From the February/March 2012 Issue:

Wall Coverings That Work

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

Choose products based on what you like, its durability and your individual circumstances

Wall covering is a little like romance. Appearance is a huge part of the initial attraction, but hidden qualities may determine whether the love will last. Translation: Consider durability and cleanability as well as color and pattern when you select a wall covering.

The great news about today’s wall fashions is that new materials, techniques and finishes make the products dramatic and tough, say Mike Gracie, president of Gracie Inc.; Stacy Senior, marketing director for Thibaut Inc.; and Philip Bershad, president of Phillip Jeffries Ltd.

“It’s so personal,” Bershad says. “Get something that you love—a color and design that inspire you— and that’s where you start.”

After that, consider your situation. You may not want to turn a kindergartner loose with a box of crayons in a room with untreated silk wall covering, but careful adults might use the same wall covering for 20 years in their breakfast room. In a teenager’s small bathroom where there are long, steamy showers, natural fibers may be a poor choice, but an antimicrobial paper would thwart mildew there. Of course, a strong ventilation fan can open up more options in the same room.

Senior says one woman she knows even put silk wall covering in her kitchen. The backstory: The homeowner entertains lavishly but doesn’t do the cooking herself.

“Most wallpaper is much more durable than paint, easily lasting seven to 10 years,” Senior says. “Some of it you can spray with Fantastik and scrub to remove shoe marks.” This is true of Thibaut’s Texture Resource 2 and 3 collections and Phillip Jeffries’ Woven Leather (actually a heavy vinyl), all of which can stand up to the hard life of mudrooms, family rooms, laundry rooms, basement playrooms and children’s bedrooms.

Gracie says one of his company’s specialties is custom-designed, hand-painted Chinese murals with colors that desirably soften with age. He’s seen these murals 30 years after installation and they’re still as beautiful as when installed.

Sun can be an enemy of wall coverings, particularly those made of natural materials. Grass cloth, for instance, may fade around pictures hanging on the wall after years facing a window with a southern exposure. In these situations, a vinyl that simulates grass cloth may be a superior choice, Senior says. If in doubt, investigate.

And if your walls are less than perfect, go with a thick paper or wallpaper liner to hide lumps and dips. Substantial textured vinyls and molded papers are options when the walls are less than smooth.

Interior designers can assist with an optimum wallpaper choice (for instance, Gracie’s murals are created to each room’s specific architecture, so design training ensures the order will be correct). Senior recommends that you order a large sample—3 feet long or so—and then examine it, moving it around to see how it changes with the light.

A professional installer (one source is the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers, can be an investment that gives you confidence the paper will be hung correctly, stay up and hold up. Quality installation that includes the application of a high-quality wall primer (Senior recommends Shieldz from Zinsser) will ensure the paper will come down easily when it’s time for a change.

Many Thibaut papers are designed for do-it-yourself installation, however. Senior suggests starting in a small room such as a powder room to get your feet wet as a paperhanger. Many how-to books can guide you through the process of installation to help you achieve a professional result.

Mary Vinnedge, whose websites are and, is an ace paperhanger.

Winning Walls
Mike Gracie of Gracie Inc., Stacy Senior of Thibaut Design and Philip Bershad of Phillip Jeffries Ltd. offer these additional tips for selecting wallpaper:

• Consider small designs carefully. “Because it repeats more often, a small design will seem busier than a large, subtle design,” Senior says.

• Dark background colors can make a small space seem closed-in, Gracie says. If coziness is desirable, in a space such as a study, then proceed.

• If you want to be daring and/or choose a pricey wall treatment, a powder room is a great choice. Guests will see it and, because you aren’t in the room for long periods, you are less likely to tire of the design.

• Metallics can open up small spaces such as powder rooms, Gracie and Bershad say. You probably want to use something more subtle for large spaces.

• Bershad also recommends metallics for ceilings. “They used it at Versailles to reflect candlelight.”

What Goes Where
Wall coverings comprise many materials with varia­tions in care and use. Compli­cating—but also widening—the choice are protective finishes such as non-sticks, lamination and cashew lacquer that make once-delicate materials more forgiving.

