Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Flavor Paper wallpapers are digitally printed. They are hand-screened. This version has been corrected.
A designer friend once told me that she typically hangs her client’s best artwork in the powder room. Not only is the art guaranteed a captive audience, but it also makes for an unexpected juxtaposition. Although I have never followed my friend’s example entirely, I agree with her that powder rooms are a space where you should have fun and take decorating gambles. And my friend has a point: Very little in a room can surprise people more than art.
My suggestion — rather than hijacking a client’s painting from above the mantel to hang over the powder room toilet — is to hang artist-designed wallpaper.
Contemporary artists such as Kiki Smith, James Welling, John Baldessari and Vik Muniz, to name a few, have designed wallpapers as diverse and surprising as the unique works of art they each create. Although few of us can afford one of their original works, some of us just might be able to spring for a few rolls of wallpaper to cover our tiny powder rooms.
New York-based Artware Editions (artwareeditions.com) works with artists and fabricators to produce all sorts of functional objects. For its wallpapers, it works in two ways: Smith hand-drew the images for her Maiden & Moonflower wallpaper, which was then printed to order by Studio Printworks. The paper is available in six shades and, as wallpaper goes, is expensive: Each five-yard roll costs $450. Baldessari’s surrealist papers, which pair similarly shaped but oddly matched objects on candy-colored backgrounds, are also printed to order and available by the roll (27 by 118 inches) and cost $600 each.
Other papers, such as those by Welling, Polly Apfelbaum and Muniz, are mural-style designs and are sized, scaled, priced and custom-printed for the room in which they will hang. But you must order a minimum of 100 square feet. These papers are a serious investment. Keep in mind that they are not meant to be backgrounds for a room’s furnishings but rather, like art, the main event.
Flavor Paper (flavorpaper. com) also produces artist-designed wallpapers and, specifically, papers inspired by Andy Warhol. The Brooklyn-based atelier works with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which gives it access to much of Warhol’s work. Flavor Paper borrows a wide variety of imagery from iconic Warhol paintings, silk-screen prints and film stills for inspiration. Some papers, such as Flowers, Elvi and the new Ali, have a distinctly Warhol feel. Others, such as Crowd (Where’s Warhol), are more suggestive. I have used Crowd a couple of times in powder rooms — it’s a true conversation starter. The wallpaper is an amalgamation of images — one a 1955 newswire photo taken at St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Easter Sunday, the other an image of Warhol from the set of the underground film “Chelsea Girls” in which he is wearing a striped “Where’s Waldo?”-style shirt. The trick is to try to spot Warhol in the crowd. Needless to say, powder room users linger a bit longer than usual, hunting for Andy.
Flavor Paper’s wallpapers are hand-screened to order, so you can scale and color them to your liking, and prices vary depending on the design and size.
Spoonflower (spoonflower. com) also sells Warhol-inspired wallpaper, but the designs have been created by graphic designers and are not legitimized by the foundation. Other artists’ works, such as the iconic smiley flower faces of Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami, have been replicated into a wallpaper by a graphic designer named Raveneve. Spoonflower prints its patterns on regular smooth wallpaper, removable (water-activated) wallpaper or repositionable (peel-and-stick) wallpaper. The site has a handy wallpaper calculator as well. Just punch in the dimensions of your room, and it will tell you how many rolls you need. For a powder room with a 4-foot width, 7-foot length and 8-foot height, you would need 11 rolls, which cost $440.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”