Not Your Grandmother’s Wallpaper

When someone says “wallcovering” most folks think of wallpaper – something with a reputation that smells a bit fusty and old fashioned. It can also smell – not just figuratively or from age – but literally due to the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) used in making it.

Ogura Plush wallpaper from Avignon wallcovering
Ogura Plush wallpaper from Avignon wallcovering

This post is about urbane, eco-conscious alternatives. You can deck out your walls with visual delights that are neither your grandmother’s wallpaper nor an ecological faux pas.

These coverings are made from a variety of materials and offer a cornucopia of looks and textures:

  • Eco-friendly papers with an understated beauty
  • Paper and clay coverings that make it easy to create Venetian textural effects
  • Three-dimensional coverings that catch light and shadow while improving warmth and acoustics, and
  • Eye-catching exotics that feature glass beads, sequins, sea shells (real, not printed), feathers or even green mica chips.

Eco coverings need not feature the sort of fussy flowers, pastels and stripes we have come to associate with wallpaper. (If you like flowers, your flora can be graphically sophisticated in design and hue like the “Summer Oyster” Graham and Brown wallpaper below. )

Summer Oyster eco-friendly wallpaper: 20.5 in x 11 yards per roll, 25.2 inch pattern repeat. Paper from managed timber sources printed with water-based inks containing no VOCs. $48.00 per roll.

You can certainly find more traditional patterns with flowers and stripes, along with art deco swans and even pink flamingoes.

My own favorities are the recycled, hand-painted papers from Avignon design house featured at the top of this blog and the textured paper “ripple tile” below. Another handsome, sound-dampening and insulating wallcovering I favor is cork, which I discussed in an earlier posting on this blog.

Where to Buy Wallpaper

If you are indeed looking for wallpaper, an amazing range of choices are available. Printed or blocked wallpapers do give you the broadest range of color and pattern, and they can be chosen to complement any furniture style from Craftsman to oriental to modern or eclectic.

If you’re not working with an interior designer, my advice is to order online. (I really recommend working with an interior designer – after all, I am one.) Nowadays, if you go to a bricks and mortar store to buy in person, you will be looking at sample books and likely having something shipped to you, just the same as ordering online. The difference is that store orders can take an astonishingly long time to arrive. Watch for the word “backordered” on websites too. A couple years ago, I ordered a wonderful wallpaper – lighthouses and old navigational maps – from a high-end store. The map rolls came in a couple weeks, but I waited more than six months for my lighthouse border. It took so long that I got to enjoy my repapered watercloset for only about a week before I moved!

Should you decide to go the e-commerce route, you will find a nice shopping list of resource links at the end of this posting. There’s even a link for a blog that covers the more unusual and hard-to-get options such as the wallcoverings made from seashells and mica. In most cases, you can easily have samples sent to you before commiting to buy the quantity you need. Always order a few extra rolls so you can cope with installation problems and have the right paper in case you later need to replace a section due to spilled coffee or a roof leak.

Making Healthy Choices

Since this “Living in Comfort and Joy” and not just any design blog, I’m of course going to tell you why I think we should all be choosing eco wall coverings. There are two reasons for sussing out the greener choices: 1) the health of the planet and 2) your own health.

Graphic wallpaper from Design Your Wall
Graphic wallpaper from Design Your Wall

The fact is that most “wallpaper” is not really paper at all. It’s usually vinyl, specifically polyvinyl chloride or PVC. It’s plastic, so it’s tough and washable. However, environmentally, it’s bad stuff. When it’s manufactured, highly toxic materials are released into the air. It lasts for years in landfills, where it leeches toxic chemicals. If it’s incinerated it releases them into the air.

If you need the durability of vinyl, you might look into the products from Cirqa, a company that is mitigating the disposal problem by offering “the vinyl industry’s first and only recycled wallcovering program”.

It’s the chemicals that give wallpaper that characteristic, and sometimes lasting, smell. I have a good friend whose apartment has a wall covered in 1960’s-era gold and silver “op” vinyl wallpaper, and we suspect that the “paper” has been there since the Brady Bunch kids were in elementary school. I have an acute sense of smell and some chemical sensitivity, and if I put my nose next to that wall, I can still pick up that petrochemical scent.

The eco wallcoverings discussed in this post are not only better for the environment, they’re also better for your indoor air quality.

Getting Pasted? A Word to the Wise

Most vinyl wallpaper is “prepasted”. That means that you can “book” fold it, soak it in the tub and put it up on the wall. Installing grasspaper, or non-prepasted coverings means you need to apply the paste. Some coverings must be reverse hung, so that the nap (or pattern) on adjoining pieces run in alternate directions, and in some cases, you may also need to trim the edges or overlap the edges, double-cutting with the seams taped to keep the adhesive away from the face side at seams.