If you’re not working with a designer, research your wallpaper choice by reading whether it is scrubbable or washable, for instance. For further questions, contact the manufacturer for advice.

The guidelines that follow are general. You know your situation best—whether your household tends to be careless or careful, whether your room has harsh sunlight or high humidity. Take these into consideration as you decide.

Where to Use: Everywhere, even high-traffic, hard-use areas.
Comments: Look for “scrubbable” in the description of heavy and cloth-backed vinyl; may simulate leather, crocodile, etc.; good choice for bumpy walls. Paper-backed vinyl can be used in most areas, including kitchens and bathrooms, and is washable/wipeable.
Top Left: Woven Leather, a thick vinyl by Phillip Jeffries, hides imperfections in wall.

Silk & Linen
Where to Use: Light-use areas (formal dining, formal entry, master bedroom).
Comments: Silk is subject to abrasion; coatings and lamination can improve wipeability and stain resistance. A Teflon-like finish can be applied to linen so spills bead up.
Top Right: Como Silk in Metallic Silver by Thibaut Design.

Grass Cloth
Where to Use: Many areas but probably not bathrooms and kitchens.
Comments: Hides small spills and marks. May be vacuumed with a soft brush. Gentle wiping/blotting OK. Can fade.
Bottom Left: Grass cloth isn’t always shy and retiring: Kunqu Damask by Thibaut Design goes bold with a brocade design.

Where to Use: Moderate- and light-use areas such as formal dining rooms.
Comments: More abrasion-resistant than they used to be.
Bottom Right: Flock by Thibaut Design.

Cork & Wood Veneers
Where to Use: Light- to moderate-use areas.
Comments: Gently wipe to remove spills and marks.
Top Left: This cork wall covering by Thibaut Design comes complete with glamorous metallic sparkle.

Where to Use: Wipeable.
Comments: Not always pliable enough for use on outside corners.
Top Right: The Bamboo Forest Collection from Phillip Jeffries, sold by the panel not by the yard, is made of fabric-backed bamboo tambour.

Paper Weaves
Where to Use: Moderate-use areas. Washable.
Comments: Resemble grass cloth or even suiting fabric.
Bottom Left: The Driftwood paper-weave collection by Phillip Jeffries.

Hemp, Jute, Raffia
Where to Use: Moderate-use areas but probably not bathrooms and kitchens. Generally wipeable or washable.
Comments: Durable coatings often available; vacuum with soft brush; array of colors; some may fade.
Bottom Right: Bankun Raffia in Cranberry by Thibaut Design.

Granite & Mica
Where to Use: High-traffic, hard-use areas.
Comments: Stone chips are layered on top of paper. Reflective quality.
Top Left: Phillip Jeffries’ Granite wall covering with embedded chips of granite.

Where to Use: Often washable (read guidelines).
Comments: Pressure can damage raised designs. Good choice for uneven surfaces.
Top Right: Paintable embossed wallpaper by Brewster Home Fashions/WallPops Wall Art.

“Suede” (actually microfiber)
Where to Use: Washable. Very durable. Many colors available.
Comments: Clean with just soap and water on a damp cloth.
Bottom Left: From the Kabuki Suede collection by Phillip Jeffries.

Where to Use: Light-use areas.
Comments: Paint can be water-soluble. Can fade.
Bottom Right: Hand-painted mural by Gracie Inc.

Embroidered Papers
Where to Use: Light- and moderate-use areas.
Comments: Avoid abrasive situations. May have stain-repellent coating.
Top Left: Elianna by Phillip Jeffries.

Where to Use: Some can be only gently wiped, but not always (read guidelines).
Comments: Metal leaf (gold, silver, copper, bronze) papers are often treated to prevent tarnish; the coating enhances durability.
Top Right: Metallic leaf wall covering by Phillip Jeffries.

Where to Use: Light- to heavy-use areas. Washable.
Comments: Quick, easy to install (paste the wall and apply the dry paper, which doesn’t stretch). Reusable.
Bottom: Romo Inc.’s non-woven wallpapers are easy to install and can be stripped and reused.