Concepts covering

Bamboo, leather and beads with organic or retro patterns. Welcome to the contemporary world of wallcoverings. By Adam Dawson.

Quilted Lacquered wallcovering from Phillip Jeffries provides a look of luxury.
Quilted Lacquered wallcovering from Phillip Jeffries provides a look of luxury.

The history of wallcoverings is a surprisingly long one that dates as far back as China in the second century BC. By gluing rice paper onto their walls, the Chinese would adorn these paper panels with hand-painted birds, flowers, religious symbols and landscapes. Fast forward over two thousand years and wallcoverings are still going strong and an ever-popular way for interior designers to add sparkle and creativity to drab, lifeless walls.

"The benefits of wallcoverings are that they can richly texturise and pattern a surface and can change the style of a room," explains wallcoverings designer Carolyn Ray. "It can also make a new interior look old, a cold space warm and a commercial space feel more personal. By choosing a design carefully, one can alter the perception of the dimensions of a space. In short it can change the personality of a space and the mood of the people in it."

But the use of wallcoverings also has some more fundamental benefits in that unlike substrates such as paint, which is used as a coating, wallcoverings mask imperfections in wall surfaces that would otherwise stand out. They also add extra durability to walls.


Maya Romanoff believes the diversity of wallcovering materials is also a big draw when considering how to decorate a room: "In terms of design, or physical appearance, wall coverings allow for a greater range of unusual, unexpected materials to be used. How unique to see materials such as natural capiz shell, glass beads or mica beautify one's surroundings?" The diversity of material choices is a trend that has captivated the wallcoverings industry in recent years and one that Maya Romanoff has taken advantage of.

One of the company's more famous wall coverings, Beadazzled, is made from tiny glass beads mounted on a flexible wall tile. The beads reflect the light beautifully and come in a range of customised colours. Mother of Pearl is another dazzling range that is made from extremely thin layers of capiz shell flexible enough to wrap around corners.

This trend for using unusual materials for high-end luxurious wallcoverings, even stretches as far as using metallic leaf, for that added wow factor. Phillip Jeffries' new range Cities of Gold metallic wallcoverings are crafted using centuries old Japanese techniques handed down from generation to generation. "Each metallic paper is crafted from real gold, copper or silver leaf that is applied using chopsticks and hand brushed onto a special backing paper for a result that is truly stunning," explains Eric Bershad, president, Phillip Jeffries.

The company also has a quilted lacquered range of vinyl wallcovering that has been embossed to create a stunning quilted pattern of 1 ¼" glazed diamonds. Laminated onto a non-woven backing, it is available in ten colours. "We were inspired by the haute couture fashions of Paris and Milan and the quilted lacquered collection pays homage to that high-end glamour," adds Bershad.

The unusual Granite and Stone collection of wallcoverings from Phillip Jeffries offers a unique texture and iridescence. Handcrafted by Japanese Artisans, the collection creates the look and feel of real stone. "This collection was inspired by the Zen Gardens found in Kyoto, Japan, and is handcrafted from small pieces of authentic granite, mica and vermiculate that are carefully laminated onto a recycled paper backing," explains Bershad. "It is pliable and protected with a special process of resin finishing and is available in a palette of twenty-six colours."

Along with its increasingly popular use as an alternative flooring option, leather is also proving itself as a viable choice for the wall. "Leather has been used in upholstery applications and it brings the same durability and high-end look to the wall. It is produced in a myriad of colours and textures, is extremely low maintenance and ages well," says Bill Bryon, vice president, Big Apple Wallcoverings.

Leather is a material that should also be considered in commercial applications. Due to its natural properties it absorbs noise and is a good acoustic manager for large populace places such as receptions, bars and nightclubs. It also absorbs undesirable odours such as smoke.

The ultimate in luxury, silk is another natural high-end product on the market that is making waves. "Silks are very versatile; they are manufactured in a number of weights from very fine to heavily woven. They also come in any colour and are another eco-friendly wall treatment but you have to remember that by their nature silk is very delicate and will not sustain heavy traffic areas in the commercial market," adds Bryon.

According to Carolyn Ray nature is also having an impact on the direction the world of wallcoverings is taking. "As we get more and more depersonalised, machine-dependant and our lives in less contact with nature and even each other, I see a longing for the human touch and the natural in people's lives," she says.

This desire for the natural, as Ray describes it, is seeing itself manifest in a number of natural textured wallcoverings, in materials such as bamboo and grass. Using such textured wallcoverings can help hide wall imperfections and allow the wall to breathe stopping the growth of mould and mildew. But it also has other far-reaching implications according to Bill Bryon.

"The number one benefit in today's world is that all natural wallcoverings are completely biodegradable," he says. "This is a real trend we are seeing throughout the world. I have not met with a designer in the last year who has not asked me what products I have that are green." Maya Romanoff has also branched into this realm of natural materials with its Natural Weaves collection.

