bold color wallpaper and velvet sofa

How To Select Wallpaper To Make Any Room Look Amazing

Using wallpaper in any room is the most immediate way and impactful way to introduce color, texture, sparkle and patterns. After years of white on white rooms or neutral interiors, wallpapers have been making a stunning return in popularity throughout the interior design world. With good reason too: they add a dimension and interest that you can’t get with paint. Don’t wait: learn everything you need to know for a more remarkably beautiful home!

cement pattern wallpaper behind ornate chair
Learn to mix the Lux with the Lowly and you’ll look like a genius

Fair question for those not totally dazzled by the “pizazz effectof wallpaper

Yes! Let’s look at all the good news

  • Modern wallpapers are very durable AND low maintenance. The face side of most residential wallpapers is vinyl. It’s easy to clean and less likely to scratch, tear or stain than in the old days, when wallpaper was actually paper.
  • Wallpaper lasts longer than paint which in turn offsets the initial higher cost. Even using the best quality interior paints, fresh coats of color are needed roughly every 3-5 years. In comparison, premium quality wallpapers can last up to 15 years. Some of the newer Peel-and-Stick varieties boast that one can even unpeel and re-stick the wallpaper to a new location, so you can take it with you and re-install when you move! 
  • Wallpaper has insulating properties. This built-in energy efficiency is an often overlooked side benefit. A papered room can help reduce heat loss in winter and retain its coolness during the warmer months. WHO KNEW?
  • Wallpaper can help hide wall flaws that are too expensive to repair. To be clear: wallpaper isn’t a fix for seriously damaged or uneven walls. BUT very textured or heavier papers can hid surface flaws like cracks, small holes or stains.
patterned paper used to hide wall flaws
This patterned paper is so attention grabbing that it takes a minute to even notice the door, let alone wall flaws

How do some wallpapers manage flawed wall camouflage?

  • Patterns with real or perceived texture draw attention away from bumps and small holes while giving your room a more polished look. Actual tactile surfaces include grass and string cloth, burlap, foil, expanded vinyl and even fabric. 
  • Other papers distract by simulating the look of marble, wood, leather and even animal skins. 
  • A pattern with a layered design also creates a perception of texture (such as a monochromatic damask design behind a floral pattern)
3D Buddha wallpaper
Buddha says “Hi”

There are primarily five types of wallpapers

  • Vinyl wallpapers – very popular due to their durability and easy-to-clean properties. 
  • Foil wallpapers – known for their shiny metallic surface, adds a dash of sophistication and glamour to any room. 
  • Embossed wallpapers – have a bit of texture and can even hide minor wall imperfections. 
  • 3D papers – look so three-dimensional and lifelike that you have to touch it to be sure it isn’t “real”.
  • Environmentally friendly options are available – these would be natural bamboo, cork and sea grass wallpapers.
formal room with brocade pattern paper
Baronial Home for the holidays

Does wallpaper work in any style home?

  • Older homes with great molding are good candidates for William Morris style papers.
  • Very modern homes tend to have more big windows than walls. In this case, natural fiber and woven papers are great if used sparingly. The texture adds so much warmth to balance the sleek, minimalist concept and lines demanded by this style of architecture.

Perception is more clever application than truth. The bonus is that while “fooling the eye”, your impression of a pattern, color or scale can also lend an enhanced meaning.

Here are a few examples

  • When the ceiling is low – stripes and other vertical patterns suggest dignity, vitality, and formality. This includes floral motif shapes that suggest a V or a U. Height is emphasized simply by pointing up, and will make a ceiling appear higher.
  • When a room is narrowHorizontal patterns suggest quietness and repose. Again a visual mis-direction making narrow rooms appear wider by seeming to point both left and right.

How does the scale of a patterned wallpaper affect the look of a room?

  • Small-scale patterns create a feeling of spaciousness, 
  • Large-scale designs make rooms more intimate. 
  • Large-scale patterns with bright colors and dark backgrounds will make a relatively empty room look more furnished.
  • Large, open-dimensional patterns, such as a trellis design can give flat walls a more interesting look of (faux) depth
  • 3D papers are simply fascinating under any circumstance

What if you have a dark hallway, north-facing rooms or a windowless space?

  • Shiny paper surfaces with metallic sheen or iridescent ink – The wall covering will reflect what light there is, whether it’s from lamps, windows and doors around the perimeter of the room.
  • Smooth paper surfaces in general will reflect natural light while textured surfaces tend to make walls seem darker.

what about the conventional wisdom that light or dark wall color affects the perception of room size?

Conventional wisdom says that light wall color makes a room appear larger while dark walls make for smaller seeming rooms. The idea being dark colors absorb light, which will make walls appear closer and the room smaller.

Have you ever noticed the ceiling in large public spaces like Whole Foods grocery? Probably not because the ceilings are dark and appear to recede into infinity.

