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THE BIG COVERUP: A NEW WEALTH OF WALLPAPERS They range from prints to machine-made vinyls

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There's a big coverup going on. It's not in politics or sports. It has nothing to do with religion. What makes it different from most coverups is that there's nothing hush-hush about it. It may even be happening in your own home.

And it has everything to do with the new revolution in wall covering.

The wall covering patterns that have long been around -- florals, geometrics, stripes -- are being freshly interpreted. However, the splashiest news is the new wall coverings, with the looks most often associated with paint. Sponging, marbling, faux finishes, textured finishes and even trompe l'oeil (literally, fool the eye) techniques are being translated into rolls and rolls of wall covering.

In a way, wall covering is to a room what accessories are to the basic black dress. "You can change a whole room with wallpaper without changing anything else," says Janet Verdegeur, editor and co-publisher of The Wall Paper, a monthly trade journal based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

But wallpaper has suffered from a bad rap over the years. Many designers and decorators have long considered wallpaper "overkill," preferring instead unadorned walls as a backdrop for furnishings. Even Oscar Wilde is alleged to have moaned on his deathbed: "My wallpaper is killing me; one of us has to go."

Wilde's last hours might have been more soothing if he were around to see the high quality and variety of wallpaper available today. There are perhaps hundreds of thousands of designs and varieties on the market, from hand-painted or printed papers to machine-manufactured vinyls.

Today the world of fashion has perhaps the greatest influence on wall covering design. There usually isn't much time between seeing cobalt blue in a scarf or jacket and seeing it on a pillow, chair or wall. Naturally, not all of the color trends in clothing are workable in home interiors. Bright orange and fuchsia, for example, may be a little too strident to live with daily, but vivid red, emerald green and other rich jewel tones can be tempting in wall coverings.

Some fashion designers have introduced their own wall covering collections. Those who admire Karl Lagerfeld's signature couturier style will appreciate the equivalent of ready-to-wear in his wall covering collection for Gramercy. Those who are fond of Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren probably know by now that each also offers a collection of wall coverings and coordinating fabrics. Women crazy about the romantic Eileen West sleepwear can choose not only complementary bed linens but wall overings as well.

Home fashion tastes also influence the design of wall covering patterns. Specific decorating styles such as art deco or even '50s retro style have counterparts in wallpaper. Country style, one of the most popular home furnishing fashion in recent years, accounts for nearly 40 percent of all wall covering sales, which total nearly $3 billion a year. Many of these country-themed wallcovering patterns have become more sophisticated. They range from the rustic to the more formal English, French and other European country looks.

One style that appears to have a growing audience is neoclassical, whose motifs are inspired by ancient Greek and Roman aesthetics. This look nicely bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary design. A neoclassically inspired pattern at its simplest might be a stripe with a companion Greek key border.

Closely related to the neoclassic style are the "no-pattern patterns," granite and marble facsimiles, and fancy paint finishes such as rag rolling, stippling or sponging.

Maya Romanoff, a Chicago-based designer of wall coverings and fabrics, has always been at the cutting edge with his unusual designs. Among his latest offerings is the Medici Fresco collection, which is a pulverized stone wall covering laminated to paper backing, colored and aged with programmed blasts of heated air. But this faux is faux real. "It is actually stone," says Mr. Romanoff, "so it feels like stone except that it's not cold and damp."

Mr. Romanoff's designs, some of which run close to $80 a roll and are available only through designers and architects, are not for the faint of budget; but there are plenty of other options in a range of prices. Mary Gilliatt's "Faux Finish" book for Sandpiper Studios features sponged and marbleized looks, and these designs are available for a more modest $24 to $30 a roll.

Another popular option in wall coverings is trompe l'oeil, with scenes that truly do fool the eye. For example, you can almost smell the flowers on wallpaper featuring a garden scene. Other patterns include the look of plaster moldings and Chippendale woodwork. And if you are short on books or shelf space, Mary Gilliatt's paper with rows of books creates the effect of an instant library.

"There are some wonderful revivals," says Ms. Gilliatt, a British-born interior designer who is a prolific author on the subject as well. "Trompe l'oeil is a wonderful way to add whimsy, fantasy and drama to a room. The best thing about it is that you can get high style on a lower budget."

For those who want just a touch of wall covering, borders are an attractive and creative way to define space. These wind their way around door and window frames, doubling as chair rails or substituting for crown moldings. They may be delicate or bold, from just a little over an inch to 10 inches in width.

And for those who want a bolder look in wall covering, there is a wide representation of murals on the market as well. Landscapes, classical scenes and even a border mural of a seaside picnic are among the choices.

"Murals were popular about 20 years ago," says Jacquelyn Calavitta, director of product development for Imperial wall coverings. "But they tailed off and lost favor, except at the high end, where they have been a specialty item. Now consumers like the special look."

Perhaps even more exciting is the production of wall coverings either inspired by or reproduced from period documents, archival materials, antique textiles and some of the antique wall coverings that are works of art. Katzenbach & Warren has designs called Historic Papers from the Victorian Era that were reproduced from salvaged original fragments and sample books that date from 1875. Some are vinyl coated, some hand-screened and some rotary-printed. And they are surprisingly affordable -- $31.99 to $37.99 per triple roll. Borders are $9.99 or $10.99.

But no matter what flavor a wall covering is seasoned with -- what flower, column, texture -- it's obvious why more and more people are choosing wall coverings to grace their walls and add spice to their rooms.

Says Murray Douglas, vice president at Brunschwig & Fils: "Wall coverings emphasize architectural integrity. When we can do all sorts of illusionistic things -- give height to a room, open up a wall, decorate -- this is what gives a room personality."

Selected sources

*Boussac of France Inc., 979 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022; (212) 421-0534.

*Brunschwig & Fils, 75 Virginia Road, North White Plains, N.Y. 10603; (914) 684-5800.

*C & A Wallcoverings (for Imperial, Katzenbach & Warren, Sterling Prints' Mario Buatta and Architectural Details), 23645 Mercantile Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44122-5962; (216) 464- 3700.

*Eisenhart Wallcoverings Co., 400 Pine St., Hanover, Pa. 17331; (800) 848-5886.

*The Maya Romanoff Corp., 1730 W. Greenleaf, Chicago, Ill. 60626; (312) 465-6909.

BTC *Sandpiper Studios distributed by Seabrook, 1325 Farmville Road, Memphis, Tenn. 38122; (901) 458-3301.

*Richard E. Thibaut Inc., 706 S. 21st St., Irvington, N.J. 07111; (201) 399-7888.

*The Wallcovering Information Bureau, Department UP, P.O. Box Grand Central Station, New York, N.Y. 10063- 1708. Write for booklets: "The Wallcovering How To Handbook" (free); "Work Wonders With Wallcoverings" (50 cents); "Transformations" ($1).

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