Experts Weigh in on the Nuances of Wallcoverings Fit to Print

Vision is perhaps the most acute sense with which humans discern information about the world – in the context of interiors, space – so much so that it can elicit a visceral reaction. If utilized properly, wallpapers can dramatically support the aesthetic and energetic goals of a fully realized design. When introducing color, pattern, and texture at any scale, it’s important to consider how those elements might hold a deeper meaning and with whom there may be resonance.

“I always bring it back to a feeling place with my clients. Prioritizing what they are navigating in their lives, and the effect that has on the intention and use of the space, is paramount to me,” says Sarah Rigano, vibrational designer and founder of FORM + LIGHT. “From there I gently guide them toward what would be of greatest benefit as our spaces are vital containers that can nurture, heal, and inspire us if we treat them so,” she adds. “For example, someone in need of grounding, respite, or anxiety reduction? Organic shapes, reflections of the natural world, muted colors. Working through loss, grief, unease, or trouble sleeping? Soft colors, curved lines, blurred forms. Seeking inspiration, focus, boundaries? Bold patterns, strong lines, statement colors.”

With a market supersaturated in surface pattern designs and a myriad of options, it can be difficult to parse prints to find one accommodating of taste, budget, installation limitations, as well as material, like printed, plaster, or textile. Laura Guido-Clark, the former Creative Director of Materials Innovation at Herman Miller and founder of Love Good Color, offers a roadmap for those looking for nuanced decision making – and a bit of anthropological commentary on contemporary visual language. Guido-Clark breaks it down into four shared throughlines:

Vertical to Horizontal Symbology

Studies cite that horizontal lines are more calming than their vertical counterparts. Experts argue that horizontal lines represent wide open spaces and vastness, or primordially speaking where a threat can’t hide or be threatening as they are visible from far away. In contrast, vertical lines can imply grandeur or spirituality, broad gestures from the earth below to the heavens above. They can also imply strength depending on the weight of the line where boldness, thickness, and opacity are in direct correlation to it.

Emotional Representation

A great deal of emotional response to wallpaper is derived from isomorphic correspondence – how the viewer interprets information, finds meaning, and formulates a response based on past experiences. Many colors, shapes, and patterns pull from nature and speak to an innate fondness to flora and fauna while others imbue prints with an otherwise intangible energy. Dynamic and kinetic energy is generated in the proximity and scale of print demanding attention. Visual vibrations generated restlessness.

Organic vs. Geometric

Compositions can comprise themselves with any combination of organic and geometric forms. Organic forms are found in the natural world and often trade a sense of uniformity or perfection for spirit, whereas geometric forms exist in stark contrast appearing man or machine made. It is often the difference between flow and ease, or rigidness and order.

Color Story

Unlike an even coat of paint only activated by its finish in the light, wallpapers are multifaceted in color, often dominated by undertones. Monochromatic or analogous schemes imply a sense of calm or harmony while contrasting color articulated through pattern can create vibrancy. Perception of color is also impacted by shape, shade, and proximity of other colored elements.

The selection below represents a small swath of emotive and contemporary wallcoverings from powerhouse brands, intimate design studios, and solo illustrators. Of the roundup Guido-Clark adds: “I am so excited about these, first because I love wallpapers and second because I believe they signify an undercurrent of our innate desire for connection with nature. I do feel that they imply a sense of softer landings, or perhaps our need for that emotion in this current time.”

Minimalist bedroom interior with a patterned accent wall, a double bed with gray bedding, and a floor lamp.

Affreschi Affreschi style SM02B

Abstract wavy lines in shades of pink on a textured surface.

Affreschi Affreschi style SM02B plaster detail

Modern living room interior with a curved sofa, two round coffee tables, and a hanging pendant light.

Calico style Ephemera in Pastiche

Abstract paper art with layered shapes in earth tones.

Calico style Ephemera in Avant

Contemporary geometric artwork displayed on a mantel with a lit candle and decorative objects.

Josh Greene style Banda in Denim photographed by Ethan-Herrington

Geometric abstract pattern with a repetitive arrangement of shapes in shades of blue.

An eclectic bedroom with a patterned wallpaper, an antique wooden bed and side table, with framed artworks hanging on the wall.

Pictalab style Atellano in Variation 3 photographed by M. Pescio.

A repeating pattern of red wave shapes on a pink background.

Modern dining area with a round white table, black chairs, and a vase of flowers against a wallpapered textured wall background.

York Wallcoverings Gilded SumiE print in OrchidGlint

An abstract wallpaper pattern with various brush strokes in pastel tones on a white background.

Abstract patterned wallpaper with organic shapes in black and green, with a marble bowl and plate containing paper cutouts in the foreground.

Tara-Hogan Milkbath Series in Style 2

Abstract pattern with curved lines in earthy tones on a beige background.

A modern bench with an abstract beige and white pattern against a plain background.

Kelly Wearstler x Lee Jofa style Intargia in Buff

With professional degrees in architecture and journalism, Joseph has a desire to make living beautifully accessible. His work seeks to enrich the lives of others with visual communication and storytelling through design. Previously a regular contributor to titles under the SANDOW Design Group, including Luxe and Metropolis, Joseph now serves the Design Milk team as their Managing Editor. When not practicing, he teaches visual communication, theory, and design. The New York-based writer has also contributed to exhibitions hosted by the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture and Architectural Digest, and recently published essays and collage illustrations with Proseterity, a literary publication.

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