Home: How to use wallpaper to transform any living space

Home of the Year winner Jennifer Sheahan shares her advice on colour, pattern and pasting
Home: How to use wallpaper to transform any living space

Jennifer Sheahan: "Oh wallpaper, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

Your room needs something extra, but you don’t want to add more “stuff”. You could freshen up the paint, or change out the rug, or swap out the cushions — or you could completely transform the room with the magical powers of wallpaper. Oh wallpaper, how do I love thee? 

Let me count the ways. Wallpaper can completely change the look and feel of the room by not only adding colour, but also texture and pattern. 

The right wallpaper can elevate any room, no matter your style preferences. Minimalists can bring in additional texture and luxury, maximalists can go wild with patterns and colours, and there is something for everyone in between. 

Here is everything you need to know to find the right wallpaper for your room.

COLOUR 

The variety of colours, patterns, and textures available is practically infinite. Before you get overwhelmed by choice, first consider what it is that your room needs so that you can be more considered in your choice. 

Perhaps you want to add colour — if so, do you want a bright uplifting colour that may work best in a busy space, or a calming colour that might be better suited to a bedroom? (See my article on colours from September 3). 

Ensure the colour you choose works with your existing palette, and certainly order samples to make sure! In my upstairs bathroom, I wanted something subtle to add depth to my plain white walls while keeping the calm atmosphere in the space where I love to unwind (regular readers will know all about my love for a long hot bath). 

Metallic copper wallpaper, Crane Fonda by Divine Savages, in Jennifer Sheahan's upstairs bathroom. Picture: Moya Nolan
Metallic copper wallpaper, Crane Fonda by Divine Savages, in Jennifer Sheahan's upstairs bathroom. Picture: Moya Nolan

I didn’t want to add another colour — instead, I wanted pattern and texture. So, I chose a patterned wallpaper with a metallic textured print — a subtle copper colour on a white background, that paired perfectly with the existing white ceiling, my metallic gold taps, and my dusky pink tiles. 

The print adds interest and echoes the existing pinky colour on the floor, and the metallic texture reflects light and brightens the small room.

PATTERN 

One of the biggest advantages of wallpaper is the opportunity it affords to bring in beautiful patterns. Smaller prints are the easiest to work with — they can be paired with other patterns if you like a maximalist look, and they don’t attract as much attention which can mean you’re less likely to get sick of them too quickly. 

Larger prints can be fantastic, however, and who needs to worry about longevity when wallpaper is easy to replace? Huge, dramatic floral prints have been popular recently. 

They work brilliantly in a large room, although they can also work to make a smaller room feel very intimate and cosy if that’s your goal. 

Wallpaper has come such a long way that some patterns are as intricate as a beautiful painting. My former colleague Shana Weisberg has the most beautiful range of hand-painted floral wallpaper, and I also adore Whinnie Williams’ range at Poodle and Blonde. 

My former colleague Shana Weisberg has the most beautiful range of hand-painted floral wallpaper, such as this Antique Blue Rose.
My former colleague Shana Weisberg has the most beautiful range of hand-painted floral wallpaper, such as this Antique Blue Rose.

If budget is not an issue, de Gournay is the place to go for exquisite hand-painted art to cover your walls. Patterns can serve the function of simply adding some visual interest, or they can be used cleverly to trick the eye into making spaces appear different — taller, wider, or cosier. 

Vertical stripes, or ombre effects which lighten towards the ceiling, draw the eye up and make walls appear taller. I chose a polka dot pattern in my small home office/guest bedroom — the repeating dots appear endless and so trick the eye into visually expanding the room.

TEXTURE 

A huge benefit of wallpaper is the ability to add texture to a room. Even without colour or pattern, a subtle addition of texture to the walls can transform a room from plain to elegant. 

Texture can also be a way to bring in a pattern without adding an extra colour — patterns can be in the same colour but a contrasting finish or can be embossed on the paper. Fabric wallpapers can be more expensive but tend to be longer lasting, and are available in textured finishes such as satin, velvet, sisal, linen, canvas, silk, and leather. 

This depth of texture gives a warm and luxurious feeling to any room. Embossed wallpaper can be a great choice for older homes to hide uneven walls, or it can be a great way to bring in a subtle feature wall without a dramatic colour difference. 

Or if subtlety is not your goal, a metallic embossed wallpaper can make a dramatic statement!

HOW TO HANG 

The words to look for when buying wallpaper are “paste the wall”. This is where you put wallpaper paste directly on the wall and then smooth the wallpaper over it, rather than putting paste on the back of the wallpaper and ending up in a self-inflicted stick cocoon that you have to tear your way out of. 

There are plenty of wallpaper calculators out there to make sure you buy enough, and always ensure you have a little extra to account for mistakes or repairs in the future. 

Minimalists can bring in additional texture and luxury, maximalists can go wild with patterns and colours, and there is something for everyone in between. Picture: Moya Nolan
Minimalists can bring in additional texture and luxury, maximalists can go wild with patterns and colours, and there is something for everyone in between. Picture: Moya Nolan

Additionally, allow about 10% extra for pattern matching — you will need to cut some off at the ends to line up the repeating pattern. If you’re hanging wallpaper in a kitchen or bathroom, ensure it is designed for use in damp conditions. 

As always, my preference is for an easy-to-clean material — “wipeable” is a good search term for this feature!

Got a question? Email home@examiner.ie

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