Monday 23 April 2018

Interiors: Attractive walls

Done right, magnetic wallpaper can add some humour and originality to a room

Groovy Magnets' wallpapers are designed to work on just one part of the wall
Groovy Magnets' wallpapers are designed to work on just one part of the wall
Chalkboard wallpaper from Cool Gift
Zeng's Dino magnetic wallpaper
Sian Zeng
Magnetic paint from Smarter Surfaces

Cutting-edge design sometimes comes with a health warning. William Gibson's novel, Spook Country (2007), features a swanky apartment in which the bed is "a perfect black square, 10 feet to a side, floating three feet above the ebony floor". The fictional bed is "tethered, against whatever force supported it, with thin, braided cables of black metal".

In the novel, visitors to the apartment are warned not to climb underneath the bed. "Apparently you don't want to crawl under it if you have any magnetic bits. Steel, iron. Or a pacemaker. Or a mechanical watch."

The bed sounds like pure sci-fi, but it's actually a real life design. In 2006, the Dutch designer Janjaap Ruijssenaars launched the Maglev bed, a magnetic bed that floated several feet above the floor (the word 'maglev' comes from 'magnetic levitation'). Sadly, the levitating bed was never really viable. Besides a magnetic field strong enough to pull out your fillings - should you be foolish enough to venture beneath it - the bed cost €1.2m.

Then, in 2012, an inventive hacker created a DIY version of the levitating bed and shared the step-by-step instructions on Reddit. The bed, if you make it yourself, will cost around $1,000 (€950). It's not a risk-free enterprise. The Reddit chat room is full of hilarious stories of people damaging themselves with ridiculously strong magnets.

Chalkboard wallpaper from Cool Gift
Chalkboard wallpaper from Cool Gift

Happily, there are safer and cheaper ways of enjoying the interior design potential of magnets. One of my favourites is Sian Zeng's magnetic wallpaper. The British designer worked out the concept as her degree-show project.

"It's inspired by the way that the stories change in fairytales - I wanted to create a wallpaper that allowed people to change the scene to tell their own stories," she explains.

The wallpaper's magnetic properties come from the magnet-receptive lining, which is pasted on to the wall before the wallpaper. As anyone who has tried their hand at papering a room will tell you, there are a lot of ways that this can go wrong.

"We suggest you hire a decorator!" says Zeng (right). "Installing magnetic wallpaper is a two-tier process. If you don't have experience in putting up wallpaper, it's better not to try."

Sian Zeng's magnetic wallpapers are whimsical and imaginative without being twee. They are mostly, but not entirely, for kids. The current options are Woodlands, based on a pattern of plants, animals and houses, and Dino wallpaper. There are dinosaurs printed on the wallpaper, but you can buy extra ones as magnets that you can move about. She's also working on a more grown-up design, Mountains and Water, inspired by her Chinese heritage.

Each roll of wallpaper comes with a starter set of flexible magnets. "We used to offer a full set of magnets with each roll, but then we found that people preferred to choose their own," says Zeng. Options include dinosaurs (some of them wearing jumpers), flying pigs and speech bubbles that you can write messages on and then wipe clean.

It's an attractive product but not a cheap one. A 10-metre roll of magnetic Dino wallpaper costs around €300.

"Because it's pricey, we'd often recommend people use the magnetic wallpaper on a feature wall and complete the room with the non-magnetic version of the same design," Zeng suggests.

Non-magnetic Dino wallpaper costs €76 for a 10-metre roll and the magnets start at around €3.50.

There are cheaper options. The Belgian design company, Groovy Magnets, have a lovely range of magnetic wallpapers that are designed to work on just one part of the wall. Rather than a repeat pattern, each design is based on a single large-scale animal graphic - a zebra, a cockatiel, a rabbit, or an owl - with plenty of white magnet-receptive space around them.

This creates a part of the wall that functions like a magnet-board. You can use it for messages, postcards and decorative magnets just like the front of the fridge. The magnetic wallpaper hangs like regular wallpaper, but needs a stronger adhesive, and a roll that costs around €76 will cover an area of 264cm x 63cm. A larger roll (127cm x 265 cm) costs €115. Both prices include magnets. It's available from Groovy Magnets in Belgium or Sisters Guild in the UK.

Alternatively, you can buy chalkboard magnet wallpaper, which combines the functionality of a blackboard with a magnet-receptive wall surface. It's the same solid matt black as a traditional blackboard and made of vinyl so you can wipe it clean. A medium roll (127cm x 100cm) will set you back €40, including magnets, and can be ordered online from Cool Gift. Magnet-receptive paint - created by the Irish company Smarter Surfaces - is another option. It comes out dark grey but has the advantage that you can paint over it in any colour that you want. A tin that costs €59 will magnetise an area of three square metres.

Cool as these products are, magnetic wall surfaces are what you make of them. Used creatively, a magnetic wall can make the whole room look witty and original. But I've also seen magnetic surfaces that looked depressing and scrappy. You'd get away with that in a home office, but it doesn't look so great in the kitchen.

If you want an insight into your level of decorative talent, look at the front of your fridge. If you're using fridge-magnets (which will also work with magnetic wallpaper) in an interesting and attractive way, then you'll probably do the same on a larger surface. If not, then proceed with caution. Some of us aren't as creative as we'd like to think we are.

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