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Follow That Pattern

Putting a paint color on your walls is deeply satisfying but if you want to kick it up another notch (or 10) add pattern to color and you've got the recipe for extraordinary walls. In this episode the Amys talk all things wallpaper. Where can you put it? How do you use it? What patterns are hot right now? Who is selling unique and stunning prints? Tune in to hear us talk wallpaper. And thanks for listening.

Ep 16: Follow That Pattern

Krane: Welcome to Let’s Talk Color. Woolf: I’m Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.

Krane: And I’m Amy Krane founding designer at Amy Krane Color. We’re both professional color experts who specialize in architectural color. We met while training and years later the conversation is still going strong.

Woolf: We both live our lives immersed in color and design. We often agree, but sometimes we don’t because color is personal. Color truths, however, are universal.

Krane: In each episode we’ll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.

Woolf: Hi there, this is Amy Woolf. Welcome back to... Let's Talk [paint] Color. Today we're gonna be talking color, but not paint. Well, we'll talk a little bit about paint, but our subject today is wallpaper. Why it's so popular, what we're seeing right now... Wallpaper is back and it's big and it's fun. We'll also cover how can you navigate your way through all the choices, what to look for and what to avoid... So what are you seeing Amy? You doing as much wallpaper as I am?

Krane: I really am, and I feel it's like potato chips, you cannot have just one... You really can't. You can't... from the standpoint of what we talk about this all the time, balance in your house. Don't have one bright color. Don't have one dark color. Don't have wallpaper in one place. I guess, unless it's a really private room, like a bedroom, then you can do it. But if you've got it in one public space, you shouldn't have it in just one. Philosophically, you shouldn't. Color is so satisfying to have around you. But ramp it up exponentially and have a pattern all around you! It's like wearing a beautiful patterned dress. It's like watching TV, but you're not... It's like looking at a painting. It's pattern all around you. I think it's great, and it's been popular for some years, but it's getting more and more popular, isn't it?

Woolf: It really is. I love your potato chip analogy. That's great. I have been working on a house in Maine and we've done five rooms of wallpaper, so I know my client will totally understand that potato chip analogy. And one of the things we also did, which was interesting was... she really wanted to have two rooms abutting each other with wallpaper that were contrasting. We gave each its own individual look. So we have a very large scale botanical stripe type of a situation in her entry foyer and then a smaller, more delicate floral pattern on a black ground that comes off of that entry foyer. It moves you back into the more private areas of the house. But... Yeah, five. Five. We had a lot of fun. Yeah, I love it.

Krane: And if you're really bold, and this just ramps it up another level, you can put one on your walls and another maybe on your ceiling. I'm not so big personally, with putting a pattern on the ceiling. I think it can get kind of claustrophobic. But I have seen photos of rooms that have sort of angled ceilings, maybe a dormer bedroom or a room that was an attic, and the ceiling and the angled walls have one pattern while there's another kind of corresponding different scale pattern on the walls. If you keep the colors kind of soft and in the same families then just trade up in scale for the other paper I think it could really work. It's fantastic.

Woolf: Yeah, I love that idea.

Krane: I can't wait to see pictures of that house ...

Woolf: They're coming, they're coming. I have a few. I'm gonna post soon. Stay tuned. Look, for me on Instagram. It's interesting what you talked about with ceilings because I'm about to paper my powder room. I'm not actually gonna paper it. I'm gonna hire somebody. And we've been talking about whether or not to put the paper on the ceilings. I'm gonna have extra... It's one of those deals where I need two rolls and a tiny bit more. So I'm gonna be investing in three rolls of this all over floral from House of Hackney, and I kind of was debating whether to put it on the ceiling. But then I realized I have this really nasty, ugly vent that I don't think I can trade out. Maybe I could, maybe I could look into switching that ugly beast out, but I decided probably I should just leave the ceiling white. I totally get what you're saying about two different wallpapers. I think it's a great idea. Again, it all just depends on what it is. The context. Just like picking softer colors for a room where you're going to combine two different wallpaper patterns, I think that similarly, one can pick a wallpaper with a very easy to live with ground color, that is the background and yet the pattern itself can be vibrant and saturated. So in other words, if you have a white or cream or a very soft colored background, yet the pattern itself has bright colors, it's much easier to incorporate bright colors into your decor, then it would be if you picked one of those bright colors in the wall paper and put it all over your walls in the form of paint. Find a white wall paper with fuchsia, a little bits of fuchsia in it if you want fun your life. But you wouldn't put fuchsia on your walls necessarily. But a polite, not too bossy wallpaper with a little bit of fuchsia is a way to bring those kinds of colors in. So... Yeah.

