As the CEO of Goldman Sachs Canada, Jason Rowe could conceivably have anything he or his wife Krista want on their bedroom walls. But currently, as they redecorate their home in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood, they have chosen to cover the surface behind their bed with a wallpaper called Ombre Basket Weave. Designed by the Toronto studio Moss & Lam as part of its new Canvas collection, it has a crosshatch texture and fades from dark to light up the wall.
There’s no question that wallpaper, which was once synonymous with fussy eras in interior decorating from ornate Victorian rooms to the chintzy spaces of the 1980s, is back. According to the research group IT Strategies, after a decade of decline, wallpaper sales have grown 4 per cent a year since 2012. The big reason for the rebound is that wallpaper is legitimately better these days. The look is lighter and more refined and the application (and take down) has become much easier. The level of craft has also never been higher, with hand-painted designs and evocative patterns elevating wallpaper to visual art.
For the past 30 years, Moss & Lam has created custom wall finishes for some of the world’s top interior designers, such as Yabu Pushelberg, and brands including Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co. With the Canvas collection, it has launched a side business where discerning shoppers such as the Rowes can order hand-painted wall wraps online from a set of predesigned styles.
“We’ve built up a lot of expertise for our design clients,” says Moss & Lam’s co-founder Deborah Moss. “But we thought it was time to offer it to a broader market, starting with seven patterns.” Moss particularly likes the fact that, unlike conventional rolls of printed wallpaper, Canvas treatments can be made to almost any dimension without a seam, so there are never any gaps. “I prefer to see the brush strokes, not the seams,” she says.
Those brush strokes also add a distinctive level of craft. “It’s not like a typical, printed wallpaper,” says the Rowe’s interior designer, Abraham Chan, who runs his own eponymous studio. “It has little imperfections, the way all hand-done things do, but they’re beautiful and add a lot of character.”
At $50 to $80 a square foot, Canvas costs a premium compared with a generic roll of glue-on wallpaper from a hardware store. But Chan believes it’s still good value. “It’s similar to really nice upholstery fabric. But, because it’s hand-painted, it also feels bespoke.”
Canvas isn’t the only recent addition to the marketplace with a more artful aesthetic. London-based de Gournay also offers luxurious wall coverings, including Anemones in Light, a recent collaboration with supermodel Kate Moss, who got into wallpaper after choosing a de Gournay design for her home. The Anemones in Light wallpaper features flowers illuminated with beams of soft sunshine. The price starts at about US$1,500 a wall panel, but is so intricate, and creates such a statement, that it essentially eliminates the need for layering on paintings or framed photographs.
Both Moss & Lam and de Gournay wallpapers are refined, long-term investments. But there are also more affordable and playful options for people interested in shorter-term solutions. New York-based Tempaper, for example, was started by a trio of set designers who needed a fast, easy way to change up Broadway backdrops. They developed a water-based, eco-friendly adhesive that can be stuck on, peeled off, and reapplied to multiple surfaces (shiny walls work best).
Tempaper is particularly popular with apartment dwellers. A big selling point is the price (a highly affordable US$1.40 a square foot) as well as the sheer variety of looks. Recent styles include constellations of stars, delicate flowers, blue-hued burlap and a veined, marble-like pattern. Since it comes off easier than the average wallpaper, renters can retrofit their spaces at will without risking their deposit cheques.
Pattern designer Kate Golding is happy that painterly wallpaper is making a resurgence. She was raised in England, where she would visit National Trust historic homes, admiring their elaborately patterned walls and curtains. “It was a strong influence, growing up in that environment,” she says. “Ever since I was young, I can remember drawing patterns in repeats.”
But even though Golding’s love of wallpaper is rooted in tradition, her own designs are incredibly fresh. She now lives near the small town of Bath, Ont., and incorporates her surroundings into patterns that are both modern and relatable. A series inspired by nearby Prince Edward County incorporates seemingly mundane elements, such as water towers, turkey vultures and local strawberries. For a series inspired by the Great Lakes, she developed patterns with blue jays and moss.
Evan Nash, who lives in Wellington, Ont., a town in Prince Edward County, decorated his daughter’s bedroom with Golding’s strawberry wallpaper and his entryway with her water-tower motif. “The water-tower paper in particular resonated with me because the Wellington water tower has always been a symbol of the town where I grew up,” he says. “Buying that wallpaper felt like I was buying art.”
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