Q: Instead of the usual wallpaper, I had planned to cover a wall in my dining room with a fabric that I like. A friend told me that the installation method would be more complicated than for wallpaper. Do you think it's still sensible for me to pursue the fabric option?
A: While I'm not an expert on installation techniques, I do think your friend has exaggerated the difficulty of applying a fabric wall covering.
Latex or paper-backed fabrics can easily be affixed to a wall by a professional paperhanger. And even if a specific fabric doesn't come with that kind of backing, latex or paper can readily be added by most fabric laminators. The store where you buy your fabric should be able to arrange this for you.
Persistence will pay off and you will realize the many advantages of choosing fabric over wallpaper.
Fabric's textural qualities are especially desirable in a room where the other walls are smooth and hard. Linens, hand-loomed materials and fabrics with a nap create interesting contrasts and softening backgrounds when juxtaposed alongside high-gloss lacquered or wood surfaces. Richly textured textiles also look especially good in the company of metal and glass furniture as well as hardwood floors not covered with rugs or carpets.
One practical asset of fabric is its acoustic properties. If only one wall in a room is covered, however, the fabric won't make much of a difference in the ambient noise level. Upholstered walls, on the other hand, will greatly reduce the decibel count.
Whenever I mention upholstered walls, people automatically think of exotic and pricey surfaces. But this kind of covering does deserve serious consideration, I believe, since upholstery performs more than a decorative or acoustic function.
Upholstery is perhaps best suited for situations in aging houses and apartments. Bowed walls, cracking and blistering plaster and other conditions difficult to repair can be successfully treated by applying a thin layer of synthetic fiber batting and then stretching a decorative fabric on top of it and across the wall. The fabric should be seamed and trimmed as well as finished at the edges with cording or gimp. It's basically the same technique that's used for upholstering furniture.
As the photo shows, a simple contemporary-style bedroom can be made quite elegant simply by upholstering the wall behind the bed. The same fabric was used to cover the base of the platform bed. To heighten the decorative effect, brass molding was added as a divider that forms three distinct upholstered panels, which are flanked by mirrored wall sections. That combination further enhances visual interest created by the difference in texture between the reflecting glass and the soft upholstery.