Wonder walls...get provocative with wallpaper
When I was a child we lived in Ballina, Co Tipperary in an old cottage on Main Street. There was a smart front room where children were never allowed - lovely willow-pattern china and peeling wallpaper in all the rooms.
One day we had a visitor who wanted a nice hot bath, so we turned on the immersion and left him to it. Ten minutes later he came running downstairs to say that the bathroom ceiling was coming down. Everyone went to have a look - the ceiling was descending fast. Someone quickly propped it up with a broom on a chair and opened a window. It turned out that the ceiling was held in place by layers and layers of wallpaper, which had begun to soften in the steam.
Wallpaper, for the record, is not meant to perform a structural function. However, a good wallpaper is the traditional solution for uneven walls, but it must be properly applied. "Flaky walls need to be cleaned and lined before the wallpaper goes on," says Jacinta Edge Moody, who has the agency for a number of blue chip wallpaper companies in Ireland. "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
Wallpaper, generally avoided through most of the last 20 years, has made a recent reappearance in fashion interior trends. Starting as high impact 'feature' coverage for an alcove or a single wall, it has gradually been spreading around interior show rooms. By the time its current popularity spike expires, it may well end up on the bathroom ceiling.
Although many people do put up their own wallpaper, Edge Moody recommends it's worth hiring a professional to do the job, especially if you're investing in a high-quality product. "Wallpaper can last for 30 years," she explains. "It doesn't show up the scuffs as much as paint can. But if you get a good paper and put it up wrong it's just going to look awful."
In general, decent quality wallpaper costs between €50 and €100 per roll. "Check the dimensions before you buy it," advises Edge Moody. "American wallpapers come in wider rolls. You need to check the width, the length, and the drop repeat."
In basic terms it means any pattern on the wallpaper will have to match up at the edges. Some have design elements that match on adjoining strips, but others repeat the design across several rolls. This, to my mind, is yet another reason to get someone else to do it. There are just so many ways of getting it wrong!
Not all wallpaper is patterned. Grasscloth weaves of natural threads and fibres, like jute, seagrass, raffia, sisal and bamboo, tie in nicely to the current zeitgeist for natural materials and textures. Traditionally, these tend to be delicate but many now come with a protective vinyl coating.
You can also buy digitally-printed wallpaper that mimics the pattern and texture of natural fibre. "It looks just like natural fibre but it's great for parts of the home where you're going to get a lot of traffic," says Edge Moody (www.thibautdesign.com).
Patterned wallpaper is still popular, especially in old houses with large rooms, but contemporary patterns tend to be big, bold and often ironic. The range from Graham and Brown includes Damasquerade (around €13 per roll), a pattern that looks from a distance like a large-scale damask. Move a little closer and you can see that it's based on the table-and-chairs arrangement for a romantic dinner for two. Eccentric (around €20 a roll) is an unobtrusive black and white print in which light bulbs and bowler hats dangle from the trees (both from www.grahambrown.com).
Wallpaper, at its best, can be a lot of fun. Dupenny is the brand name of Emily Dupen, an illustrator who lives in Brighton. Her wallpapers range from semi-naked burlesque dancers in provocative underwear and 1950s housewives, mostly showing a bit of suspender belt, to a baking-themed print called Time For Tea. All of these come with a heavy dose of Carry On phnarr-type innuendo, ranging from visual references to cupcakes to a lady wearing only a tea-towel asking, "One lump or two?" Her Strongman wallpaper shows muscled and moustachioed men in old-fashioned strongman poses. This is Brighton, after all.
"I've had quite a lot of people telling me that I should be ashamed of myself for drawing sexy ladies," says Dupen. "I don't want to offend people, but you can't please everyone, can you? The wallpapers are a bit cheeky, maybe even slightly twisted, but that's just my way of putting my stamp on things.
"Personally, I find this type of old-fashioned English humour hilarious, but the reason it works so well is the illustrations are beautifully drawn."
They're black and white, which means they will go with pretty much any interior colour scheme, and the balance of retro and modern is skilfully done. Not all her designs are provocative. There is a Winter Sports pattern showing early 20th Century ski and toboggan images, with touches of blue and red to lift the monochrome, and a stylised design called Splash, inspired by the swimwear of Esther Williams.
"People tend to use them on feature walls," Dupen explains. "But different wallpapers suit different parts of the house. You might have Burlesque in the dressing room, 1950s housewives in the kitchen and Splash in the bathroom. I've also seen people use them in sneaky little places like in alcoves or inside wardrobes."
The wallpaper is available in a choice of scales but expect to pay around €210 for a 10-metre roll or €82 for three-metre-length panels from www.dupenny.com. Just don't roll it up over the bath.