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Published: Wednesday, 1/6/2010

The return of wallpaper

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Wallpaper has the reputation of being a high-maintenance friend: lots of positive qualities but oh, so much work.

The time-consuming, patience-testing process of hanging the paper and struggling to remove it years later caused consumers to turn away in droves and go to painted walls in faux finishes or rich, solid colors.

Now it's time to turn back, the industry urges. Thanks to improved products, "wallcovering is easy again," declared Thomas Quinn, sales and marketing manager for Warner Wallcoverings, a division of RJF International based in Fairlawn, Ohio.

In addition, wallpaper "is more beautiful than ever before," said Diane Capuano, executive editor of the Paint and Decorating Retailers Association, a trade group based in St. Louis.

Some local decorators agree.

"We're seeing a resurgence," said Mary Miller, an interior designer at Betty Rumpf Interiors on West Central Avenue. "Paint is nice for color, but it doesn't give any texture or dimension."

Pamela Straub, of Pamela Straub Interior Design on Jefferson Avenue downtown, said "there are wonderful, wonderful, very bold papers now."

"Nothing creates drama like wallpaper," she added. "Nothing warms up a room like wallpaper."

And Linda Boxell, of Boxell Interiors in Sylvania, said wallcoverings have been winning people back with stronger, better quality paper and pretty new styles. For one recent project, she used a black patent-leather wallpaper with embossed diamond design in a kitchen with white cabinets, black flooring, and fabric on bar stools and chairs that introduced strong accent colors.

"I feel like wallpaper, more than paint, defines a room and a style," she said.

The major technological advance in the wallpaper industry is the "nonwoven substrate" - a blend of natural and synthetic fibers on which the design is printed and which is stronger than paper alone.

Warner Wallcoverings' Easy-Walls product is one of the new generation of papers, which promise to be easy to install and a breeze to peel off in full sheets when you're ready to take it down.

Speaking by phone from his office in Bowie, Md., Mr. Quinn said one way it's easier to install is that it requires no "booking" - the term for folding wallpaper so that its pasted sides are face to face, after dipping in water, for a period of time to allow the paper "to relax."

Nonwoven wallpaper is also environmentally friendly, Mr. Quinn said. The vinyl-free product is printed with water-based inks and "breathes" to allow a flow of moisture and air, thus preventing development of mold or mildew underneath, Mr. Quinn explained.

"All the substrates today are of a better quality than they were in the past," said LeRue Brown, director of marketing for York Wallcoverings of York, Pa. The company's product line includes a nonwoven called SureStrip.

Although nonwoven costs 10 to 15 percent more than all paper or paper-back vinyl wallcovering, it's "the most fail-safe. It's difficult for a do-it-yourselfer to install it in a way that makes it difficult to come off," Mr. Brown said.

Esthetically, wallpaper offers a lot more today too.

"One of the trends is tactile feel and dimension," Mr. Brown said. Examples are papers with designs incorporating sand, glass beads, and Swarovski crystals. Even flocked paper is back.

Ms. Miller, of Betty Rumpf Interiors, said today's flocks have large-scale prints and vibrant colors. Clients who want a softer, more natural look are using grass-cloth wallcoverings, she added.

The open layouts and high ceilings that are typical in big new homes don't lend themselves well to wallpaper, noted Jill Grimm of Jill Grimm Interior Design on West Bancroft Street. "There is so much open space and there's no good place to start and stop the wallpaper," she explained.

Wallpapering huge rooms can be expensive, and "I think people are tired of all the pattern and want a cleaner line, cleaner looks," Mrs. Grimm went on.

She said she often suggests using wallpaper in a bathroom or laundry room, because they're small areas with hard surfaces and few ways to personalize the space.

"I really like the textured wallpapers that are out there, and I think they can add a cozy feeling to small rooms," she said.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.



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