They're weaving walls these days -- almost. Once relegated to window coverings and upholstered furniture, fabric has taken a new place in Washington homes on walls and, in a new way, on windows. Old inhibitions have been discarded. We've come a long way from the '60s decorator cliche of a swatch of Marimekko fabric stretched over a wooden frame.
Quilts, once used as bed coverings, now hand on walls, as do Oriental rugs, which, recognized as the works of art they are, are also draped across sofas and beds. Wall-to-wall carpets have literally taken to the walls, too -- everything from traditional plushes to industrial carpet to the rough-hewn look of woven sisal and coir.
Quilt collector and book author Jinny Beyer searched for a new way to display some of her many antique quilts in her '50s-modern Virginia home, for example, and decided to use wooden racks and the walls to hand a variety of quilts. Beyer has a large quilt hanging on a living room wall and often rotates works hung in that space to add a little variety. The area pictured here was a dead-end space at the foot of the stairs leading from the recreation room and downstairs bedrooms to the first floor of the two-level home. "It's a rather large hallway, and it was always lifeless," Beyer says. "So I decided to try a quilt on the wall and then started filling in with other quilts and the old chest." The effect is to add interest to the space and to give it its own identity, to make it more than just an area one must pass through to get to other parts of the house.
For rug collector Leonardo Contardo, the idea of using rugs as wall hangings and bed coverings just seemed natural. Contardo's large collection includes flat woven kelims, tribal rugs and the more recognizable established patterns like Tabriz and Mehkin. With so many rugs, it's not surprising that he should want to find a variety of ways to display them, and because his walls are white, the rich color, pattern and rhythms of the rugs create an exciting and exotic ambience.
Harold Keshishian, a long-time rug dealer and collector, reports a growing interest among his customers in getting rugs out from under foot. "People are using picture rugs, fine prayer rugs and rare 16th- and 17th-century rugs for their walls. I even have one set of clients who only hang animal trappings and handwoven Oriental bags and tent bands on the walls of their home. It just looks fantastic." Keshishian's own office is decorated with rare antique Shirvan rugs because, as he puts it "they're so beautiful I want to look at them."
And given the prices of some of those collector's items, who would want to set foot on them?
As designers reach out to find new solutions for creating inviting environments, the fabric-covered wall has made a comeback. Once silk moire was a popular wall-covering, especially among those enamored of things French provincial. Now anything goes.
W & J Sloane's chief of interior design, Sarah Jenkins, used a traditional tree-of-life pattern to upholster (not paper) the walls of a Bethesda bedroom. The idea of using wallpaper with coordinated fabrics for window treatments has become commonplace, but the upholstered wall offers a new and distinctively soft look.
"The room [shown on page 43] was not that large," says Jenkins, "and it was hard to fit all the dressers and other storage spaces in without cutting up the space visually. So we used fabric to unify the room and provide a soft, almost seamless environment."
The walls were first covered with furring strips, as if one were paneling the room. The fabric was backed with flannel to give it some support and softness, and then it was sewn together before being applied to the wall. The fabric-covered built-ins and the roman shades all reinforced the unified feeling of the room -- only the bed and rug stand out as separate obects.
Not everyone can afford such a labor-intensive (read expensive ) solution to the problem of creating the illusion of more space tha in fact exists. For those who like the idea of the fabric-covered wall, however, a new product on the market called Fabri-trak may be the answer. With this system, a wall in a rented apartment that really needs to be relastered -- or even a perfectly good wall in the house you own -- can be transformed simply by tacking up specifically designed plastic strips into which the fabric is stuffed.
The system, available through the custom drapery department of Sears, Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney, allows you to stick the fabric on an adhesive strip and align it exactly as you want it before the raw edges are tucked away in a hidden pocket attached to the wall. Seams in the fabric can either be presewn or strips of the plastic fitting material butted against one another. It's designed so that you can even cut around light switches and outlets if need be And, once the strips are up, you can always change the fabric to suit your mood.
Adhesive-backed fabric has been available for several years in Contract paper and variations on that theme. Much of what is sold in hardware stores, however, is a burlap-like texture, with limited uses. A new product on the market is called Deco-stix, a notch up from the usual hardware-store variety. Cotton, backed with vinyl and adhesive in colonial calico and other small prints is now available with matching and/or coordinated plain and quilted yard goods. And while the product isn't cheap ($4.95 a yard for the adhesive-backed material), it opens up all sorts of decorative possibilities for the do-it-yourselfer.
If tiny prints aren't your idea of an interesting interior, you may prefer the more textured look of carpeted walls. Designers using the space-expanding device of changing levels within a room to achieve the illusion of more space have relied on carpeting for a number of years to ease the transition from one space to another. From there, it was only a step to carpeted walls. First used in commericial settings -- restaurants and offices -- the idea is finally taking hold on the residential scene. Plush walls, properly lit, give a sensual, luminous look to a room. The same wall has a very tailored look if industrial carpeting is applied.
