Not Your Grandmother’s Wallpaper

Forget frumpy florals and blowsy borders – the wall coverings of today are driven by technology.

Illustration by Vikki Wiercinski

Shimmering glass beads. Slick animal skins. Gleaming pearlescents. Glossy vinyls. These are just some of the materials that Eunice Bokstrom might encounter in a day’s work.

No, she’s not a costume designer or a luxury fabric dealer. She is a professional wall covering installer and, despite the less-than-stellar reputation wallpaper has had in the past, business is booming these days. “Some parts of the market have never been slow, especially the very high end,” she explains. “But because it’s back in movie backdrops, TV shows and magazines, it’s hitting kind of a critical mass.”

It turns out that, while homeowners were experimenting with the now-questionable do-it-yourself paint trends of the late 1990s and early 2000s (sponges and stencils and stamps, oh my!), the wallpaper industry was quietly stepping up its game. Technological developments in digital printing, as well as novelty and high-performance materials, have resulted in an unbelievable array of options, including custom prints. Homeowners who had previously sworn off wall coverings are beginning to come around.

It’s not just the appearance of wallpaper that has improved; the removal process is no longer the marriage-testing nightmare it once was. “One of the things that’s newer in the industry is a non-woven,” explains Bokstrom. “So it’s not paper. It’s made of cellulose fibres or rayon and all kind of melded together so that when the material is removed from the wall, it’s strippable in one layer.”

Real estate agent Ashley Tichkowsky, who recently installed wallpaper in her own home, finds many homebuyers are not aware of how far the medium has come in recent years. “People are nervous about it because they think it’s impractical and they think it’s permanent,” she explains. “They think it’s way harder to change than paint. But if it’s [wallpaper] that’s newer, then it’s not going to be hard to remove.”

Interior designer Lori Paine agrees that a little education can go a long way, as many people still fear “that it will be hard to take off and change when it’s time to redo a room and head in a new style direction.” Additionally, she has found that many people are under the impression that wallpaper is bound to overwhelm a room. “They feel that the wall covering will overtake the space and that it will become the centre of attention,” she says. “They are unsure of where and how much wallpaper to put up to give the appropriate effect to a room.”

Tichkowsky solved this problem in her own home by choosing a feature wall in her dining room to install a soft grey damask. “It’s the perfect wall for it,” she says. “It’s a wall that’s connected by two right-angle walls, so there’s a definite break. And it’s the wall that you’d face when you come into my house, so it’s very much a feature wall.”

Focusing on a feature wall is exactly what Bokstrom recommends. She explains that the trend now is “to do feature walls rather than the full wraparound, in-your-face, get-every-wall-done” approach, she says. “Because wall coverings are bolder or more texturally interesting, it tends to be used as art on one wall. And the price – people can afford one wall of beautiful wall covering.”

Another big change in the wallpaper industry is that renters are getting in on the action. They – along with homeowners who are hesitant to commit – now have temporary peel-and-stick options in the form of single sheets, panels and decals. Want a little mobility with your wallpaper? Tichkowsky suggests selecting a print you like and framing a large portion of it.

Whether you’re renting or buying, papering a whole room or a feature wall, the experts all agree: Getting an expert opinion is key to superb results. “It is important to consult a professional when purchasing wall coverings and for the application of it on a wall,” says Paine. “A consultant will be able to give you the best directions on the process of hanging the wallpaper, whether it’s unpasted or pasted, and how to properly size and clean the wall before applying the wall covering.” 

Tichkowsky couldn’t agree more. “I could walk into a house, and even if someone DIYed a whole renovation, I can tell someone who talked to somebody first, and someone who didn’t, because things just don’t make sense,” she says. “So whether you do it yourself or whether you hire someone, talk to someone, because getting off on the right foot will save you thousands. There’s a quote that says, ‘If you think hiring a professional is expensive, hire an amateur,’ because [whether] you hire that amateur or you do it yourself and you do it wrong, it’s now costing you two or three times that price.”


Follow these steps for a wrinkle-free wallpaper installation experience:

Consult with a Professional

Even if you plan to hang it yourself, talking to a professional in advance will prepare you for the process.

Choose a Feature Wall

Sometimes less is more. Make a statement by choosing one wall as the focal point of a room.

Prime, Prepare and Apply Correctly

Different wall coverings require different priming and application processes. Doing it incorrectly will result in an unsightly job that’s difficult to remove.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something Different

Don’t assume a bold pattern, colour or texture will overwhelm your space. Apply thoughtfully and sparingly to create a sophisticated and unique accent.

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