I’m pretty handy, know the techniques, and have done it myself, but if you’re not the artsy craftsy type (or forgiving of imperfections), you should probably enlist a professional. There are good wallpaper hanging instructions on PBS’ This Old House website. I also recommend professional hanging with clay-based adhesives to keep your nontoxic walls non toxic.

With that background, read on for a visual tour of the wonderful options in eco wallcoverings.

Ogura Collection from Avignon Wallcoverings

Avignon Design: Amalfi from the Original collection
Avignon Design: Amalfi from the Original collection

Avignon Wallcoverings, a specialty house in Phoenix and online that offers handpainted, recycled papers, created the paper that appears at the top of this post. Avignon offers three different collections of papers on their website: Cameo, Ogura and Original. The paper pictured above is from their Ogura collection. The paper at left is Amalfi from the Original collection.

The company is run by two women, Caryn Outwater and Ariane Stein, who decided to ditch their respective careers in 1992 to design wallcoverings. Avignon uses 100% kozo fiber which comes from Thailand’s native Mulberry tree. On that canvas, they paint radiant layers to create additional depth and elegance and then apply this covering onto a non-woven substrate. Avignon’s papers are eco-friendly, using 100% recycled paper and all water-based paints, and all their designs are Class A fire rated. This is high-end stuff and pricey enough that they ask you to call for prices; their website does list showrooms.

Ripple modular wallcovering

mio-ripple-blue_600_502_generalOne of my other favorite wall covering are these modular, 3d wallpaper tiles from Ripple PaperForms. You can arrange the tiles in different orientations to create your own pattern – they are sized so that four tiles will make a circle, or can be connected in wavy lines as shown at right.

The tiles, which are made from 100% pre- and post-consumer recycled paper, can be installed temporarily with double stick tape or permanently with wallpaper paste. They can be left plain or can be painted. Each tile measures 12″ x 12″ x 2.25″ high, and pack of 12 tiles (12 square feet) runs $32.

The ripple tile has sound dampening qualities. It has also a sister product, a 3-D design that features a horizontal half moon design and is marketed as an acoustic product. Ripple tile is made in the USA and the Netherlands from locally sourced materials and it is recycleable.

Modular Arts Textural Wallcovering

modular

Here’s another textural wallcover made from quite a different material – cementitious, mineral composites. This material offers superior fire-resistant properties, it’s relatively light weight, and doesn’t “off-gas” harmful, chemicals.

The ModularArts® Mineral Composite Panel surface is hard, dense, and flexible. It feels like rock or ceramic and is a fine, smooth, extremely dense cement that produces incredible detail.

The 32″ by 32″ panels can be installed seamlessly via steel reinforced, interlocking joints that ensure accurate panel-to-panel alignment and pattern matching in all directions. If damage should occur, the repair process is similar to what you would do to fix drywall, but without the paper layer to rip.

Innovations from Ecohaus

Several nice collections of tonal, handsomely understated solid and mottled color papers are available from Ecohaus. The manufacturer for their papers uses water-based inks free of heavy metals, and the factory recycles its wastes and uses recycled shipping materials. Many of their wallpapers were designed for commercial use and are quite durable and scrubbable.

Faux leather wallcoverings. These are from Roos International.
Faux leather wallcoverings. These are from Roos International. (I remember, while driving my car with a child in a safety seat behind me, that the little girl picked my gloves from off of the seat. "Nana," she asked, "Is this rabbit fur inside your gloves?" "Yes." "Did the rabbit have to die?" Long pause...) No cows were killed in the making of these wallcoverings.

Ecohaus also offers a faux suede, linen grass cloth and a hemp wallcovering called “Origins”. These wallcoverings are less durable than their papers, but visually more interesting.

EcoHaus’ prices range from $18.59 to $61.49 per linear yard, and their rolls are 36 to 54 inches in width. Not all of their papers have trimmed edges, which means that it’s a good idea to enlist some expert help in hanging these papers.

Roos International:

Choices, Choices!

Roos International Wallcovering offers an amazing assortment of striking and earth-friendly wall coverings, ranging from raffia, grass cloth, wood veneer, hand painted papers to glass textiles and faux suede. They offer an elegant handpainted wallcover that looks slightly marbled with similar tonal qualities to Venetian plastering.

One of my favorites from Roos’ collections is the SRWood paper-backed wood veneer shown below. The SRWood herringbone pattern shown here is similar to Maya Romanoff’s “Ajiro” – but this is easier to find and purchase. Those of you who don’t spend your free hours reading sample books may not know that among interior designers and architects, Maya Romanoff is considered the king of wall coverings. His wall coverings include mother of pearl inlaid shell, precious metal leaf (copper, gold, silver), jewel paper that looks like silk, and 12 shades of wall mica! Maya Romanoff pretty much sells only to the interior design trade, though a small collection of his wall coverings can be found at some Sherwin-Williams paint stores.