Krane: Because it's already proportioned out in the pattern, so if it's just this little bit here and a little bit there, it's almost like an accent color in the pattern. Then you can pull it out of the pattern and use it in your room for anything as big as your sofa or as small as a throw pillow.

Woolf: Right, exactly. That's a really good way of expressing it. So... What do you think about artwork on wallpaper?

Krane: Oh, that's a great question. I have not done that in my house. Every time I see a photo of a room with framed art on wallpaper I scratch my head and ask myself the question again. Do I like it? Would I ever do it? I gravitate towards not... I think that the pattern is the star of the room and I want to spend my mental energy absorbing the pattern on the paper. The pattern might have a focal point in it, or it might not. It might be an all over, evenly distributed pattern. But either way, it adds so much visually to a room that I think the painting may confuse the visual or vice versa. So I don't gravitate towards it.

Woolf: I'm putting some wallpaper up in my bedroom and I'm just doing an accent wall behind my bed... Yes, I said it. "Amy Woolf is doing an accent wall!" I will be painting the other three walls the same color as the ground color in the wallpaper. This is more to fix an architectural detail I've got a little problem with that I need to amend. So I need to have those two things match but I have so much artwork. Six paintings in my bedroom. I'm a little bit of an art collector and I can't imagine not having those paintings there. They feel kind of beloved to me and I also can't imagine putting them on top of wallpaper. At least not the pattern I've chosen.

Krane: But you have three other walls of solid paint, so you can put it on those walls... Right?

Woolf: Yeah. Perfect, right? That's what I'm saying. But there was a part of me that thought, "Oh, should I just paper the whole room? You know? Go bigger or go home!

Krane: You got me thinking about the wallpaper in my bedroom. It's a Chinoiserie mural and it's only on my headboard wall. I chose white for the other three walls. The background color is sort of a slightly muted turquoise. It is turquoise, and the other colors in the pattern are just white with a bit of green and a teeny bit of maroon. The maroon is like a fine line drawing of the inside of the flowers. I'm not a maroon fan at all but it's so tiny that it just adds contrast to the pattern. I did not choose to paint my other walls the ground color because I have a huge bedroom and I didn't want to be surrounded by this saturated turquoise. It was too much for me so I've kept the other walls white, which I really enjoy.

But suddenly I started thinking about painting the other walls a color and the color I want is sort of a super pale lavender which is not in the paper. But is a more red lavender, which you could say is a riff on the maroon. And normally, I would not combine two distinct colors on walls in a room. It's too colorful for me personally. So... with the lavender not even in the paper I'm a bit stuck. I want it but I don't know I'll like it. Could be too much color. I haven't done it. And these are the kinds of questions you have when you put up wallpaper, especially on one wall as an accent wall. What do you do with the other walls? Do you just pull a color from it for the other walls? Like you did Amy. You plan to use your field color on the other walls and that is the cleanest, most seamless way of approaching this. No problem there. Once you go with a different color on the walls, it gets more complicated and you really have to put a lot of thought into what's gonna look right for you.

I think that I have put wallpaper on the three most classic places, in my mind. The dining room above the chair rail, a powder room and in my bedroom on the headboard wall. What do you think about great places to use wall paper? Would you put it anywhere? Have you put it anywhere?

