Mother Earth Living

Wonder Wall: Stylish, Eco-Friendly Wallpaper

Stylish and sustainable, wallpaper is back and ready to wake up tired walls.
By Ginevra Pylant
May/June 2011
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Printed with water-based inks on FSC-certified paper, Lacework in Moss is one of 36 eye-catching wallpapers designed by Amy Butler for Graham & Brown ( The eco-conscious collection features botanical, geometric and damask designs in six vibrant color palettes.
Photo Courtesy Graham & Brown

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Once a decorating staple, wallpaper fell by the wayside in the mid ’80s as homeowners began to curse peeling, tacky patterns and turn to the clean, minimal look of paint. But with today’s innovations in printing processes, design and distribution, wallpaper is making a comeback, and many homeowners are reconsidering its virtues. It’s a wonderful way to add a burst of color, pattern and texture to your home, and the options are endless. Funky florals. Stately stripes. Delicate damasks. No matter your style, a perfect pattern is out there waiting to transform your walls.

Fortunately, as wallpaper designs have become more innovative, so have their notoriously toxic production techniques. Though the market is still saturated with chemical-laden vinyl varieties, more and more companies have begun to offer environmentally responsible options. Look for patterns printed with water-based inks on recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper, natural wall coverings made of rapidly renewable materials such as grasscloth and bamboo, and vintage papers produced before the advent of vinyl. Avoid PVC-coated products, which contain chemical additives that have been linked to a myriad of health problems. To get you started, we’ve rounded up a collection of nontoxic, sustainable papers as well as tips on how to hang wallpaper, make your own organic paste and repurpose leftover scraps. 

1. Manchester, England-based Little Greene carries historical designs in updated color palettes. Each pattern, including this Arts and Crafts motif, is printed with nontoxic pigments on FSC-certified paper. They also offer solvent-free, starch-based wallpaper paste and coordinating water-based, low-VOC paints. See Lansdowne Walk in Marigold.

2. Inspired by the rugged beauty of Maine, Angela Adams translates her natural surroundings into playful, modern designs. Her commercial-grade wallpapers are PVC-free, stain-resistant and Greenguard-certified for low-VOC emissions; they’re also recyclable. See Corice in Sprout. 

3. Graham & Brown’s Eco collection is VOC-free and printed on paper from managed resources—for every tree chopped down, three are planted. Even the tractors use vegetable oil in the hydraulics to lessen the impact of leaks contaminating the forest floor. The packaging is made of corn and is completely compostable. See Urban Birdcage. 

4. Farrow & Ball uses its line of low- and zero-VOC water-based paints to create classic wallpapers in heavenly hues. Every roll is made to order using traditional manufacturing methods, which begin with a hand-brushed base coat of color followed by a layer of block-printed patterns. The results are full of texture and depth. See Ranelagh, BP 1817. 

5. makelike is a small design studio producing punchy patterns in Portland, Oregon. Printed by hand with natural dyes, the recyclable paper is manufactured with responsibly sourced fiber. Unlike most conventional sources, makelike’s papers are not bleached and therefore do not release hazardous materials into the environment. See Zig Zag in Red/Pink. 

6. Made in Wayne, Pennsylvania, this vibrant Birch Tree pattern from Wallquest’s Eco Chic collection is printed with water-based inks on FSC-certified paper. All residual water and ink is thoroughly filtered by a third party before it is returned to the environment. See Birch Trees, EH61004. 

7. Robots, squirrels and sumo wrestlers are a few of the cute characters found on Aimée Wilder’s wallpaper. Perfect for kids and the young at heart, the hand silk-screened papers are FSC-certified. All of the mill’s short paper fiber is reclaimed and used in the agricultural industy for nutrient-rich compost or animal bedding. See Clouds in Storm. 

8. Secondhand Rose is the go-to source for set designers, stylists and anyone seeking a century’s worth of vintage wallpapers. The rolls of traditional toiles, art nouveau motifs, ‘50s kitsch and other rare treasures will remind you of a bygone era when wallpaper was actually made of paper and applied with nontoxic wheat paste. See RE-1005. 

Roll Call 

Looking for more eco-friendly wallpapers? Look no further.

Hannah’s Treasures
more than 1,000 authentic vintage patterns from art deco to ’70s retro  

Madison & Grow 
hand silk-screened using water-based inks; vinyl-free papers inspired by nature

wallpapers inspired by mid-century illustration and Scandinavian design; certified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification  

Mod Green Pod 
vinyl-free wallpaper and coordinating organic fabric out of Austin, Texas  

Phillip Jeffries
hemp, bamboo and other rapidly renewable plant fibers; many backed with 85 to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper

modern, artistic photographic designs printed on 31 percent post-consumer recycled paper

handprinted colorful grasscloth with contemporary motifs; made in Connecticut

Woodson & Rummerfield’s
Florence Broadhurst’s
legendary wallpapers printed on recyclable paper with low-VOC inks

Learn how to properly hang wallpaper with the article "Getting the Hang of It: How to Hang Wallpaper!"

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