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Why wallpaper is back. And how to make it work in your home
Jim and Robin Mathis' condo includes bold patterns, lots of texture on walls
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Today's wallpapers are bolder than in years past. - photo by Scott Rogers

By Pamela A. Keene

For Home magazine 

Wallpaper is back. Leave behind any notions of stodgy, it's-easier-than-painting design from the days when TV came out of a tube — with all the new colors and patterns, wallpaper is back from the 1950s and taking on new roles to enhance people's homes.

“Today’s wallpaper options are more high-end than ever, and as such, wall coverings are even more versatile,” said Jane Morris, owner of The Great Cover-Up on McEver Road. “Colors are more bold, prints are larger, and embossed and textured wallpapers lend themselves to new ways to use them.” 

Interior designer Debbie Puckett often partners with Morris to bring clients’ ideas and visions to life. Recently, Robin Mathis hired Puckett to redecorate the Gainesville condominium she owns with her husband Jim Mathis Jr. 

“The design focuses on showcasing Robin’s extensive collection of porcelain works from around the world,” Puckett said. “The colors of the Oriental, English and Netherland pieces lent themselves to a blue and white-cream palette, so we used various shades of royal blue and navy, against a background of creams and khakis. We mixed in some of the new neutral grass cloth wall coverings to add texture allowing the focus to remain on the collections.” 

Robin Mathis’ porcelains and ceramics include the familiar Delft pieces that are a signature of the Netherlands. She owns lids, jars and pots of distinctive blue and white displayed on shelves, on walls and in bookcases. 

“It’s a lot to see,” Mathis said. “You really feel like you’re in the Netherlands, especially with our new decor.” 

The oriental pieces include large pots, and her English pieces she calls “time-tested.”

“I love all the colors, the depth of blue and white,” Mathis said. 

She also owns a large dollhouse that received a makeover. 

“I’ve had this dollhouse for years, and we wallpapered the interior. It’s so very warm and welcoming. And I have designed it as a gift to the Smithsonian when I turn 80.”

The attention to detail in the dollhouse — a miniature home that is somehow still sprawling in its own right, with custom paintings in miniature, carved furniture, wallpaper and decorated ceilings  — is reflected in the almost-4,000-square-foot condo tucked into the back of Candler Street.  

“My goal was to bring all the décor together and to make our condo warm and welcoming,” Mathis said. “Now it looks like a home with the textures, the colors and the character. All the elements naturally flow together.”

“Condo” may feel an inadequate term for the Mathis family’s space and its rich, wooden floors, white-washed pine ceilings, custom cream cabinetry (with drawers and storage tucked throughout the home), rolls upon rolls of varied wallpaper, sturdy brass fixtures and high, smooth ceilings.  

Both Morris and Puckett agree there’s an art to decorating with wallpaper. 

“For a smaller room, such as a powder room, it’s better to paper all four walls,” Morris said. “Larger rooms, such as dens and master bedrooms often feature a single accent wall that’s covered.” 

It’s not unusual to cover a ceiling with wallpaper. 

“In design school we were taught that the ceiling is the fifth wall of a room,” Puckett said. “Especially in smaller rooms, it’s very dramatic to only paper the ceiling.” 

Incorporating wall coverings into a room goes beyond installing them on walls and ceilings. They can be used behind cabinet spaces or bookshelves, on drawer fronts or as smaller panels that become wall hangings. 

“Today’s wall coverings are much easier to install and remove than those in the past,” Morris said. “So many people remember the days when paper was hard to hang and very hard to take down. Now it’s so much simpler to change, plus it’s bolder and edgier than before.” 

She said that the technology of the adhesives has improved, and most of the new wall coverings are typically not pre-pasted. She suggests bringing in a professional to hang wall coverings. “Even with YouTube and other online how-tos, because wallpaper is more expensive, most people don’t install it themselves.” 

Interior designers may use grass cloth as the textured foundation of a room’s design, especially neutral shades. However, grass cloth is now available in an array of colors. “Grass cloth adds to much warmth and texture,” Puckett said. “It makes much more of a statement than a painted wall.” 

When decorating, even with a basic monochromatic design or neutral backdrop, it’s important to consider incorporating color. 

“This way, you can personalize your home to reflect your lifestyle and personality. There are no rules; it’s all about personal taste.”