For Babette Augustin, choosing wallpaper is all about the role you want it to play in your home.
“When you are looking at it, you need to determine if the wallpaper is going to be a leading lady or a supporting actress,” Augustin says. “One of my associates says that paint is one note, but wallpaper is the melody.”
Augustin has been helping clients choose wallpaper and fabric as the owner of the Mill End Store in Eutaw Village Shopping Center since 2017.
“Wallpaper is super-cool,” she says. “It is not the ugly wallpaper that we grew up with. It can totally redesign spaces.”
Wallpaper faded in favor for a time, but in the past few years it has made a comeback. Technology has made it easier to install, with even peel-and-stick varieties that make hanging it less cumbersome.
Augustin sells wallpaper in styles from classic millennial to midcentury modern. Since adding it to Mill End’s product line in 2018, sales have continued to increase.
Augustin boasts the largest wallpaper stock in the state outside Raleigh..
“With wallpaper, there are other determining factors to decide other than the design,” she says. “You need to see if it’s washable if you have children and what the scale of the room is with the pattern. Wallpaper in smaller spaces, like half-baths, and murals in larger rooms and even on ceilings can add depth.”
Design is a process of combining pattern, color and texture.
“When you incorporate fabric, along with looking at wallpaper, it helps design your space,” Augustin says. “Layering and using pattern in design is something that professional designers can help you do.”
When Lee Ann Fortson’s interior designer, Faye Riddle, suggested wallpaper to bring life to a powder room and her primary bathroom, Fortson immediately agreed.
“We were decorating the entire house, and thought it was a fresh new idea to help update those rooms,” says Fortson.
Riddle, who passed away earlier this year, made other changes to the primary bathroom, including raising the vanity, installing a freestanding bathtub and new shower, and adding a chandelier with other light fixtures.
“It was fantastic. It opened everything up, and the wallpaper is crisp, new and fresh. I loved the end result. It’s peaceful,” Fortson says.
For the powder room, she went with a similar scale blue-and-white wallpaper.
“It went from black with dark, large furniture to more functional and lighter. It’s so much better,” Fortson says.
Fortson loves the look so much that she didn’t want to stop.
“I wanted to do the ceiling in the dining room, but my husband, Alvin, said no,” she says with a laugh.
Less mess, less stress
As an interior designer in Fayetteville since the 1980s, Camille Tyson has seen wallpaper trends come and go.
It has made a comeback in the past eight years or so, she says.
Tyson says when she started in the business, the wallpaper, fabric and bedding all matched. Installers would paste wallpaper directly onto wallboard.
“There were large shapes, busy florals and country patterns, and when you tried to get it off, it would pull off the Sheetrock,” she recalls. “People remember buying houses in the 2000s, and that it was a big hassle to remove it. You would have to get a contractor come and mud the Sheetrock because you couldn’t repaint unless the walls were smooth.
“That’s really when wallpaper came to a screeching halt and wallpaper companies went out of business. People remember how hard it was to remove.”
Some people would skip steps and try to paint over wallpaper, but seams would show through the paint or wall coverings would bubble up.
“It was just a nightmare. … But it is easier now,” says Tyson.
Wallpaper is now central to almost every decorating job for Tyson, who says a new wall-prep process has made all the difference.
“The change is how the wall prep is painted on before the wallpaper goes on. When the wallpaper goes on, it stays in place but is very easy to remove,” says Tyson. “The industry had to do this in order for wallpaper to come back.”
In the past year, Tyson has decorated two beach houses using wallpaper. She balances pattern and texture to add interest to plain walls.
“In houses with 9- to 10-foot ceilings and open floor plans, it gets boring if you just use paint and don’t incorporate texture or pattern. The wallpaper helps bring your eyes up and around the room,” says Tyson.
“I also put wallpaper on ceilings in smaller rooms like powder rooms. Powder rooms tend to be tall and narrow, so if you add the ceiling into the design of the room, it makes the room cozier because it brings the ceiling down,” she says. “People don’t need to be afraid of adding pattern to design.”
Texture and style
For 40 years, Bobby Cruz has installed wallpaper. He agrees that it’s more popular now because it’s easier to handle.
“In my beginning days in the 1980s, we were just jamming installing wallpaper,” Cruz says. “We went through a ton of it in every bathroom and kitchen. I never really saw a drop-off because builders in condominiums would want it installed.”
Now after years of declining sales, he, too, has seen wallpaper come back in favor.
“When I first started installing wallpaper, it went straight on the painted wall. The paste from the wallpaper ate the paint, and then you had loose seams coming off the wall. Paint is just not good for wallpaper,” Cruz says.
“Now, wallpaper has a primer which gives it a good adhesion, but it releases, enabling it to come off without causing damage to the wall.”
Donnie Brewington, who has been hanging wallpaper since 1973, says wallpaper is popular again because it adds a splash of pattern or color without the work and time needed for faux finishing.
“Faux finishes, though, became a short fad, but now wallpaper is very high-end and elegant. Wallpaper like grass cloth has always been big and is bigger than ever now. It’s been around forever. It never went out of style. Texture is what people like that they can’t get with just paint,” says Brewington.
“People are using wallpaper in unexpected places like the inside of a bookcase, an accent wall or even a ceiling. I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and people just got tired of the roosters and the tea pots,” he adds. “And then faux finishes are a lot of effort for the result. When you can choose between marbleizing the wall or using a marble wallpaper, the wallpaper will be easier.”
Patterns did not scare Telisa Pharris when she bought her home in 2020 as much as the thought that her wallpaper was dated.
“I was doing upgrades for lighting and for paint, but I wanted to do something different in the living room. My mother and I were at the Mill End Store looking at fabric when I noticed there was an entire section of wallpaper. I thought, ‘no,’ because it was dated. But Babette said it had really made a comeback,” Pharris recalls.
“I went home and thought about it. I had put in a chandelier and had painted the ceiling a gold color but felt like that wall needed more than paint. Despite still thinking wallpaper was dated, I went back the next week to look anyway. As soon as the first book was brought out, I saw what I wanted on the cover. It was a beautiful mural, and it was perfect.”
Pharris is happy with her choices.
“The mural went with everything and brought it all together. In the winter, I get cozy with decor and bring out pinks and purples. In the summer, my colors tend to be more white, yellow, gray and green. It all works with the mural,” says Pharris.
She loves wallpaper so much that she’s looking at other projects for her primary bedroom.
“This has absolutely inspired me to do more,” says Pharris, “Mill End is a great place to look, too. She has wallpaper samples, fabric and always has fresh pieces like upholstered chairs.”
Augustin says she can order anything at Mill End Store, even things people find online. She can also match price, she says.
“If you see an incredible paper online like on Pinterest, I can access it and order it for you. Even if you have a Chanel taste, there is always a Target budget. There are thousands of companies, but the important piece is to see it in person so you can assess color, texture and scale,” Augustin says.
Some wallpaper books also show coordinating fabrics.
“You have to see it on the wall and in the rooms because you are putting the whole outfit together. This is the world’s biggest crayon box,” says Augustin.
“You are putting art on the wall.”