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A Starter Guide to Picking Out the Perfect Wallpaper

March  6, 2017

It only takes dipping a toe into the river of wallpaper options out there to realize that they really are boundless, hedged neither by historical precedent nor trend. A bucket of paint might be relatively easy to apply, by comparison, but wallpaper can open up worlds. Take you outside. Or to the countryside. Back centuries. To otherworlds.

And all without leaving your favorite room.

A wallpaper new in our shop. Photo by James Ransom

For those considering wallpaper for the first time, the following is a non-exhaustive roundup of materials, styles, and patterns that exist, sorted by what kind of thing you might be looking for. We've also reached out to some wallpaper-loving interior designers to hear about their favorite papers in different categories.

And since we've just launched a line of temporary vinyl wallpaper in our shop (renters, rejoice!), we'll start with that:

for renters & commitment-phobes

Removable wallpaper! It's here. A relatively recent player in the wallpaper market, temporary papers are easy to put on the wall (the best are forgiving of "do-overs" and can be easily stuck and un-stuck) and, most wonderful of all, easy to remove when you're ready for a change.

Blogger and designer Emily Henderson included Tempaper in the list of her favorite wallpapers she sent me, "as they are perfect for rentals and temporary spaces" (she didn't even know we were launching them!).

And after applying, and then removing, them all for our in-house photo shoot, we can attest: They're dramatically transformative, and easy to put up even if you're not a perfectionist.

for texture-lovers

You like croutons in your salad? Blankets that could be classified as "chunky"? Then natural, woven wallpapers might be for you. They're sort of like fabrics with a sticky backing, and they come in a range of fibers: silk, linen, hemp, paper, and "grasscloth" (made from seagrass or jute), amongst others.

Lime Grasscloth, Jonathan Adler
Grey Ironbark Hemp, Kneedler|Fauchère

The look is hard to beat, but there are some downsides, practically speaking: These tend to be delicate and absorbent—for the same reason woven, natural furniture can be—so best to keep out of muggy bathrooms, and any rooms where the walls might get dirty (like kids' rooms), as they're impossible not easy to clean.

Farrow & Ball's hand-stamped paper in Emily Henderson's new jack and jill bathroom. Photo by Emily Henderson

On the lighter-touch, less fussy side of textural, there are hand-stamped and hand-painted wallpapers, which have a subtle variation to their surface, plus other kinds of coated papers that have a little ripple to the touch. Emily Henderson loves Farrow & Ball's wallpapers for this reason, as they all "feel so special and unique."

And on the far-out (and fuzzier) end of the spectrum, there's also the option of flocked wallpapers, which have tiny fibers adhered to the surface of the paper for a sort of 3D, velvet feel. Admittedly, this style didn't escape the 70s without a sour reputation—but new variations and designers are bringing it back.

You can also find embossed papers, which are pressed in places to create a raised design.

Textured Foil Wallpaper, Anthropologie
Hand-Stamped Gable, Farrow & Ball

For the Cheeky

Traditional textures and patterns have their place, but some of the most interesting wallpapers these days are sought after for being just the opposite: winking, or just plain whimsical in design.

One of Frances Merrill's projects using a Fornasetti paper. Photo by Laure Joliet

For her clients, the wallpaper-loving designer Frances Merrill, of Reath Design, gravitates towards both illustrated and photo-real playful wallpapers—both of which can give a room a smile. (Specifically, she's been springing for Maharam's Dice by Paul Smith, and a Fornasetti print by Cole & Sons, both pictured below.)

Chiavi Segrete, Cole & Sons
Dice by Paul Smith, Maharam
All In Favor High Five, Flat Vernacular
Mr Blow, Abnormals Anonymous

For Lovers of Shiny Things

A Juju Paper-ed hallway by Current Interiors Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

A metallic effect can be achieved using foil or special inks on the surface of the paper, resulting in bronzes and coppers and silvers (and lots of in-between shades you wouldn't expect).

