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New wallpapers help room tell a story

Wallcoverings combine art, narrative for home

By KIM COOK, Associated Press
Published: December 16, 2023, 6:06am

In the Emmy-nominated opening credits of HBO’s “White Lotus,” wallpaper-like images told a story: The tropical prints started off innocuously enough, but then turned ominous. Fruit started rotting, fish got tangled in seaweed, and a sense of foreboding set the whole premise of an exotic paradise on its edge.

The artist, Lezio Lopes, has said he was trying to evoke the design and themes of the show’s resort suites.

It’s a surreal example of a current trend in decor — wallpapers that combine art and narrative qualities to set the mood of a room. Some take us to wild places in nature, others to wild worlds born in artists’ imaginations. They go way beyond your nice stripe or simple floral.

They tell a story.

Wallpaper in general is back in a big way, decor experts say, and often makes a statement through images or texture (many papers incorporate fabric or fibers). Chicago-based design writer Elaine Markoutsas, who attended two of the year’s biggest design expositions, Maison et Objet and Deco Off, in Paris, said new wallcoverings were among the most exciting things she saw.

She cited intriguing patterns, and digital and 3D printing techniques. One theme stuck out.

“We heard the term ‘revenge travel,’ referring to a post-pandemic urge to get away for real, or virtually,” she says. “Travel often triggers designers, who mine details from architecture, landscape and destination culture.”

Some of the new papers feature contemplative renditions of forests and seascapes. Others reference places, people or creatures as fun, imaginative, maximalist marvels.

For a mashup of both, there’s the baroque “Novafrica Sunset” created by Christian Lacroix’s creative director, Sacha Walchoff.

He’s envisioned a kind of fever dream jungle with a tangerine sky, foliage clouds, glimpses of fauna, hyper-colored blooms and silk-ribbon-wrapped tree trunks. Put this on your walls and let the conversation begin.

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At Pierre Frey, artist Veronique Villaret cut out simple paper sprigs of Pacific Island vegetation to create a joyful, colorful pattern she calls “Rangiroa.” It’s available as a wallpaper or fabric.

Dutch studio Moooi’s “Memento Moooi Medley” wallcovering collection was inspired by the accounts of early explorers and the creatures they encountered. The “Golden Tiger” roams among cubs and other jungle animals on a wood veneer background. “Mimic Moths,” now extinct, take on the coloring of their favorite plants. Other moths, moon orchids and lilies-of-dusk tumble across an embossed, suede-like wallcovering.

Partnering with textile giant Romo, Alice Temperley’s eponymous London-based fashion and design house drew inspiration from their archive of richly detailed gowns. They came up with a wallcovering collection full of leopard prints, swirling sea agate patterns, and golden Victorian keys and dressmaking scissors.

Stories for Walls has a cheeky one called “Safari Gangsta,” featuring fierce and funny wild animals dressed in hip-hop gear; there’ll be some cool kids who’ll want it in their bedrooms, and probably some adults too.

Katie Deedy has found a way to artfully mix her intellectual curiosity and love of history. Her Brooklyn-based Grow House Grow studio produces some of the most imaginative wallpapers and tile. One pattern, “Ode to the Unhasty,” includes pictures of sloths, snails, manatees and slow-growing bristlecone pines.

“The pattern’s narrative inspiration is more of a gentle lesson,” she laughs.

Between running her business and parenting, Deedy says she began to feel like life was going too fast.

“So I created this wallpaper as a visual ode to taking it easy. When I look at this collection of our Earth’s slowest moving flora and fauna, it’s a reminder to mosey more and sprint less.”

Another of her patterns, “Mary Ward,” honors a forgotten female entomologist. In the mid-1800s, Ward spent her days with a magnifying glass, collecting and drawing insects.

“As a woman, she couldn’t be formally trained at university,” says Deedy. “Yet over the course of her young life, she became a renowned expert in microscopy, writing the go-to texts used in the same schools that wouldn’t admit her.”

The wallpaper playfully intermingles late-Georgian-style silhouettes of Ward and her beloved oversize insects.

At this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, Emma Hayes showed a couple of ethereal and dreamy wallcoverings based on her New Zealand home. “Willow” depicts willow wisps caught by a breeze, against a midnight background. “Sediment” shows a gently rolling shoreline of tonal watery hues.

Alexis Audette of New York-based studio Mazy Path showed nature-inspired papers in the styles of Arts & Crafts textiles, Delft tiles and 16th century French wallpapers. Audette sees a commonality between plants and people.

“Just as family heirlooms remind us of our history and identity, heirloom plants do too,” she says.

She developed wallpapers that tell stories about plants. One collection, “Heirloom,” features patterns depicting wild ramps, Virginia strawberries and winter wheat — all part of America’s food history. Her “Treasure Tree” collection pays homage to trees that provide food, medicine or protection; the paper is printed with imagery of guava, elderberry, nickel trees and mangroves.

Studio Heimat recently worked with clients in Mission Dolores, Calif., to incorporate their interests in geology and zoology into their home’s interior design.

“The clients LOVE bugs,” says the studio’s Eva Bradley. So local artist Rafael Arana was commissioned to hand-paint some crawling up a stairwell’s wall.

“The homeowners asked that the bugs be black and white and oversize, so visitors wouldn’t be scared,” says the studio’s Alicia Cheung.

Another way designers tell artful stories is by mixing materials, Markoutsas says. She cites a new wallpaper from French design house deGournay “made of embroidered silk, embellished with shells. Elitis has a vinyl wallcovering that simulates beautiful embroidery.”

And Arte introduced “Le Foret,” with wallcoverings made from wood, raffia and banana leaf.

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