On a roll

Developments in digital techniques and bespoke hand-printing are combining to make wallcoverings one of the most innovative areas of interior design. Bethan Ryder takes a look at some of the latest ideas

A rugged beach stretching out towards the horizon, a flocked pattern sprouting three-dimensional paper flowers, sequins dangling vertically – since their renaissance a few years back, wallpapers are not what they used to be. Designers are fabricating striking wallcoverings in a variety of forms ranging from digitally printed images or hand-printed site-specific wallpapers to highly textural bespoke works and even liquid-metal finishes.

Exploding the notion that wallflowers are boring are the digitally printed, giant floral murals from specialist printing company Surface View. These are reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe paintings, but actually magnified William Morris designs, available alongside 1970s-style prints and photomurals of beachscapes, skies and forest scenes by painter Vladimir Tretchikoff. Surface View’s website, designed by NB Studio, presents images of its products ‘in situ’, with a furniture foreground of your choosing, to help buyers get the picture. Cleverer still, type in your wall measurements and the site calculates the price – for example, a 300cm x 240cm image costs £540 plus vat. Once selected, Surface View then produces your image in the form of wallpaper in 120cm-wide strips.

Surface View director Michael Ayerst spotted a gap in the market and decided to create what is essentially a sophisticated image bank by partnering with specialist libraries. ‘We formed an agreement with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, whereby we digitally scan a selection of their images to a very high resolution,’ he says. ‘This allows us to enlarge or crop something like a Morris pattern, turning it into something with a contemporary feel.’ Also available are iconic 20th-century images courtesy of Wayne Hemingway’s Land of Lost Content collection, and, soon to be released, a National Maritime Museum collection including photographs by Alan Villiers, vintage P&O posters and architectural drawings of ships. ‘We’re not looking to offer thousands of images, just really interesting images that look good large,’ says Ayerst.

Ornamenta, founded by Jane Gordon Clark, is another bespoke wallpaper company offering Brobdingnagian-scale digital images of flora with its Hot House Flowers collection, Magenta Orchid being the most popular. She has supplied hand-printed wallpapers for commercial interiors around the world, including restaurants, spas, hotels and airport lounges. Ornamenta also offers classic trompe l’oeils (from scudding clouds to timber effects) plus a Bridget Riley-like range entitled Spatial Graphics, which includes one design that creates the illusion of a curve in the wall.

Moving a step beyond two-dimensional wallcoverings are the textural and 3D creations by print designers such as Tracy Kendall and Linda Florence. Early Kendall designs include digital images of stacks of plates and books running from floor to ceiling. In 2000, she launched a handmade, bespoke range (priced about £350 per m2) featuring a sequinned paper inspired by 1920s ‘flapper’ dresses. Other papers incorporate jigsaw pieces, buttons and fringing. Her most popular design is Stripe 4, also known as In the White Room.

Florence, whose designs are sold in Harrods and Ted Baker stores, experiments with unusual materials such as grit paper, more commonly seen on skateboards, cut into abstract leaf shapes, and flock designs incorporating computer graphics and metallic foils, which are particularly popular because of their luminescent quality. Some of her wallpapers literally sprout floral blooms. For a recent exhibition, she created an interactive using Magna Doodle (the material used in Etch-a-Sketches). ‘I flocked it with a dark grey floral pattern and people could add their own leaves, write into it and do whatever they liked by using the magnets hanging around the gallery space,’ she says.

For Florence, surface is all. ‘All things are interactive by the way you use the material, because if it’s really interesting then people are going to want to touch it and feel it anyway,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t have to be [about] putting stickers on a wall, or moving magnets around, it’s just got to be interesting enough to engage people.’

Taking wallcoverings into the future is a company called Based Upon, run by the brothers Richard and Ian Abell, two modern-day alchemists who have developed liquid-metal and semi-precious resin surfaces. So far, they’ve been responsible for the ‘glam’ finishes in several restaurant interiors by David Collins Studio, such as the titanium columns and the golden staircase wall panels inlaid with titanium vines at Nobu Berkeley Street, in London.

Pushing the process further, Based Upon has designed bespoke pieces akin to bas relief artworks. One such wall created for a family residence in London’s Notting Hill features a design composed from the palm lines of each family member, interspersed with accumulated items relating to the family’s history. Such a personalised piece measuring 2.5m2 would cost about £20 000 and take four months to complete.

For those wanting something quicker – and considerably cheaper – Based Upon is launching a collection of surfaces that can be used as wallcoverings. These off-the-peg wall finishes include rusts, antiqued metallics and various textured silvers, bronzes, golds and platinums, which range in price from £300-£750 per m2. A golden opportunity, if ever there was one, to avoid the tedium of watching paint dry.

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