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Go to the wall for design


There are no wallflowers among the hippest cover-ups today. Walls are taking on patterns that are big, bold, color-crazy and modern, although sometimes rooted in traditional design.

Some trend-spotters say this signals a return to more lavish, over-the-top and possibly even cluttered interiors. It may be a reaction to of-the-moment minimalism that seems to pervade design magazines and retail catalogs.

What's different about this renewed craving to put up paper, something we haven't seen a rush to do since the 1980s, is that even some diehard modernists dig it.

The pattern may be startling. Consider the impact of a floor-to-ceiling rose as the breathtaking backdrop to a curvy contemporary red chaise. Super dimensions are possible, thanks to digital technology. The photographed image is greatly enlarged and applied in four strips to form pink petals on steroids.

The climate certainly seems ripe for mega-scale. Perhaps the visual heft that's favored today is related to the proliferation of big-screen TVs. With gigantic images dominating so many living- and family-room walls, the eye is more accustomed to supersizing it. And as citrus brights emerged in home design and fashion in recent years, they fed our taste for gutsy palettes.

Organic motifs, often leaves and flowers, are driving much of the design. Asian printmaking techniques also are influencing wall-covering designers. About five years ago, designs depicting single flowers began to make an impact at the Maison et Objets, a twice-annual furnishings show in Paris. The trend, which resulted in designer Isaac Mizrahi's mega-daisies for Target last year, has blossomed.

Much of the eye-popping wall-covering innovation currently is coming from London manufacturers. Companies like Designers Guild long have been leaders in bold hue and scale, and recent introductions include fetching flocked papers in such unexpected color mates as fuchsia on red.

Also emerging are a number of young American artisans from places such as New York (twenty2), New Orleans (Flavor Paper) and the Midwest. Chicago-based Casey Gunschel (palacepapers.com) creates engaging images, among them allover patterns of parsnips with twirling vines as well as a stylized raven in a whirling pattern against a full moon titled, appropriately, "Nevermore." The graphics are arresting, even when colors are toned down.

Although designers may be nodding to old-fashioned flocking or Mylar (metallic backgrounds), geometric or pop art designs from the '60s and '70s, or even stylized florals reminiscent of art nouveau or William Morris Arts and Crafts, their manipulation of scale and, especially, color -- with brilliant blues, limes, fuchsias or chocolates -- sets designs apart and lends instant personality.

Such tweaking helps explain why wall coverings look so fresh after a lengthy hiatus from the home-furnishings radar. Although design trends in recent years have moved squarely into more minimalist camps, with even traditional looks more streamlined, the new papers may be a reaction to the evolution of appealing decorative paints (such as fresco or faux finishes) that have acclimated the eye to color, texture and just plain fun.


Flavor Paper 504-944-0447 or flavorpaper.com.

Graham & Brown 800-554-0887 or grahambrown.com.

Thibaut 800-223-0704 or thibautdesign.com.

twenty2 888-222-3036 or shoptwenty2.com.

Jocelyn Warner, through Designtex 800-221-1540 or jocelynwarner.com.

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