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How to choose the right wallpaper

Be mindful of the room’s function, its color palette and window light to create a visually striking ambiance

Take note of the room’s natural light and temperature. If there is lots of ambient window light, it’s safer to use a wide range of colors from light to dark. (Manuka Textiles)
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Once rejected as old-fashioned, wallpaper has made a comeback and regained popularity in recent years. While some “peel-and-stick” options are less permanent, choosing and installing wallpaper can be a big investment that will change the look of your home for years.

We asked Roxana Eslamieh, founder and designer of Manuka Textiles in Los Angeles and Robert Malmberg, founder and designer of Malmberg Studio in Pensacola, Fla., to share their expertise about what homeowners should know before they choose to install wallpaper. Both answered via email, and these responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Does the type of paper and color scheme you choose vary in certain rooms, such as the bathroom vs. living room for example?

Malmberg: Take note of the room’s natural light and temperature. If there is lots of ambient window light, it’s safer to use a wide range of colors from light to dark. Lots of natural light will make the darker papers feel way less brooding. Be mindful of the rooms where there is little or no window light, as the darker or moodier papers can create a cavelike scenario. Sometimes this may be intentional, but it’s worth being conscious.

Eslamieh: While our silk-screen papers have a long lifetime and are easily cleaned with a wet cloth, vinyl wall coverings are preferable for high-traffic hospitality areas.

Should you match the trim and ceiling with a hue in the wallpaper and consider the shape or design of the room?

Malmberg: Find a wallpaper design that complements the overall color palette of the room. Look at the colors and tones of the furniture, light fixtures, floors and rugs. Also, think about the function of the room the wallpaper will be going into. You don’t always have to match the trim and ceiling, but it can add an extra dimension to the overall look and feel.

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What do terms such as ‘repeat’ and ‘match’ mean?

Eslamieh: One of the most important things to be aware of when sourcing wallpapers is the repeat and match. Types of matches include straight, drop and random. Straight match refers to the same patterns being matched at the same height. It is where the left and the right edges of the wallpaper strip match in a straight horizontal line with the left and the right edges of the next strip of wallpaper. Drop match wallpaper has a design that matches up across strips both vertically and horizontally. There are multiple types of drop matches (most are half-drop or a quarter drop). This simply means that the pattern will match up with a different spot in the design for the next strip. Random match means that the strips of wallpaper may be hung together without worrying about the pattern matching up at the seams. A vertical stripe wallpaper, grass cloth or textures are all good examples of random match patterns.

Malmberg: It’s important to remember that a competent wallpaper hanger will have a thorough understanding of these elements. It’s useful for you to understand these options on a basic level, so that you can discuss the match before any production begins. You want the wallpaper to flow nicely in your space, like a mural that moves organically.

What are some common wallpaper mistakes?

Eslamieh: I think the thing that goes wrong most of the time is underestimating the amount of paper that needs to be ordered. This happens most often when people do not reach out to an installer and instead try to estimate on their own. In general, measuring is way more difficult than meets the eye and should be handled by a professional. Another issue is using a paste that does not dry clear. The paste will remain on the walls and on the surface of the paper and it’s best to test the paste to make sure it does not leave any residue on either.

Are there unexpected places where wallpaper might work well?

Malmberg: Ceilings are really fun (and hip at the moment) but I would advise using a pattern that has a sense of flight or gravity and airiness. A dense pattern on the ceiling can create a claustrophobic scenario and no one has time for that! Also, I’m a fan of doing a “full wrap” of wallpaper for one room in the house. When it hits all four walls it makes for such a finished feeling and encapsulates the space; it has a real impact.

What should you keep an eye out for when shopping for wallpaper online?

Malmberg: Don’t bargain shop for wallpaper. Generally speaking, you really do get what you pay for in the purchasing of the paper and for the professional installation. Ordering swatches and looking at the quality in-person can help avoid buyers’ remorse.

Eslamieh: It is always a good idea to purchase a sample before buying cut-to-order wallpaper. Colors vary on the screen and it is important to see how your wallpaper looks in different lighting.

Wallpaper impacts art choices. How can you do both without it looking busy?

Eslamieh: Wallpaper is a bold and visually striking choice, so when you’re looking to pair it with artwork it’s important to think big. The bigger the artwork, the more likely it can withstand the chaotic energy of the design behind it. To create distance between art and the wall, choose an adventurous frame with a large mount. By creating negative space between the frame and the art, you mimic the effect a white gallery wall has on a piece. It also really helps to pair art and wallpaper that share similar visual motifs or color palettes.

Do you need a professional installer or can you DIY wallpaper?

Malmberg: Always use someone to install the wallpaper professionally. Sure, it’s an extra expense, but you’ve already invested time and money into the paper and you should treat it like a work of art. You can expect the cost to be around the same as having professional painters paint the room. It also can involve sanding and “skim-coating” on the more textured walls and will always require a coat or two of primer before the wallpaper can hang nice and flat. If you do it yourself (please don’t!) you are asking for bubbles, bad trim lines and uneven matches between panels. Trying to save money by doing it yourself can be a mistake.

How do you know how much you need?

Malmberg: You can get a basic measurement on your own using any of the online formulas for the specs of the wallpaper you’ll be buying and then get the final amount from your local professional.

Eslamieh: Wallpaper is an investment into the ambiance of your home and should be handled by experienced hands, that’s why we always recommend our customers hire a professional installer to measure. When calculating how much wallpaper to order, it is standard to order slightly more than is exactly needed for the installation. This is referred to as “overage.” If you have any wallpaper leftover from your project, we strongly recommend that you keep this as “attic stock.” By storing attic stock, it’s guaranteed that there is always a roll of the same color and dye lot available should a wall become damaged or a stained panel require replacement.

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