Xandro Aventajado, of Current Interiors, uses metallic wallpaper all the time—Pas De Trois, by Juju Papers and Folded, by Flat Vernacular, are favorites (and pictured below).

Folded Beach Towel, Flat Vernacular
Pas de Trois, Juju Papers

A metallic wall is about as bold of a look as you can spring for, so the curious might opt for a naturally-inspired design to balance out the bling, or aim for light, geometric lines or painterly splashes:

Tree Tops, Jocelyn Warner
Srike Navy, Heath Ceramics, Hygge and West
Amalfi, Jill Malek

For Tricky Types

Wallpapers can be marbled to look like, well, marble, and there is family of other papers meant to imitate other surfaces—from brick or tile or wood to concrete or architectural features, like bookshelves.

Travertine Aquamarine & Gold, Walnut Wallpaper
Alder, Rollout
Powder Concrete, Trestintas
Genuine Fake Bookshelf, Deborah Bowness

For Those Happier Outdoors

There are also wallpapers that will convert an indoor wall into an outdoor wonderland, whether by way of impressionistic florals or oversized palm leaves, à la the Beverley Hills Hotel (these two are both from our removable Tempaper line):

Or you can stick to florals, which come in wee repeated patterns or, popular recently, large-scale renditions. (Feathers count, too, right?)

Grass Mawston Meadow, Liberty London
Pillow Fight, Studio Printworks
Vertere, Troveline
Dark Floral, Ellie Cashman

Further out yet, celestial patterns will fling you to another realm entirely—by way of glittering star patterns, below left, or something as wild as these wallpapers made from NASA's outer-space photography, below right:

Nacht, Grow House Grow
Andromeda, Calico

For the vintage-lover

If your happy place is strewn with peeling, floral wallpapers from ages past, there's hope for you yet. Unused rolls of vintage wallpaper, if you can get your hands on them, can be applied to new walls using a wheat paste (we fell in love with the selection at NYC-based vintage supplier Secondhand Rose, and highly recommend it to anyone seeking period paper).

If seeking out a vintage wallpaper shop isn't on your agenda, certain new styles will lend the same effect: mural-style papers, with no repeats, which will turn a big wall into a big piece of art. As will antique-inspired papers, like the design inspired by a painter's dropcloth below:

Coastal Cirrus Mural, Anthropologie
Oh La La by Kiki Slaughter, Feathr

These days, narrative papers like toile exist in every scene and color scheme imaginable, from muted, old-timey illustrations to bright, tongue-in-cheek depictions of modern life:

Villandry Dove Grey, Lee Jofa
Harlem Toile De Jouy, Shelia Bridges

for straight-shooters

Stripes! Up or down, criss-crossed or wiggly like they just blew in from outside, thin or thatched into a plaid. Stripes are always in, and calming in their clean simplicity.

Checkers, Livettes Kids
Festival Stripes, Cole & Sons
Serape, Cavern Home

There really is a wallpaper style that will suit every look imaginable (unless you're not into texture, color, pattern, or having fun, of course). The first step is just to start looking around—and scrolling through some of the selections of companies linked above—to see what's out there. Then, of course, roll with it.

Do you love wallpaper? Tell us how much, in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • KarolBo
  • Susie
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


KarolBo December 5, 2020
Beautiful wall murals. I recently bought a beautiful photo wallpaper for my bedroom (such: https://coloraydecor.com/wallpaper-secrets-of-the-jungle). i feel like i'm still on vacation!
Susie July 31, 2017
I love wallpaper, maybe has something to do with being British. When I decided I wanted to wallpaper one wall in my bedroom I couldn't believe how difficult it was to find. In the U.K. we have wallpaper stores with choices beyond belief, here in San Diego they don't exist. Buying wallpaper on line is so difficult, the colours and prints can look so different in real life. I did have to compromise and am fairly happy with my choice but I would have been far happier to be able to just walk into a store. I also found it very, very expensive here.