You always notice a white ceiling anywhere. Why? Because white as a color is very strong and POPS forward. It’s quite obvious.

Consequently, it might be fair to assert that the notion of white ceilings making a room look taller might not be true if the effect is actually to pop it forward and down BECAUSE you notice it.

Conversely, it also doesn’t mean that a dark ceiling on top of 8′ walls will make the ceiling look higher because dark colors recede, either.

Yes, there are ways to make a room look taller. In fact there are a lot of very clever things you can do to achieve a variety of effects. So many in fact, that I will have to promise to address these tips in a post very soon.

If you are curious and want to know more about bad design rules disguised as Conventional Wisdom read When To Break Bad Design Rules For A More Beautiful Home

Your response to color is emotional and should be respected

Your home should be designed as an oasis for your well being. If you feel better in a room with light walls because it feels more spacious to you, go for it.

My point is only that some rules based on conventional wisdom will shoot you in the proverbial foot and offer no real satisfaction in the long run.

Are there guidelines for selecting wallpaper colors that make sense, not nonsense?

Indeed, there are smart clues to consider as great guideposts. The following are some suggestions to consider if the assertion of mood enhancement in each case is actually true for you. In the end however, whatever you choose will still have to play well with the rest of your home. The notion of an island of mad design unrelated to the rest of your environment is questionable in of itself.

wall Color can set the mood in a room

  • Soft cool colors suggest tranquility, while intense cool colors are fresh and dramatic. To make a space appear larger and the ceiling higher, pick patterns with cool-color backgrounds, such as green, blue, or violet. Using a light shade of one of these preferred colors to paint a ceiling is one trick that actually works to make it seem higher.
  • Warm colors—reds, yellows, and oranges—live up to their name and do make people feel warmer. These are colors are popular in colder climates and also work well in north-facing rooms. They appear to “pop” forward and can be considered flamboyant, not unlike White, as mentioned earlier.

You might be interested in various points of view and tips for wall color selection in general.

READ>>>How To Choose Terrific Home Paint Colors You Will Love

what do you consider before you use wallpaper any room?

It’s important to choose the right walls. Use walls that aren’t interrupted much by doors, windows or light switches. Hallways can be good. But unless you are a seasoned hand in the art of wallpaper hanging, areas like stairwells, walls out of square or weirdly shaped, are best left to the professional wallpaper hangers.

Start small with your first wallpapered room adventure

pink flamingo wallpaper in a bathroom

Smaller, darker spaces like bedrooms, dens, offices and bathrooms are great for wallpaper because they are rooms where we might especially like the feeling of being “enveloped”.

Wallpaper with bright colors or eye-catching patterns are fun, exciting and perfect for little spaces like powder rooms. 

You can ”get away with” more in theses very small spaces because you aren’t there for very long.

Not true for those rooms where you spend the most time

You might like to know more about how to fluff up your tired looking Loo if you are thinking of wallpaper here.

READ>>>How To Update An Outdated Bathroom Without Renovation

Less is often more and better

Wallpaper in large rooms with huge windows, great light and wonderful views would be gilding the lily.

For larger rooms with significant wall area and/or those with strong architectural details, use small-scale patterns and neutral colors. You don’t want to add anything that fights with the strength of the existing design features for attention

bedroom focal point with mirror
The wall your bed backs up to is always the focal point of a room

What about using wall paper for an accent wall?

Yes, if the one wall is actually a focal point. It can be quite dramatic and effective. A good example is using wallpaper in bedrooms. The main focal point of a bedroom is always the wall the bed backs up to. Don’t do this for every focal point in any room. As a design solution, it’s generally considered outdated, BUT used judiciously, it still looks smart and effective.

choose papers that play well with your existing colors and Decor

The key to wallpaper selection is considering how it will relate and enhance the existing decor without being “too much”. Think overall about the furnishings, the art you have or plan to have, as well as how the paper will relate in a coordinated way to the adjacent rooms. If you are papering an unfurnished room, the starting considerations are the same.

  • In a room that is already furnished, select paper that references one or two colors of the existing decor.
  • If there is already a lot of pattern in the room, consider using an interesting textured wallpaper that relates to one of the main colors.
floral wallpaper above a bed
When over-kill is self explanatory

There’s such a thing as too much loud pattern and/or color

A room without pattern can bore, while a room with too many patterns can cause headaches. 

If you already have a lot of pattern from sofa, curtains and/or your rug, then a painted wall referencing one of the key colors of the existing patterns will help calm things down in a “considered” way.

flowered swatch
Make sure to see the full repeat of the wallpaper design

You must get swatches: a lot of them

Looking at wallpaper online isn’t good enough: Everything looks different in real life.

Within the rough parameters described above, pick up all the swatches from various sources that look interesting. 

