Wallpaper is making a comeback in a big way, and it can be used in a lot of different applications. It can be the showstopper in the room commanding all the attention, or as another exuberant layer in a Maximalist composition, and it is really handy for dressing up a small space with some serious wow-factor. Personally, I like large-scale colorful compositions with interesting or unusual subject matter. My powder room is papered in a large-scale botanical with a bubble gum pink background, some pretty traditional looking colorful birds, and a handful of weird things like Fischer Price little people, eyeballs, and teeth. It’s a fun sleight of hand that I really like as an experience, especially for first-time visitors.
Heidi Chisholm, Chinoiserie, Spoonflower
The thing is, uncommon wallpaper is exactly that – uncommon. You’re not going to be able to pick up a heavy hitter wallpaper at your local big box store. So where do you find these muses of mood? Below is a list of some great resources for over-the-top wallpaper. Some of them I have used, some not, so I can’t promise anything regarding the quality of the paper, but the graphics, as they say, are amazing. Also – a word about links and endorsements: I am not paid in any way by any of these companies, I recommend them because I personally think they kick ass.
Mind the Gap, Gardens of Jaipur
Emma J. Shipley – When I found her site, I almost lost my mind. Ask my hubs, I was literally on her site all day drinking in the amazing patterns and subject matter. I’m waiting for two patterns in the mail at the moment – one for my bedroom and one for the kitchen and I am SO excited! The exuberant, colorful, whimsical, and very British style she emits is unparalleled. Run, don’t walk to Emma J Shipley right after you finish this post (don’t go now, you’ll never make it back out of this rabbit hole.) The best part is she has a full line of linens and pillows plus some housewares in her line so you can basically blow up your room with color and pattern. All that, and it is really well priced, which is not something you find that often.
Emma J. Shipley
Other similarly awesome indie brands to check out are Milton and King, House of Hackeny, and Mind the Gap, which, incidentally, is headquartered in Transylvania. Big color, big personality, and big scale all abound within the walls of these companies and are all solid contenders for adorning yours. They all have a menagerie of patterns and a robust collection of items upon which they are offered, so it is easy to translate your favorite pattern across your space. Each has its own unique voice and they are all innovative and fun.
Milton and King, House of Hackeny, Mind the Gap
Two artisanal brands that I like a lot are Flavor Paper and Scottish brand Timorous Beasties. Both of these avant-garde brands have humble beginning with master craftspeople creating hand silkscreened papers. They have both grown over the years and garnered plenty of awards and accolades, and still produce unbelievable handmade papers. These are not for the light-of-pocketbook, however, but you absolutely get what you pay for.
Timorous Beasties, Flavor Paper
Now, for the old guard companies that are still pulling their weight in relevancy today: Schumacher, House of Scalamandre, and Cole and Son. These firmly situated legacy brands have your typical offering of sedate, traditional papers, but they have also got some serious game when it comes to flamboyant on-trend wallpaper offerings. They also have the coordinating fabrics and accessories to go along with their wallpaper collections. These are high end brands, so they command a pretty penny, but the quality is unequaled as they have had their acts together for a century or more.
Schumacher, House of Scalamandre, Cole and Son
Finally, we have print-on-demand companies that use large scale sublimation printing on various types of wallcoverings and fabrics, and they don’t print the goods until you order them. Two standouts in this space are Spoonflower and Rebel Walls. Spoonflower is the original trailblazer as they were one of the first to make this process available to the masses. They are also a local Durham, NC company, so props to the hometown heroes. If you don’t know about Spoonflower, buckle up; they literally have MILLIONS of prints and patterns to choose from. You can choose from any of the myriad graphics uploaded by indie designers and have their illustrations printed on just about anything that can go in your home. Additionally, you can also upload your own artwork and have it printed on wallpaper or a duvet cover and so on. It can be a bit of a crapshoot, though, since anyone who has an account can upload a design, but it’s organically curated by listing the most popular patterns first. Another nice feature of Spoonflower is you can tell them the length you want each drop. If you wall is 9’, order 9’ and don’t worry about having a ton of overage you can’t use. The limitation here is that they can only to 12’ max, so your double-height foyer might need a different option.
The second standout in on-demand printing is Rebel Walls for their curation. These print-on-demand wall murals and wall papers are all solid choices. Most of the papers on this site I would recommend because they are on-trend, dramatic, and beautiful. It is hard to go wrong with anything from Rebel Walls and they have a 100% happy guarantee. I’m in the process of putting the “Aquatic Life” mural in my primary bath and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
These last couple of companies have some good candidates, but they are pretty hit and miss on the whole. These sites are just as likely to have a mural of Washington crossing the Potomac as they are a kick-ass wallpaper. Murals Your Way, Wallmur, Happy Wall, and Wall Snobs all have various collections of interesting papers hiding in their catalogues. These are the everyman commercial sites that have a little bit of something for everyone from your church choir director to her punk/goth grandson. But, there are some definite gems to discover if you look.
Murals Your Way, Wallmur, Happy Wall, and Wall Snobs
Things to Consider
When you are looking for avant-garde wallpapers, one critical variable is scale; scale of the pattern itself and the scale of the pattern in the room. A simple adjustment in the size of the pattern itself can change the look entirely. Take a standard damask print at a 12 inch repeat, keep it exactly the same colors, texture, etc. and quadruple it in scale and it gives the paper an entirely different vibe. Murals Your Way has a great visualizer that will let you change the size of the repeat so you can see how this changes the look.
The other scale to consider is that of the wallpaper in relation to the room. You can look at a small wallpaper sample and love the way it looks in your hands. It is very important to understand how that pattern will look when repeated multiple times across a plane. Because you generally aren't going to be experiencing your wallcovering from one foot away after it is installed, you need to understand how it looks as a field. It takes on a completely different personality from 8 feet away and a meta-pattern emerges between the repeats. I have looked at many patterns that I loved in a little square and then hated on the wall - thankfully there are visualization tools that can help you determine that before you buy.
A word of advice when it comes to picking the right kind of wallpaper. Believe it or not, the most difficult type of wallpaper to apply is peel and stick. While this stuff is “removable” you have one, maybe two shots at getting it positioned in the right place and then it’s stuck. Because it is typically made of vinyl, peeling it off multiple times will stretch the vinyl. Then, it will no longer lay flat against the surface of the wall, and you have bubbles. Not to mention god forbid you accidentally let it fold over on itself, you might as well just throw that piece away.
Also, in my experience, print on demand wallcoverings are not always as durable as large scale commercially printed papers when it comes to color fastness or water resistance. The Spoonflower peel and stick wallpaper I have in my powder room has loads of water marks by the sink from people splashing while washing their hands. That being said, it is a couple of years old, and they may have improved their process since then. Always check, especially with the more costly papers, what the appropriate conditions are before hanging it. Many commercially mass produced wallcoverings are made specifically for damp areas.
When you are ready for installation, unless you have done this before, have a very high frustration tolerance, or lots of money to purchase extra paper, I would recommend hiring a professional for anything bigger than a powder room wall. I am usually all in with the DIY approach, but there is a specific and not insignificant skillset required to do this properly. For bigger jobs, leave it to the professionals; they have the experience, chops, and tools you can’t just pick up over the weekend.
As I have researched this niche on the internet, I have found that the keyword “flamboyant” is a great way to cull the run-of-the-mill stuff and home in on the more lively and fun patterns. If you decide to do some research of your own, I’d recommend starting your search with the phrase “flamboyant wallpaper” to get right to the good stuff. And, I would love to hear about your favorite wallpaper purveyors; give a shout out to the companies can you not live without in the comments!