The writing on the wall

Decor: The trend in wallpaper now is eclectic, with real people in mind.

January 28, 2001|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff

If you count Paleolithic people's drawings on the walls of caves, wallpaper is hundreds of thousands of years old. But it's always new.

"Wallpaper particularly is a place where people can express their personal passions," says Linda Newman Brown, spokesman for Eisenhart, of Hanover, Pa., which has been producing wallpaper since 1937. The trend today is eclectic, she says, comparing home design with haute couture: No longer do designers impose their fashions on the masses. "Trends used to start at the top and trickle down to the masses. Now we have real people driving trends. Some trends even come from the street."

Today's wallpaper designers are taking their inspiration from graffiti scrawls, the beads, bangles, and embroidery popular in fashion, metallic finishes and faux finishes such as marble or sponging, and historic buildings whose papers document the taste of earlier centuries.

As at the turn of the past century, nostalgia and new technology are pulling design consumers in two directions. Papers that reproduce historic patterns from the 18th and 19th centuries are popular, as are texture-rich papers that push the boundaries of their two dimensions.

A couple of factors seem to be at work. First, says Eisenhart's Brown, houses have changed. If you look at a typical, "Leave-It-to-Beaver" mid-century house, she notes, "there are all these little boxes of rooms." Houses today are open and flowing, with

kitchen / dining / great rooms, bedrooms / spa baths, and a merging of indoor and outdoor spaces.

Instead of simply defining the four walls of the box, wallpaper has to work harder. "It's more of an enveloping, seamless background, drawing out the architecture," Brown says.

Second, the families that live in the homes are different as well. There's been an integration of gender roles, with women working outside the home, men as house-

husbands, and a blurring of conventional definitions of what's age-

appropriate. Children want sophisticated colors, not just primary splashes, younger people want to reproduce the cozy comfort of their grandparents' day, retired but active seniors want neutral, calming environs.

"We decorate differently today," says Thelma Gruss, senior designer and owner of Baltimore's Gruss Interiors. She would know -- her family has been in the wallpaper business since 1897. "It all has to do with nature and health. People don't realize, but it's only been a hundred years since we've had effective artificial lighting." Before that, people lived and worked with sunlight. "We were always exposing ourselves to nature."

However, while working with modern scientific knowledge, Gruss says, her firm, which provides design and paperhanging services, also offers old-fashioned craftsmanship. They will hand-

trim borders, cut the lines of dado molding from stripes in a paper, or "find" and trim out a border in the paper itself.

"People are more sophisticated about design today," Gruss says, because they are exposed to it on all sides. "If you go into a McDonald's, it's decorated and appointed. Even malls, and the insides of the stores in them, are carefully decorated."

The popularity of decorator show houses as fund-raising ventures also exposes more people to sophisticated design. Case in point: The Anne Arundel Medical Center Auxiliary's event at Pleasant Plains Farm last fall, with nearly two dozen designers working on the 1831 house belonging to Philip and Susan Dodds. (If you missed the house last fall, check out the article about it in the late winter issue of Washington Maryland Virginia Home & Design magazine.)

Richard Garis, senior designer and owner of Richard Keith Design Group in Annapolis, worked with associate Kelly Brown to create the house's English sitting room. For the walls of the classically styled room, Garis chose a tone-

on-tone damask illusion wallpaper from Schumacher. "I wanted an antique type, a damask look, that wouldn't scream at me," Garis says. The simple, creamy two-tone scheme means that artwork doesn't compete, and the pattern creates a "warm, comfortable feeling."

"I've always used more wallpaper than anything else," Garis says. He likes the visual texture and the light changes wallpaper brings to a room. "The complexity is so much more exciting than plain paint." He's not a fan of faux-finishes -- "They can be a little hard-edged."

Garis likes to use wallpaper on ceilings as well as walls. He had a pinstripe paper applied in wedges to the ceiling in a square room to turn it into "a little bandbox."

There are, of course, some pitfalls in the wallpaper world -- chief among them, it seems, attempts to be too trendy. Wallpaper works best when it fits the style and era of the house. Patterns that are too modern -- think of all those eye-popping Op-Art circles in the '60s -- or too old-fashioned will not wear well.

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