On the Walls: Eco-Friendly Wallcoverings

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Phillip Jeffries paperweave
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Phillip Jeffries hand-rubbed Gold Leaf
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Innovations Grass Cloth
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Pallas DialTones
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Phillip Jeffries' handcrafted, textured wall coverings include paperweaves, grasscloth, bamboo, raffia and other natural materials.
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Phillip Jeffries' handcrafted, textured wall coverings include paperweaves, grasscloth, bamboo, raffia and other natural materials.
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Handmade bark wallcovering

Once upon a time, wallpaper was simply that–printed paper–applied to walls with a flour-based paste. In the mid-twentieth century, manufacturers added so-called improvements: vinyl and PVC, formaldehyde, chemical dyes, fungicides, and powerful adhesives. The “paper” went up with less effort, lasted longer, and even peeled off easier. The unfortunate byproduct, though, was volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic vapors from the solvents, plastics, paints, and glues that may cause headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, ­memory impairment, respiratory illness, and even liver or kidney damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Happily, a few manufacturers are coming full circle, eliminating the chemical additives and offering an array of natural or recycled materials and less toxic adhesives that offer wall-to-wall beauty.

ALL-NATURAL WALL: Renewable resources such as rice, sisal, bamboo, linen, grasses, wood, and cork are just a few of the beautiful options that create rich, diverse textures and are mostly biodegradable. If you choose wood, select a product that’s been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (www.FSC.org).

WALL “PAPER”: Handmade paper, parch­­­ment, and rice paper are available in every pattern and color imaginable. Newer, greener options tout water-based inks without formaldehyde, heavy metals, PVC, or vinyl backing. (Avoid using paper-type wallcoverings in moist areas where mildew and mold can develop.)

RECYCLED: Polyester, cloth, and phone books are just two of the post-consumer materials being reused in innovative wallcoverings. Though not “natural,” they keep waste out of the landfill. Check with the manufacturer to ensure low VOC emissions and odors.

Stay Away From:

• vinyl backings and coatings, which emit VOCs
• mildew and insect repellents (except for boric acid)


Handcrafted wall decorating is back in vogue and ever so resourceful when you use scraps. If you’re not ready to commit to an entire room, try a border, a contrast stripe, or one wall. Do a test run on a scrap board or the inside of a closet to watch for colorfastness and adhesion. Then check again for durability and fastness when dry.

Try these:

• newspapers and comics
• wallpaper samples and scraps
• torn paper sacks, applied in a patchwork (looks like leather)
• cloth and ribbons (stapled, draped, or held in place with molding; batting underneath makes a great sound muffler)
• copies of old photos
• bark
• pages from an old book
• botanical prints


These innovative wallcoverings may sway future trends.

• DialTones wallpaper (by Pallas) is made from recycled Japanese phone books. Mixed with natural tints, it comes in several hues.

•New York University students have created solar-powered wallpaper from electroluminescent materials that responds to a room’s natural lighting needs and can be manually adjusted with the help of a solar-powered battery.

• Johns Manville’s Textra might be called “glass wallpaper” because it’s made from abundant resources: sand, lime, and clay. Textra covers everything from outdated paneling to cracked plaster, and it’s low VOC, mold repellent, and super durable.

Now That’s Recycling: When the Vicksburg, Mississippi, newspaper found itself without the resources for a printed page during the Civil War, publishers published the Daily Citizen on the back of stripped wallpaper.



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