Woolf: Well, I'll be doing a powder room and a bedroom just like you. This is me dipping my toe back into wallpaper. I stripped enough wallpaper as a young home owner that I thought I'd never do wall paper again. But here we go. So really what I think about mostly is clients. What kind of wallpaper have I done for clients? During the pandemic, the first or second year, I have clients who created a home office and it was in the basement with no windows. We put in a wallpaper that was very evocative of nature to try to give them some kind of a supportive, ergonomic kind of an experience. It's very watery looking and has lots of blues and greens in it and feels fresh. It counter-balances being in a windowless basement room.

This house in Maine that I've been working on, we did two bathrooms, a powder room, the front foyer and a hallway. I think an entry foyer is a great place to do wallpaper, mostly because in most average size houses the foyer doesn't have a ton of furniture. So you don't have a lot of competing finishes and colors and materials. It's sort of stand-alone. A wallpaper can really carry that space in a beautiful way. This foyer has this outstanding wallpaper and an absolutely gorgeous light fixture. And so the two of them hold that space. Then we also did the wallpaper going down the hallway. I think these sort of spaces where there isn't a lot of furniture and there's not a ton going on, are a great opportunity for wallpaper. Really great. I also think if you want to play with wallpaper in a room that you don't spend a lot of time in, but maybe you can see as you're coming and going throughout your house, a guest room occurs to me. Maybe the guest room is in your site line as you come and go from your own bedroom and you know you want to do something fun and exciting in there. I think laundries are always a great place to have a little bit of fun too. I'm always talking about the best places to really splash out with color so foyers, powder rooms, entries, guest rooms and laundry rooms.

Have you ever done any of the peel and stick? I know that's a DIY that a lot of people think about trying.

Krane: When it first came on the scene, I thought, "wow, how cool?" And then the more I read about it, apparently it's very difficult to apply, I never pursued it. I'm also not very DIY for much of anything. Certainly not wallpaper. I have talked to a few wallpaper hangers about it and they're like, "Oh, it's a nightmare, so... " Imagine hiring out the job and having the expense of a professional wallpaper hanger. You thought you made it easier by doing this self-adhesive paper and in the end the hangers tell you it's worse? So... no, I have no experience with it and I'm a little bit more turned off than I was when I first read about it. How about you?

Woolf: My only experience is watching other people do it and having it look great, but maybe that's just Instagram. You don't see the struggle of what went on behind to get it up. But I did have a job where my client had a paper printed and designed and put up by a professional hanger and he almost walked off the job. He really kinda had a meltdown and he's actually on my contractor list with a do-not-hire by his name because he behaved so poorly.

But anyway, my paper guy was here this past week and we were talking about peel'n'stick. What he said to me, which I thought was interesting, was that they're getting better. The stick is not so sticky but the body of the wallpaper is getting a little bit heavier. Obviously, this is gonna vary from brand to brand, but he seemed to indicate that it's not necessarily a recipe for disaster. The products are getting better and maybe somewhat easier to apply, so... That's good news anyway.

Krane: Good to hear from a seasoned professional. Let's talk a little bit about the kind of patterns that you see out there. What's popular, what do you like, that kind of thing. I think one style that's been around for quite a long time now and it's still pretty strong are botanicals. So whether you're talking about an all-over floral or a combination of a graphic with a botanical or even something more free form feeling, they're great.

I happen to love patterns where you can tell that the original artwork was water color. I like that soft, watery, imprecise vibe as one direction to go. I think botanicals are really beautiful and have been really big in the past few years. Also huge are those historical brands that have come back in a big way, like Voysey and William Morris. They certainly came out of the arts and crafts period in England and used very saturated, deep color, and all over patterns. So your eye doesn't really have a focal point. They're, dense, dense patterns with all kinds of things going on... Birds, leaves, flowers and just anything. They're not all botanical, but they really create an incredible mood, and they're also very much arts and crafts. Often they're in Victorian colors which are deeper colors like browns, golds, mauves, for instance. Of course they come in many colorways. I think about those autumn-like colors being so common for those kind of brands. I just love them in traditionally decorated homes as well as a more modern approach, to contrast with modern furnishings. They're historical, modern too and maybe old fashioned, but not in a stodgy, farty way. (Can we say that?) I love them. How about you? What else do you see out there?

