Old ways for dressing up new walls

Kya deLongchamps takes a look at the latest techniques in interior design which hark back to earlier times and ancient methods for applying pattern and colour.

Bored of all that well-behaved white and grey? Fancy something that says more about you and less about fitting into a box marked ‘GROWN UP’?

Those big canvases all around you are crying out for life, and for centuries home owners have taken creatively to the walls.

Vintage Rollers

Travelling in Romania, designer and artist Clare Bosanquet came across a tradition for decorating and disguising imperfect walls with hand held cylinders in carved wood rumbled gently across the surface (often bare pitted plaster). 

She dragged a rucksack full of antique rollers from local markets home with her to the UK. 

Her firm, The Painted House, sells a range of 18 re-usable embossed patterned rollers on Etsy which can be used for interior decorating, ornamenting fabric and to create reams of wrapping paper. 

The finish with this technique is slightly broken, “forgotten and sun-bleached” as Clare says.

In fluffy organics and vintage textile prints, they are ideal for old, uneven walls but equally suited to flat plaster in need of some quaint charm. 

Old ways for dressing up new walls

For walls, a foam roller feeds a flat, chalk style paint thinly to the design. 

A slight key and a very flat emulsion will catch and absorb the pattern well. Symmetry is important, and Claire suggests investing in a Strait-Line Lazer Level 30, available on Amazon.

“To achieve a repeating pattern, which particularly suits designs nos. 1, 3 & 6, mark the roller with a minus near its end at one point, then halfway around in the same position on the roller, mark it with a plus. 

"Start the first pass with the plus mark pointing upward, and the next pass with the minus pointing up, and so on.”

Rollers start from €22 for a pattered repeat for walls, www.the-painted-house.co.uk 

Top Tip:

Claire recommends using a puddle of paint on an off-cut of hardboard rather than loading from a conventional paint tray.

Go dark with Wallpaper

Wallpaper can be a complete symphony or a fabulous counterpoint to an interiors scheme, and there’s never been a better choice in everything from Colefax & Fowler’s blowsy English roses to gyrating mid-century inspired rhythms.

Old ways for dressing up new walls

Melting dark watercolours and flat black have added another whole genre of design for those contemporary fans not attracted to the rat-tat-tat of stiff, repeating patterns. 

Brown and metallic-shot papers, pinned as dire style bypasses from the 1970s, are back in force but deconstructed into soft, organic tapestries. 

Take a look at Skanberg Skog Rose, soft spatters of bronze, grey and taupe, stunning as a feature freshened against white paint and timber floors. 

Designers Karolina Kroon and Hanna Wendelbo-Hansson explain: “Walking across fields of green moss we found shells of birds’ eggs, stones, rusty objects, worn pieces of linen — all beautiful in their fragility.”

Take a look at the rest of the collection inspired by textured stone, tweed, rust, and other honest ingredients. www.sandbergwallpaper.com . From €130 per roll, www.wallpaperdirect.com 

A second unusual choice is black, magnetic wallpaper. €46.12 a roll from Sisters Guild. Staying dark — try Barbara Hulanicki’s Skulls, a daring, sophisticated gothic from Littlewoods at €85 a roll.

Top Tip:

Ignore paralysing rules about sprig papers in small rooms and large scale prints in the ballroom. Quantify the look on a mood board, and suit yourself.

Free-hand painting

Last year we saw the bold emergence of painting by hand in thick stripes and large areas of the wall in two to three colours worked softly at the edges in an ‘ombre’ style. This simple technique is championed in a DIY feature by Dulux you can find here: www.dulux.ie/en/inspiration 

Casual indoor/outdoor spaces such as conservatories, playrooms and porches can wear this well but another approach is to take the large areas of softly blended abstract colour in ombre a step further. 

Our illustration by Sandersons, uses loose cloudy shapes in white and china blue set over an implied shrubbery of roses in the fabric of the sofa. For a more conventional finish try colour-washing as explained by the team at Irish paint maker Colortrend.

Old ways for dressing up new walls

“Take a large paintbrush and lightly brush on your top coat using criss-cross actions. Then, take another brush and lightly brush out the edges of your original strokes. 

"This creates a kind of smoky effect and can be done using several different shades throughout the space.

"Take care to allow appropriate drying time between coats — Colortrend Interior Matt and Soft Sheen take approximately 4-6 hours to dry depending on conditions.” www.Colourtrend.ie 

Top Tip:

Be very careful about the subject matter — universal appeal, something charming and impressionist rather than ambitious and characterful will last the course.


Wonderful tools but they can conjure up stumping bunches of grapes over twee 1980s dados. Their potential used alone or to ground further gilding and free-hand work is energising for the cash-strapped decorator. 

Old ways for dressing up new walls

Stencil books with an entire design can cover the walls in softly fading imagery from a Greek temple to bespoke wallpaper. 

A stencil can create a fabulous Ottoman headboard, dress up plain timber furniture, or even be taken to the floor in dramatic borders and painted rugs. 

Graduating colour through a section of the design, the finish will be all your own and intensely satisfying.

Start collecting those tester pots of emulsion — ideal for shading your principal colours. My first choice for flowers and birds would be Henny Donovan, whose Oriental pieces are breathtaking. 

Her larger than life Standing & Flying Crane on a red wall, can make a dining-room. For floors, her Moroccan and Navaho collection is right on point for this season’s ethnic geometry. Try them on the risers of your wooden stairs. For the truly terrified — take a look at Henny’s excellent online guide: ‘How to Stencil’. www.hennydonovanmotifs.com 

Top Tip:

Combining elements from several stencil sheets or books and by turning the stencil over, the natural realism of the motif is immensely improved. Just watch that scale.


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