The Ultimate Natural Wallcovering: Reclaimed Paper Bark

Bark saved from felled trees at the University of California at Berkeley makes a beautiful natural wallcovering in one woman's home.

| November/December 2002

  • The bark is supple and papery with beautiful color striations.
    Photo By Mark Luthringer
  • Covering a wall with bark frames a garden view and pulls the outdoors in.
    Photo By Mark Luthringer

A few years ago, a number of mature trees were felled on the University of California at Berkeley campus because they were shading greenhouses used by the College of Natural Resources. The trees were truly magnificent—at least two feet in diameter with a beautiful bark that literally fell off in sheathes as the trees hit the ground.

As several students protested the demise of such beautiful trees, the bark blew around the sidewalk and streets, and I gathered as much as I could. One of my husband’s students also picked up a piece, thinking of me. So it seems this bark found me.

I am told these were a variety of “paperbark” tree (genus Melaleuca). The bark is supple and papery with beautiful color striations ranging from honey yellows to cinnamon tones. The texture ranges from a fine tissue-like paper, which peels off in layers similar to mica, to more calloused pieces that are stiffer and sport knots. I knew I would make use of this bark—but how?

The main floor of our house is one story above ground level, and we wanted to enhance the feeling of continuity between the interior and our small, well-planted garden. We had recently replaced a window with a sliding glass door and a Barcelona-style balcony. Putting this bark on that wall became an obvious choice.

To attach the bark, I generously trowelled wallpaper paste onto the wall. I then applied the bark, laid a piece of brown paper over it, and rubbed and pressed until the bark flattened and stuck to the wall. I had to keep a number of straight pins on hand to pin corners that resisted lying flat or heavier pieces that tended to slide a bit before the paste dried.

I believe this procedure would also work for more leathery or stiffer bark varieties, though you would have to experiment with pastes and drying times. You may want to soak thin but stiffer barks such as birch or eucalyptus in water overnight before applying.

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