Woolf: Yeah, I think what's really interesting about Morris is that Sanderson, who basically is the house that has licenses for so many of the Morris designs, the wallpaper and the fabrics, had a couple of younger newer designers take the patterns and re-color them and tweak the designs. So, I don't know, a handful of years ago, this Ben Pentreath guy did a gorgeous, amazing job re-coloring the traditional Morris prints with fresh, modern, vibrant colors. Vibrant, but in a more contemporary way. So the colors were a little more clean... Right, almost electric.

When I was in Paris for Deco Off looking at fabric, I was at the Sanderson showroom and got to see in person another iteration of the Morris pattern. It was the classic William Morris Willow pattern. But instead of a solid ground it had a little bubble design on it. So it was like leaves over bubbles in a pond. It's smashing. And to me, that kind of a look can almost go with anything. It could go with the traditional arts and crafts. It would work in a Victorian home. And it absolutely would go with contemporary or even farmhouse folkloric. I just love it. And I think those botanicals really have so much to do with this whole trend of outdoors-in and outdoor living and forest bathing and the healing power of nature and all of that. I really think that a botanical print is always gonna make us feel better than a brick wall, right? Or something architectural looking or graphic. There's a place for graphic wallpaper, I guess, but I think in terms of how we feel in a space. I think nature is always going to just feel better.

Krane: Yeah, that's great. I'm just about done with color and interior design for a new build condominium in another part of New York. And it is very sort of tailored looking. It’s tailored with a lot of neutrals and small shots of deep color as accents in the soft decor. They were just double-checking what paint color they should put in the foyer, and I said, "Oh, let's just continue the main room color there." But then I got back to them a couple of weeks later and said, "You know, when you open your front door, you're looking straight at a wall. The entrance to the apartment is to your right. We were looking for a console table to throw your keys on for that wall. In the end, we're having one custom made because we found a design we like, but the size was wrong. But then I asked, "have you thought about wallpaper?" Just on that one wall. And they went crazy.

I guess these weren't really wallpaper kind of people at first thought. So I sent them so many different ideas and I had a separate file called In Case you Want to go Wild, knowing they would not pick them. And they didn't, they didn't. But I got to put in things that I love, like this wild totem wallpaper from a British company called Timorous Beasties and a lot of other really wild things. But what they picked... I bring this up because you talked about graphics, they picked a wallpaper that is two colors. There's a field color, which is a complex gray and the design is white. So the colors are restrained. It is completely graphic, but it's very hand-drawn looking, so it has that sort of hand-made feel to at the same time. Here look.

Woolf: Wow.

Krane: I looked on the back of the sample and the wallpaper is made by Heath, Heath Ceramics! I didn't even know they made paper. I sourced this wallpaper from the company called... And I'm gonna say this wrong, Hygge and West. You know, that Scandinavian word, H-Y-G-G-E? You wanna say "higgy". But it's Hyoooo-ga! Their condo will have some gorgeous Heath tiles too.

Woolf: Yeah, and as you're talking about this, obviously, it doesn't sound to me like that kind of a condo that would be suitable for a botanical. So I get it. But what I think makes that paper beautiful is that hand-drawn quality to it. That human touch. And I think that's very appealing. Very lovely. And beautiful. Gorgeous color. Yeah, yeah. Great.

Krane: Thank you. In terms of where you buy them, you can go to a company that designs and makes them. You can go to companies that re-release older patterns, like you said, Sanderson does Morris as well as their own designs. There are some big companies that sell so many different designs that they have really great selections. There's Decorators Best, style library and even believe it or not, Anthropologie, Pottery Barn and Burke Decor if you want to look retail.

