Liven up your walls with bold wallpaper and other hot design trends

For The Baltimore Sun

Whether they’re painted plain white or covered in wild wallpaper, walls set the tone for a room. Local designers say today’s homeowners are willing to experiment with their wall coverings, trying out different textures, colors and materials. Here, they share the hottest trends in wall coverings.

Not your grandma’s wallpaper. For years, homeowners shied away from wallpaper, which was perceived as dowdy and old-fashioned. Not anymore.

Design houses are reissuing decades-old wallpapers with updated colors and enlarged patterns to give them a fresh look.

“A lot of times, it’s the colors – the hunter greens and burgundies – that date [wallpaper],” says Stephanie Gamble, a designer with offices in Belvedere Square.

Alexa Ralff of AHR Designs in Lutherville says nature-inspired prints are popular, as are oversized florals and updated chinoiserie patterns.

“They may have been in your grandmother’s house, but now they are blown-out and modern,” she says.

Grass cloth is back. The nubby material is another blast from the past in local homes, says Shelly Wilkins, owner of Westminster-based Walls, Etc.

“I’m installing a lot of grass cloth these days. It was big in the ’80s and has come back,” adding texture and complexity to a room, she says.

Neutrals rule. A few years ago, bold wall color was all the rage. Today, the preferred palette is more muted. “From the ’90s to 2000s, you’d have a red dining room, green study, blue den. Now, everything is whites and creams and greiges. Your whole house is within the same tone,” says Ralff.

Shiplap kitchens and baths. Shiplap – grooved wooden boards traditionally used for shed or barn construction – has been enjoying a moment of popularity, thanks to the support of Chip and Joanna Gaines, the stars of HGTV’s popular show “Fixer Upper.” The couple is based in Texas, but shiplap is a hit in Baltimore, too, where designers see it used most frequently in kitchens and bathrooms.

“It’s the modern farmhouse style,” says Gamble. “It doesn’t work for every house, but in a bathroom, it will work in more homes. You have to pay attention to the style of the house, but in the right place, it brings that additional layer, a little more texture.”

Modern murals. Recently, Wilkins’ clients have upped the ante on customized wall designs by turning to the internet, ordering digital murals that can be applied to their walls.

Gamble has observed the desire for customization as well, with clients seeking artists to paint “clean, modern” murals in their homes. “In Baltimore, there are artists who do some amazing work with walls – custom, beautiful work,” she says. Gamble has seen local artists apply gold leaf to ceilings, lacquer walls, and create murals with texture. Though the process can take longer and be more expensive than simply painting or applying wallpaper, the result, she says, “is exquisite.”

Treating the ‘fifth wall.’ Gamble calls the ceiling “the fifth wall,” and recommends that instead of painting it white as a default, homeowners experiment with gloss, color or pattern. “The ceiling can be the ‘wow’ moment,” she says. “Sometimes clients will do a high gloss on the ceiling, or even a wallpapered ceiling can look great.”

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