Wall Covering Update: What Today’s Well-Dressed Walls Are Wearing
By Terry Murphy
Last week, on a visit to a wallcovering distributor in Chicago, I was reminded of one of my first jobs in design, working in a wallpaper store. I later joined Columbus Coated Fabrics’ Guard Wallcovering as a regional sales representative, so wallcovering has always been an exciting product for me.
It is an easy, effective and cost-efficient way to transform a room and a natural problem-solver that can guide people through large spaces or divide up large spaces into small, intimate ones. It can correct and extend the service life of damaged walls, brighten walls or tone them down and add texture and pattern. It can also stimulate the senses and the enjoyment of interior architecture.
As others in the design community share my enthusiasm, we are starting to see resurgence in the popularity of wallcovering. Design and fashion tend to follow cycles, and the use of wallcovering is on a definite upswing. Open any current design magazine and you will see wallcovering. For years there have been unsuccessful attempts to repair and extend the useful life of painted walls that have been scuffed and damaged, or that simply look old before their time. This is especially significant in settings like apartment buildings, where in an effort to retain tenants and maximize rental rates per square foot, many designers are returning to covering walls with vinyl.
Wall decoration is as old as cave painting. It seems like we have been sprucing up our walls for a very long time. The use of fresco paintings on walls dates back to 1500 BCE on the island of Crete. Stenciling, hand painting, and woodblock painting were all common techniques in use prior to the 1700s. Wallpaper is found dating back to the late 15th century. Wallpaper became affordable for many households with the invention of machine printing in 1785, and with the repeal of Queen Anne’s “wallpaper tax” in 1836.
The most modern advancement in wallcovering came after the Second World War, when high-speed printing became available. The use of vinyl coating on decorative paper offered easier installation, stain resistance and a cleanable surface. Residential wallcovering materials of that era were typically a paper substrate coated with vinyl on the front and sometimes back surfaces.
For commercial wallcovering applications, fabric-backed vinyl is the material of choice. The thickness of the vinyl used will vary depending on the application and level of expected wear and tear, and the backing can be woven or nonwoven to suit the product performance requirements. Vinyl wallcovering is a preferred material because it offers a sophisticated and “upscale” look, yet is easily cleaned and provides durable wall protection.
Innovation is driving the trend in wallcovering. It can look like anything the designer or homeowner can imagine, from complicated embossing, to custom murals, to exciting and colorful graphics. Another growing category in wallcovering is the use of a rigid sheet adhered to the wall for protection. These products are lightweight and perfect for areas like elevators and elevator lobbies because they are impact resistant without adding significantly to weight. There are also products like 3D laminate that is formed on a high-density fiberboard. These films are extraordinarily diverse and can be textured or made to look like wood, stone, jelly beans or anything else imaginable.
Wallcovering is a great sustainable choice because it is durable and cleanable with simple soap and water. Most manufacturers produce “low VOC” products that pass third-party certification as low emitters of volatile organic compounds and many comply with NSF 342, the Sustainability Assessment for Wallcovering Products. This multi-attribute standard most recently published on Aug. 28, 2012 by NSF International looks at product design, product manufacturing, long-term usage and value, corporate responsibility, and is unique because it evaluates the distribution chain. The wallcovering industry should be applauded for its efforts in becoming more sustainable and for producing innovative products.
I watch with great interest to see what new innovations from the wallcovering sector begin to appear on the design scene. And I hope you will too! For comments, questions or more information please contact Terry Murphy, firstname.lastname@example.org.