The range includes patterns such as Reed, made from the fast-growing kenaf reed; Island Weaves, made from woven mulberry paper; Bamboo; and patterns such as Abacadazzle - an intriguing product made from the abaca plant, which is a member of the banana family and glamorised with a shot of lurex running through it.

Ray describes other trends she is seeing at the moment: "Internationalism, multiculturalism and ethnicism are having an impact. People of one culture desire to enrich their lives with decorations from other cultures so we are seeing lots of rare finishes, mysterious colours and surfaces. The sought after wall coverings are richly opulent but subtle metallics, modern geometrics, subtly layered textures featuring organic elements - plants, fossils, leaves and romantic themes such as mythical creatures and music [are also popular]" she says.

This organic feel can be seen in the chinoiserie designs of British-based Partridge and Green. The company's collections comprise a series of wallpaper drops, which fit together to form a mural or landscape. It offers a range of silk backed and specialist papers onto which the designs can be painted. Another company that has a range of organic prints is German company Wallpaper from the Seventies.

It has a number of vividly coloured papers with floral representations. The company also proves that there is a movement towards the retro with its abstract range of bright coloured seventies style wallcoverings. Included is its famous Veruso collection, which can make up to 4 different patterns depending on how you hang it and gives off the appearance of moving patterns.

If it's not organic floral patterns you are after but an earthier warehouse look of bare brick or a country cottage effect of stone or slate, then Dream Wall has the perfect answer. Its Rustic Brick made from PVC and Total Stone made from polyester resin, fibreglass and a natural stone dioxide, provides realistic alternative wallcoverings that are lightweight and easy to install. "Once installed you cannot tell that the two ranges are not real," says Hannah Coleman, director, Dream Wall. "They are fire proof as well as water proof, so you can use them outside and in wet areas such as swimming pools, and they even feel like the real thing."

So what does the future hold in store for the world of wallcoverings? It seems that there will always be a trend towards techniques for production that are more environmentally and socially responsible, as the world becomes more environmentally aware. Other techniques coming to the fore include the use of dichroic inks as used by the likes of Patty Madden in her new Wow and Flip collections of wallcoverings, which change appearance depending on the angle they are viewed from.

According to James Prathap, manager of NGC nafees, the digital world is making its presence felt: "The use of digital technology means that a new range of complex, detailed imagery is possible, offering an alternative to more commonly-used patterns and prints.

Examples include photography, 3D images and geometric designs," he says. NGC nafees sources the designs that use the latest technology which provide panoramic walls of any realistic landscape or setting that the customer may desire. "One new innovation is magnetic wallpaper, which enables you to continue the design process at home," adds Prathap. "And for those with a bit more ambition there is moving wallpapers which create constantly changing images."

With her new collaboration with Dubai-based Prime Wall Coverings and Walls and Floors Middle East, CID caught up with designer Patty Madden to discuss her techniques and what the future has in store for the wallpaper industry.


Wall trends by Patty Madden

How did you get into the world of wall coverings?

When I first began designing wallcoverings for the commercial market 25 years ago commercial vinyl wallcoverings were simple textures in the blandest shades of grey and beige. At that time I was a designer and decorator specialising in large department stores and I was frustrated with the lack of sophisticated design and colour for this market. I began to design my own products for these projects with more interesting colour palettes and more complex patterns. I realised that the distinction between residential and commercial wallcoverings did not have to be as great as it was.

What are the inspirations behind your designs?

There are many things that inspire me but my approach to creating a pattern is totally instinctive and intuitive. I am always looking to design something new and different and yet still be connected to the real world around us.

What type of printing style do you have and how do you go about achieving this?

I have always tried to use printing techniques involving the layering of colours to achieve a three dimensional depth to the designs. With the development of my embossing techniques I have moved beyond print as the main ingredient in my designs to products where printing plays a supporting role.

You recently moved into the Middle East market with your alliance with Prime Wall Coverings. How did this come about?

Basically we share the same enthusiasm for quality wallcoverings. The vision of Prime Wallcoverings is enabling the company to grow rapidly not only in the Middle East but in the Indian subcontinent and all across Europe. We are thrilled to be associated with an organisation that shares our vision and values for design colour and excellence.

Do you have any projects currently on the go in the Middle East?

In just a few weeks our designs have featured in projects like Emirates Airlines Head Quarters in Dubai, several hotels in Qatar including the Sheraton, and the Butterfly Tower residence apartments in Bahrain. We are also thrilled with the hotel projects in Barcelona, Istanbul and Moscow.

What is the future for wall coverings in your opinion?

The trends for the future will be the continuation of products being created with more value added features, such as tip printing and the use of dichroic inks that create organic living environments.

What is the future for Patty Madden?

We will continue to expand on the success of the products we now market and are in discussions with new partnerships to introduce other products for the decorative market with our same philosophy and production values. We have applied many of my manufacturing techniques and ink systems to a new and exciting line of vinyl upholstery products that compete with and in many ways are more desirable and luxurious than high-end fabrics.

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