Yet anothe trend, according to Sue Perez, president of the designer showroom Duncan and Huggins, is the use of sisal and coir carpets on walls. These coarse wall coverings are in keeping with the natural look of woven fibers and they have the advantages of hiding a multitude of sins. One can, for example, hammer endless nails into them without creating pockmarked walls that defy repainting.
Just as carpeted walls made their entrance in restaurants and offices, soo too did the wool- and linen-covered wall. The classic Washington law office is not complete these days withouot a vinyul suede wall or the wall-covering version of the pinstripe suit -- the woolen wall. In fact, the series of charcoal gray, white and beige threads that distinguis these fibrous wall coverings do look like a wasington lawyer's proverbial uniform. And now the same textures are finding their way into family rooms, dens and studies that call for a tailored yet still soft look.
Another convert from office to home is the vertical blind. Downtown, they're plain white plastic or a kind of sailcloth. At home, they may be a casement material, macrame-like finishes or even a new version made of threads to complement the wollen and linen wall coverins. It's a more controlled look than traditional drapes and allow the resident to adjust the light to filter through softly, pour in full force or be virtually obscured.
Less expensive and increasingly popular is the fabric shade. Conran's has done much to promote the idea with a mail-order, do-it-yourself shade kit. You provide the fabric, they off the rest, all for $7.50 a shade.
Textures in upholstered fabric are chaging too. Quilted fabric looks both fashionable and soft and comfortable. One of the most clever new products is a headboard designed by Washington John Flockk. The "Lorraine" headboard is a pre-upholstered, mulsin-covered piece that fits into a semicircular or square wooden frame. You can cover the upholstered base with any fabric to creat an instantly coordinated bedroom. tYou could conceivably do over an entire room in short order using sheets gathered to cover the walls, a quilt of the same fabric for a bedspread, instant upholstered headboard. The headboards, available in different wood finishes through interior designers and Woodward & Lothrop and Bloomingdale's, seem more evidence that, in the '80s, as life outside gets harder, life inside is getting softer. CAPTION: Picture 1, Quilt collector Jinny Beyer gave a distinctive identity to an undistinguished corner in her Virginia home by displaying a quilt of her own creation on the wall and hanging some of her collection of antique quilts on simple wooden racks; Picture 2, Linda Hendricks enlivened a white sofa with a colorful worm of a pillow. It changed a predictable object into something unpredictable; Picture 3, Sarah Jenkins, a designer with W & J Sloane, used a traditional tree-of-life pattern fabric to upholster the walls of this Bethesda bedroom. The fabric-covered walls, together with the built-ins and roman shades, give the small, sloped-ceilinged room a feeling of unity and create what Jenkins calls "a soft, almost seamless environment."; Picture 4, Alexandria rug collector Leonardo Contardo made this guest room into an exotic ruggery, using every available surface to display some of the exquisite pieces in his collection, which include flat-woven kelims, tribal rugs and more recognizable Oriental patterns such as Tabriz and Meshkin; Picture 5, Deco-Stix, shown here, is an adhesive-backed fabric for covering walls and other surfaces. (ew on the market, it is a cut above the usual hardware-store adhesive-backed fabric. Cotton, backed with vinyl and adhesive in colonial calico and other small prints ($4.95 a yard,, is available with matching or coordinated plain and quilted goods at Minnesota Fabrics, an area chain; Picture 6, Rugs on the white walls, some of them richly luminescent Orientals, flood this Brookmont house with color; Picture 7, The Lorraine headboard, available through Bloomingdale's and Woodward & Lothrop, has a padded insert over which one can stretch any fabric. Bedspread and matching headboard fabric could be changed as the seasons change; Picture 8, Suma Weave wallcovering is made with bits of grass. Unlike traditional grasscloth wallcoverings which tend to show seams, this material is hung vertically to hide seams. Available through interior designers; Picture 9, Sisal rugs imported from Holland by Alison T. Seymour, Inc. in Seattle, Wash., come in a range of two-tone combinations. Carried by Duncan & Huggins; Pictures 10 through 12, Here comes the "Berber" look, softly textured wallcoverings of wool and linen once restricted to downtown offices that now are invading the home. Textures range from thin to coarse, colors of these hover in the beige, charcoal, white range. fThey're $4.50 to $6 a square yard at Ursell's and other wall-covering outlets; Pictures 13 and 14, Carpets of sisal and sisal and coir are being used on walls as well as floors. These samples are by Jack Lenor Larsen. The material comes in sheets ranging in width from 3 feet 4 inches to 8 feet 6 inches. Photographs by Bill Snead and Breton Littlehales