, her interior decorator, Carey Jacobs, chose a handmade Ronald Redding paper with a traditional trellis pattern, but with metallics woven in to add some shimmer and dimension. Ms. Jacobs says using dimensional wall coverings creates enough visual interest that homeowners should go light on

or art. “The paper becomes the focal point, and you get a lot of value for such a small investment,” Ms. Jacobs says.

Ms. Niccolini, a 39-year-old homemaker, says her dining room walls are now a magnet for guests. “People always want to get up close to our wall and see why is it shimmering,” she says. “Embellished wallcoverings have totally converted my husband and me into wallpaper fanatics.”

Most of these wonderful brands and products are available at http://www.DesignerWallcoverings.com