Wonder Wall: Stylish, Eco-Friendly Wallpaper

Stylish and sustainable, wallpaper is back and ready to wake up tired walls.

| May/June 2011

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. 

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