If your walls could talk, don’t you think they’d ask to be covered in stunning designer wallpapers—dreamy watercolors, shimmering metallic florals, bright neon geometrics, chic monochrome stripes? And according to decorators, they’d also tell you that using a bold, patterned paper doesn’t have to mean muting the rest of your décor—or limiting yourself to one design style or era.
“I’m very against things that are matchy,” says New York-based interior designer Philip Gorrivan. “A little bit of tension between modern furniture and traditional paper or a geometric print with classic furniture can look really nice.” For a Washington, Connecticut home, Gorrivan used a purple wallpaper from Manuel Canovas as a background for a traditional gray Hickory chair and a vintage wooden secretary, alongside a pink Knoll chair and modern geometric artwork. “Every room needs curves and it needs angles,” he says. “You have to strike the right balance.”
Balance is the key for New York-based designer Kati Curtis, too. In a 19th century townhouse in the Meatpacking District, floral wallpaper from Timorous Beasties looks modern, not dowdy, thanks to its opalescent shine. Each of the room’s other standout elements, from a rustic pedestal dining table to a jewel-toned rug, could anchor a room on its own, but the combination feels cozy because of the blend of material, colors, and styles. “The room could look really stuffy and traditional,” Curtis says, “but mixing the raw wood elements with the refinement of the floral pattern on the wallpaper and the antique rug makes a contrast that’s really interesting.” Another tip: Consider the scale of the items in the room—use a smaller chandelier to keep more focus on the wallpaper, for example, or pair textiles that feature a small print with wallpaper that shows off a larger one.
In a Chelsea apartment, Curtis stripped a white lacquered staircase down to its original blackened steel. “The raw nature of that was what makes such an impact, but then we had to balance it out—and that’s where the floral wallpaper came in,” she says. A colorful paper from Osborne and Little draws the eye up, adding visual height to the first floor, while a vintage Murano chandelier with rainbow discs incorporates the client’s appreciation for midcentury modern pieces.
Though silk, grasscloth, and other textural wallcoverings offer sleek ways to add interest to a room without a bold pattern, Gorrivan warns his clients not to be too overwhelmed by the look of a big, bright pattern on the roll. For a Toronto townhouse, his art collector clients were a little hesitant to use a vibrant yellow David Hicks paper—until they saw the way the repetitive pattern on the wall made their art stand out. “You don’t need white or gray walls to show off art,” Gorrivan says. “That repetitive aspect makes it a lot easier on the eye, and then you get used to it.” And once you’re used to it, get ready: “Diamond rings get smaller the longer you wear them, and wallpaper patterns are the same way,” he says. “You just want more and more pattern.”