Woolf: They're resellers.

Krane: They're resellers. Exactly. A lot of big, big folks who sell fabric also sell paper like Thibaut, Schumacher, Kravet and Cole & Sons. My favorite paper company right now is Mind the Gap. Mind the Gap is made in Transylvania. They are just wildest patterns. Wild, wild mural-like scenes as well as more normal repeating patterns. That's what I have in my dining room above the chair rail. I have Maharaja's and elephants. But they have a huge selection of really interesting stuff. You saw them in Paris, didn't you?

Woolf: They had a pop up in my neighborhood where I was staying. I think companies like Mind the Gap are riding the maximalist wave, as far as I can tell. Mind the Gap is just super maximalist. And as you can imagine, the showroom was super maximalist... It was quite wild. I should send you pictures. But anyway, I think that's another big part of the trend. This “too much is just enough.” The thing that I saw the most in Paris were Scenics. I think Scenics are really having a moment... The thing about a Scenic is you really need a full wall, you need an empty wall.

Krane: Again, talking about feeling the handmade... I'm such a fan of block prints, Indian Block prints. And those are usually a repeating pattern. People like Molly Mahon, who's British, does beautiful Indian-inspired block prints. I like a lot of British companies, like Scion and Sanderson and Harlequin. Really great.

Woolf: There's so many places to go to.

Krane: It's really incredible. Earlier you mentioned something. It's what got me back interested in wallpaper a bunch of years ago now. It's the whole folkloric trend, especially being here in the countryside. It is such a fun kind of pattern. They're almost primitive. They can be very two-dimensional looking instead of three-dimensional. Flat color, without dimension rendered within the design. So it's got a childlike-ness to it. A primitive-ness, and also an olde worldiness to it. I just I love those folkloric patterns. How about you?

Woolf: I'm a huge fan of Borastapeter and Eijffinger and I think one of the interesting things about those looks is that they're Scandi. They come from Sweden and I think they have a great affinity for a lot of different decorating styles. It can either go Mid-Mod, it can go more country like you're talking about. More of a modern country look which is probably what you're talking about where you are. I've used a couple of these very Scandinavian, soft colored folkloric patterns in the last couple of years. I just find them just really pleasing. And then of course, at the opposite end of that is Josef Frank, which is a great stuff. He just basically took little sweet Scandinavian pattern and exploded them. I also wanted to mention one of the sources that I use. Obviously I have business relationships with a lot of the manufacturers and can go directly to them. P{laces like you mentioned, Thibaut and Sanderson and Schumacher. But for those of you listening who may not have trade accounts or for my clients who want to do the deep dive into wallpaper, I find Wallpaper Direct, which is a UK company that ships great. They ship into the US.

Krane: They’re fabulous!

Woolf: You can get two free samples. If you want an additional sample they're a buck a piece, which is not bad. Because some of the other companies will charge you $4. So a dollar to indulge yourself in another sample is not a big deal. Wallpaper Direct has tons of European brands so settle in with a big mug of tea or a good half bottle of wine, because the site is vast but they have a pretty good search function and reasonable room scenes where you can see what the wallpaper looks like. So you can start to understand scale.

Woolf: Such a good point, Amy. Because you look at just the square or rectangle of a pattern and without some reference to scale you can’t tell what’s going on. It’s so important that they then put it in this room for you to show the scale. You can look up the repeat in the pattern, the horizontal and the vertical repeat of the pattern, and that should tell you how big the pattern is. Yet until you see the scale of it next to a chair or a credenza, a table, a human, anything, you don't really understand what the impact of that design is going to be in a room and on you.

So thanks for listening. We hope you've learned a little bit more about color for the built world.

Woolf: We hope you'll tune in again next time. And in the meantime, you can like us follow us, leave us a review, and certainly let us know if there's anything else you'd like to hear us talk about when it comes to color for the built environment. You can find us at let's talk paint color dot com. See you next time.


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