SRWood veneer from Roos International
SRWood veneer from Roos International
Of SRWood, Roos says that it is “custom-made by nature” and friendly to the environment. It can be made from any of 80 species of trees grown in FSC-certified forests, and it is fire rated for architectural use. The product is a thin veneer of wood backed with cloth or paper.

Roos International also offers a textured glass textile that was invented about 50 years ago in Europe to cover bumpy or cracked problem walls, but has only become known here in the US in the past decade.

Enchanting Glass Bead wallcovering from Roos International
Enchanting Glass Bead wallcovering from Roos International

This glass textile can be painted with latex acrylic or epoxy paints. If you feel daring, you could choose to cover it with one of the new metallic, pearlescent, multicolor, glaze or faux finishes that Roos recommends. Glass textile is produced in rolls that are 39.2″ wide by 27 yards or 54 yards in lengths. It’s woven into many textural patterns, such as basketweave and herring bone.

An even more novel option is the glass bead wallcovering shown here. (Outside of a restaurant or a night club, I’m not sure I’d know where to put this, but if any of my readers have ideas, I’m open to suggestion.)

Roos even sells a PVC vinyl wallcovering called “Envision” that, according to their website, does contain recycled and renewable materials and doesn’t contains heavy metals or VOCs.

>>>>>>>>>>

A Note from Nicolette

Who’s Reading? Please take this poll

This is where I usually share a humorous or uplifting bit of poetry with my readers, but since there’s no editor to tell me what to do, I thought that it would be fun to alter my pattern by including a personal note.

Nicolette Toussaint

I started writing “Living in Comfort and Joy” on January 7, 2009, and initially, I knew who was reading. My friends of course, and then folks from the San Francisco Unitarian Church who were interested in knowing what I was doing to help their (and my) minister and his family to live more comfortably in a much smaller house than they had previously occupied. Each new post got around 70 readers.

Four months later, more than 4500 people have visited this blog, and 200 or 300 hundred people read each post. The traffic hovers around 50 instead of dropping down to zero between posts, which means that someone, somewhere is visiting the site every few minutes.

I’m very, very curious about these statistics, and grateful to reader Christine for pointing me to some tracking tools that show, geographically, where readers are located. I also ask you to take this very short poll to give me a better understanding of what you hope to find in my blog.

I know two things for sure about my readers: some people are coming back for multiple visits, and they are not just my friends and acquaintances, because I surely don’t know that many people!

I do know that other interior designers and architects read this blog, because they engage in some very interesting conversations with me via the comments section. I have become pen pals with a few of them.

But by and large, you, dear reader, are an intriguing mystery.

Whoever you are, I thank you for reading, and especially for leaving comments. It’s wonderful to have your company on my journey to a new vocation and avocation, and I’m learning from you as surely as you are learning from me. I hope that sometime, I get to meet at least a few of you.

-Nicolette Toussaint

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13 thoughts on “Not Your Grandmother’s Wallpaper

  1. here is a neat tool that provides stats and geographic location of your visitors (i’m writing from durham, nc) i’m not sure how i got here, but it was from another website’s link. i was intrigued by your name b/c i’m from new orleans and there are many (famous) Toussaints there.
    thanks.

  2. Thanks for your comment. It’s wonderful to hear from you. Your note sent me off to the Romanoff website, where there is some very interesting information on Maya and HIS family. He is indeed a king.

  3. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  4. I work a lot with interior designers as well as homeowners and get a lot of inspiration from them for my designs and art work. After being in the business of paint for more than 30 years I still find the designers the best source for new trends……..These papers are unique that they have taken on the the concept of decorative finishes, Theres a medium I am looking into that is made with glass beads thats a trowel on product. Some of the papers are very expensive in as such to be in a competative market with Faux finishing and maybe even cheaper from what I have seen as costs for some of them……I can do a detailed mural through out a powder bath for less than what some of these cost lol …..I am glad to see the paper hangers are making a comeback because of how devestating the faux market was on them…….

  5. We at http://www.fotoviva.co.uk supply interior designers with photographic wall art printed on canvas or acrylic so often visit interior designer blogs to see what they are looking at and which wall coverings inspire them.

    You have clearly spent a lot of time writing that post and it’s choc full of wall coverings I’d never even dreamed of before! It’s amazing to see what can be done these days for interior design.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. I thought this was very well written and interesting. I was just introduced to a glass bead product that is applied by trowel to the wall A very durable product line and can be applied over any surface

  7. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog
    and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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