Very often I’ll take a swatch just because I really like it…even if I’m not yet sure where it could go….and That One turns out to be an unexpected inspired choice. With a little practice you really can trust your instincts.

Otherwise, once you are back in the space you want to wallpaper, pull out the promising ones and dump the rest.

art work on a wallpapered wall
Wall paper can enhance the look of your art collection

wallpaper selection tips

  • Tape the swatchs you like to the wall. You want to look at your swatches along with what’s already in the room. The quality of lighting throughout the day into the night makes a huge difference in appearance. Check how the paper changes from morning to evening.
  • Don’t stare myopically at the swatch. Step back to view the big picture of how the swatch relates to the colors and room design, in addition to how it looks on the wall.
  • Make sure you compare the sample to the full repeat. Avoid unpleasant surprises later. The swatches usually only show part of a design.

Once the wallpaper is hung, don’t be afraid to hang decorative accessories like pictures and drapery. It’s natural to feel nervous about hammering nails or drilling holes into the paper you’ve so carefully installed, but if you want a finished room, there’s no other option.

How to estimate how much wallpaper you will need for any room

Start with a free on-line wallpaper calculator. Check out this one from to get you started.

An oddity of measuring wallpaper is that in the U.S. it is almost always priced by the single roll but sold by the double (based on length) roll. For very high-ceilinged rooms, you might need to look at triple roll length.

It’s usual AND customary to purchase at least 10% more than you need

Here are some of reasons extra rolls AND then some for “overage” are necessary

Small-scale patterns provide flexibility, but a large-scale pattern looks much better when the center of the pattern is in a place that makes sense. Imagine how nice it would look if the pattern center lines up with a doorway. Then imagine how off it might look if it doesn’t.

At the same time, avoid placing rolls in such a way that you have to finish the corners of the room with skinny strips. It’s really not a good look.

With all this in mind, now you can calculate the number of rolls you’ll need to cover the width of each wall. You also need to include extra length (known as Overage) for each strip to allow for lining up the patterns and whatever trimming is needed during installation. And make sure to include extra length — known as “overage” — for each roll, so the pattern can be lined up and trimmed as needed during installation.

You probably know to buy all the rolls from the same batch number, as color dye lots may vary. Then add an extra roll to the total roll number because, if for some reason the paper is damaged, you might not be able to buy from the same dye lot for a perfect match later.

woman hand scraping old wallpaper off before applying new
Don’t underestimate how much work in involved in installing wallpaper well

Things To Consider whether you DIY Or Hire A Pro

If you are undaunted by the prospecting of lining up a pattern repeat, calculating where the center of a repeat might best be placed (centered in front of a door way for example), or taking on major wall prep beforehand, GREAT!

However, if you have a very expensive paper AND you don’t have experience installing. The best advice is to definitely find a professional wallpaper hanger to work with who can do it for you better.

how to prep your walls for wallpaper application 

It pays to do the right work for the best result. Done well, and your gorgeous paper will live beautifully in your home for years.

  • Remove electrical faceplates after shutting the power off. The power should remain that way throughout the project. 
  • Remove old wallpaper, which, if it was hung using traditional wallpaper paste, can be a chore.
  • Prepare the walls by smoothing and cleaning them, remove any protruding nails or other wall fasteners, fill any holes or cracks and sand them flush. If the surface still isn’t smooth, it should be covered with a skim coat of plaster.
  • Lining paper may be necessary — this is a blank wallpaper that is installed before the patterned paper, to help smooth things out.

Aren’t you thrilled that the seemingly decades long, mandatory Greige color scheme trend is sooooo over?

Wallpapers offer whole new vistas of fun and beauty to experiment with in your home.

You’re going to love the results!

Over To You

I’d love to know what you think...

Was there a tip that was especially helpful? Hopefully, you found a little inspiration and maybe even resolved a long standing quandary brilliantly!

are there other topics you might be interested in?

Setting out to create the best version of beautiful home design, tailored especially for you, has a lot of potential questions built in. Please let me know. I’m here to help.

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Using wallpaper in any room is the most immediate way and impactful way to introduce color, texture, sparkle and patterns. After years of white on white rooms or neutral interiors, wallpapers have been making a stunning return in popularity throughout the interior design world. With good reason too: they add a dimension and interest that you can’t get with paint. Don't wait: learn everything you need to know for a more remarkably beautiful home!

about the author

Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it works and how to make it work for anyone. Decades of experience as a design consultant to private clients, retail clients for well known, high end furniture retailers has proved to be invaluable training. She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help anyone, to help themselves to a beautiful, comfortable home, without feeling confusion or overwhelm about where to start and how to proceed. She lives in New York with Olivia, the cat. When not writing posts, she can be found cycling through city parks, watching a lot of film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.

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