Silver koi swim among a steel blue background in Matthew Cross’ bathroom. Textured yellow flowers, inspired by Van Gogh, grace his kitchen, and a jungle theme invites music lovers into his Record Room. Through wallpaper, Cross can express his creative side while bringing beauty and fun into his home.
“I like the whimsical nature of wallpaper,” said Cross, who lives in South Philadelphia.
Three years ago, he converted his hall closet into a Record Room, where he and his partner Estelle Markel-Joyet and son, Marzán, 6, put on their favorite music. The couple encouraged their son to help choose the wallpaper pattern.
“He picked out wallpaper with a jungle scene, with lemurs, hummingbirds and flowers,” Cross recalled. “We took off the door, and the wallpaper sets the room apart, that something interesting is happening there.”
Wallpaper plays an important role in his kitchen and bathroom, as well. The silver koi paper in the bathroom came from Belgium.
“It’s one of my favorite rooms now,” said Cross, who spent roughly $600 for the wallpaper and about another $600 to have it professionally hung.
Wallpaper is more popular than ever now, said John Cialone, member-at-large on the national board of directors of the American Society of Interior Designers, based in Chicago. While it may have had a bad rap in the past with outdated designs like foils, now it is being used strategically to provide a lot of interest with little effort.
“It’s an excellent way to get texture and pattern without a long-term commitment, and it can transform a room very quickly,” Cialone said. “Wallpaper can also be a great, durable surface and make a space that might typically get a lot of wear look new for a long time.”
Wall coverings (not all are made of paper) elevate a room, said Laura Buchner, co-owner of Meadowbank Design in Wayne, who has seen a spike in grass cloths, natural fibers, and vinyls that look like natural fibers. Floral and geometric designs are also fashionable.
“It’s more interesting than a painted wall and gives more texture and depth,” she said. “Vibrant colors are definitely in style, assuming it’s a strong pattern. Textures or grass cloths tend to be more muted, neutral, and ‘safe’ when it comes to color.”
One advantage of wallpaper over paint is the ability to hide imperfections in a wall. In older homes, a wall liner can be applied under the wallpaper to further smooth out imperfections.
“Wallpaper makes a room much more dramatic than paint, and it’s an art form,” said Paul Sperling, owner of Colonial Wallpaper in Queen Village, who noticed customers thinking about their Zoom backgrounds since the pandemic began. His clients are buying more “back-to-nature” themes including animal and jungle prints and midcentury designs coming from Europe.
Oftentimes, just one wall may be papered as a focal point, perhaps the wall the bed or a fireplace sits against.
“If all four walls were done in patterned wallpaper it might be overwhelming,” Buchner said. “But textured wallpaper can be used on all of a room’s walls because it almost acts as paint, providing depth and elevating the architecture.”
In a powder room, covering all walls in a paper with a dark background can be very dramatic, “a wow effect,” Sperling said.
A roll of wallpaper covering 25 square feet ranges in price from $20 to $200, he said. Consider how long you may want to live with a particular design when creating your budget. For a trendy pattern or a child’s room where you may want to make a change in a few years, a less expensive option may make sense.
“It’s similar to changing the paint on your walls,” Buchner said. “Colors and styles come in and out. That said, if it makes you happy, you can keep it as long as you want, especially with better quality products today that are easier to install and remove.”
Murals are also very popular, though they are more expensive because they do not have a repeat pattern.
“True hand-painted murals that are templated to a specific room with no repeats and every wall unique can range from $20,000 and up,” Buchner said. “But a lot of companies have come out with panels that are continuous but not custom made to the room. They may start at $5,000 for a room.”
Digital wallpapers feature a custom design from a photograph or drawing. Moth Paper in South Kensington has been making digital wall coverings since opening in 2019. Creative director Kathryn Raines made a custom design for antique collectors with a 1916 grand piano and a grandfather clock circa 1730. The whimsical pattern features asymmetrical gestures that flow across the space.
“We wanted to make something that would create a beautiful backdrop for the objects in their home while keeping the space light and contemporary,” she said. “Every corner of the room is a unique moment.”
Costs range from $12 to $16 per square foot for a custom design that fits perfectly into a given space.
At the other end of the cost spectrum are peel and stick wall coverings, which start at about $2 per square foot. For bathrooms, Pinterest has seen a sixfold increase in these wall coverings this year vs. last year.
“It’s also great for someone looking for something temporary,” Cialone said.
Wall covering costs don’t include installation. A professional installer knows how to match patterns and covers vents and switch plates to make them essentially disappear within the room. If you want to hang wallpaper yourself, know that all are hung differently so read the directions and have the right type of glue, wall surface prep and tools, Cialone said.
Cross chose to hire a professional. “What would take me a week of cursing and tears takes these guys about an hour,” he said.