Fashion pendulum swings back to coverings that support our modern interest in cocooning

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Summer made an appearance in March, neutrals are a thing of the past and  everyone is buying wallpaper. Who’d have thought such things were possible five  years ago – besides maybe the environmental scientists and designers such as  Stuart Stark?

The owner of wallpaper design company Charles Rupert Designs  (, which began two decades ago as a source of historically  accurate wallpaper for restoration projects in Victoria, Stark knew we’d  eventually shake off the yoke of “boring” interiors.

“Fashion for interior design is cyclical,” the architect and design lecturer  says from his studio, where he specializes in putting a modern twist on 18th-to  20th-century paper for clients around the world.

“The overstuffed and opulent ’80s were a reflection of the 1880s. Even then I  was predicting a sea change to stark neutrals by the year 2000 or a more  Edwardian approach.”

Well, we had years of pale taupe walls, white trim and grey sofas. Now,  every-one is predicting a season of orange and an era of big, bold wallpaper.  It’s a prediction that has been reflected in Stark’s sales, which had been  dampened by the recent recession.

“Then six months ago, people started buying paper again,” he says. “I think  people are just getting tired of neutral, neutral, neutral. And pattern can be  very peaceful; people have an emotional reaction to it.”

Ottawa interior design consultant Janise Saikaley of Uproar Design  ( is also finding an increase in wallpaper sales.

“Even five years ago, people were still ripping any sign of wallpaper out of  their homes.” Now, she says, big floral prints, flocked damasks and tone-on-tone  Victorian replicas are flying off her shelves.”

This interest in wallpaper is a sign of the times and our need to “cocoon,”  says Alan Elder, curator of the craft, decorative arts and design collection at  the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

“Because we are living in a period of great change, economic instability and  political upheaval, we are looking for some place in our lives where we feel  more comfortable: our homes. We are nesting. You only have to notice the  proliferation of home design magazines and TV shows.”

Humans as a species find patterns soothing, he says, so it follows there’d be  an increased interest in wallpaper now, much like the Arts & Crafts movement  of 150 years ago.

Now, it’s the dominance of technology in our lives that we’re reacting to by  complementing it with more handicrafts and personalized items.

Stark knows modern sensibilities differ from historical ones, as his  collections of paper always include one original colour scheme of two or more  colours in a design.

“As an example, no one liked the original dark olive with deep pink,” he says  of one Victorian design, instead finding clients flocked to a grey-blue  tone-on-tone version he created. “We weren’t surprised.”

What also makes modern wallpaper more appealing than the mass-produced  versions our grandmothers’ grandmothers used, is that it can be tailored to fit  personal tastes, says Elder.

“It is now possible – due to technology – for designers to work very closely  with wallpaper producers to generate something special for one location or  another. So you can make your space entirely your own and comfortable to  you.”

Rollout (, a Canadian company with studios in Toronto and  Vancouver, specializes in just that kind of bespoke piece.

The company produces on-demand digital prints on high-end traditional  wallpaper, from either their collection of artist-produced patterns or from  images, drawings or photos the client provides. The paper is printed only when  an order is made, meaning colours can be changed and rolls will be printed to  fit the height of the walls, making hanging less challenging.

Rollout’s collections are gaining in popularity with homeowners who like to  see a twist on traditional patterns, says co-owner and CEO Anita Modha.  Black-and-white images, quirky pat-terns such as their Pigs & Math design  and a series of vintage map wallcover-ings – to be fully ready by mid-April –  are among their most popular options. Ottawa resident Joanne Connelly papered  three of the rooms in her custom-built home just weeks ago. It was something she  promised herself she’d do when her very sleek, very-white, modern house was  being built.

“It has a very old-fashioned look, but very graphic and modern at the same  time,” she says. “It was nice to put something softer in there.

“Though I like a very clean esthetic, you do not want your house to be very  cold. The wallpaper just brings a little warmth into a home.”

She chose a light grey paper with a graphic white floral for a spare  bed-room, a natural seagrass cloth covering for the master bedroom – “which my  husband and I both love; I’m always touching it” – and a black-and-white  cityscape of world monuments for her seven-year-old son, Dylan.

“He wanted black and I wondered how I’d do that,” she laughs. “Then I found  this graphic print, which is now a big hit with his friends. And the benefit is  I won’t have to change it as he gets older. It’s fine for an adult room.” Rolls  of quality wallpaper can cost between $130 and $300 a roll (for about 10 metres)  or about $1,200 a wall so it’s not a cheap wall treatment. Many of the  higher-end brands use traditional printing methods: Charles Rupert Designs, for  instance, works with original Morris & Co.-era presses in England and hires  skilled labourers to hand mix the dyes.

Saikaley suggests being sure about wallpaper choices before purchasing,  though some companies such as make versions that can be  easily applied and removed. Most stores or designers will provide samples to  take home for testing.

Via The Vancouver Sun.

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