Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Wallpaper 1,2,3's"

In my apartment in Rio, there is an entrance area that I generously refer to as the "Foyer". It has a small wall, that encloses the door, viewable only once one is fully inside the apartment. On one side there is a huge (1 meter) round window where light filters through patterned glass and the coastal breeze constantly flows. On the other side is a wooden hutch with sliding glass doors fondly called the "Catete Gothic", so named after the neighborhood (Catete) where is was built, and the era (Gothic) which it reflects. Upon it sits the shrine to Saint Sebastian, the patron Saint of Rio de Janeiro, (and one of the better looking nude saints), along with a few other relics and talismans.
Pax Hotel circa 1940's
Years ago, after buying this apartment in the Gloria neighborhood of Rio, I was tasked with decorating it on a rather tight budget. The basics were first covered, wiring, plumbing, ceilings, and floors, leaving the enjoyable job of decorating. The apartment building was once a hotel, (Pax Hotel, see above), and the apartment I was now responsible for was originally a suite, with two large rooms and a few smaller ones. Keeping with the theme of the hotel, I really wanted to include the palm frond wallpaper from the Beverly Hills Hotel. After much research, I was in luck to discover it had recently been re-issued, and was available on the market. I secured one double roll of it, at a considerable price, and hoped it would be enough to cover the main wall. Hiring a professional wallpaper hanger, I watched as he pieced and put the puzzle together to create a beautiful mural. 
Beverly Hills Hotel Walpaper
 Alas, aesthetic choices are never universal, and even this undertaking encountered some household dispute. The re-issue came in 3 shades, from a subdued sage to a bright green (the original) to a vivid turquoise. A disagreement ensued over which color-way would be chosen for the apartment. The solution was the more subtle palette of sage on the main wall, and I framed a swatch of the original and hung it above the counter in the kitchen. Everybody's happy. Plus I get decor for two rooms.

When it came time to paper the wall in the foyer, I needed something to coordinate with the adjoining rooms, while still maintaining the spirit of Rio and the pied-a-terre apartment at hand. Working in the window-dressing world, allows access to a lot of materials, and after an installation on 5th Ave in NYC, I walked away with several rolls of wallpaper by William Morris, the noted British decorator, designer, and later religious fanatic of beauty and the Arts and Crafts movement.

Option 1: William Morris Wallpaper
Having seen, and even assisted the installation of several wallpaper projects in NY by this time, I decided I would go it alone, and hang the paper myself. The paper went up surprisingly easy (then again, it was a small wall), and I was pleased with the results.

There were a few lessons to be learned from attempt number 1, namely, a small swatch of a pattern can be lovely while a slightly larger area of same said pattern can be overwhelming. Plus, the person I share the apartment with declared: "Old Lady!" and as such it was determined it would be replaced directly.

Another project in NYC soon yielded more wallpaper, (as it was becoming a medium of choice), this one a florid design with birds and an Asian influence.
Option 2: Floral Wallpaper
Lessons aplenty in this installation. Namely, I thought what the heck, despite numerous warnings from all authorities in wallpaper, to remove old paper before re-papering, that I would just paper right over the top of option 1. Lessons: William Morris is highly textured, and after the new paper dries, the texture of the original covering could be seen in the new paper. I called it all additional texture. The busy print of the floral design was otherwise very forgiving, and in a place or two I even added a patch to cover an imperfection - practically invisible to the naked eye.

My 'room-mate' now shouted: "Old Lady!", as apparently did the wallpaper. And thus again it was determined the paper would be replaced.

This time, I was preparing for a demonstration in NYC and for the filming of my Paper Arts course, and was material shopping accordingly. I discovered that the Janovic paint and paper store in Chelsea actually stocks a variety of wallpaper on the roll, ready to hang. For the project at hand, I bought a modish print with a metallic finish, perfect for my demonstration, my Paper Arts class, some gift wrap trend forecasting I was working on, and that pesky wall in Rio. Multi-tasking.

Option 3: Mod Metallic Paper
The paper was a success in most every way. It was perfect for my projects in NYC. It was a hit as gift wrap. And there was nothing Old Lady about it. On arrival in Rio, transporting the cumbersome roll and the white suspicious powder that when mixed with water becomes wallpaper paste, I attacked the wall with relish.

As always, there were lessons to be learned. 1. Textured William Morris wallpaper is powerful enough to show through two additional layers of rather good quality wallpaper. 2. Patches invisible to  the naked eye are plainly visible when covered in a metallic paper. 3. Metallic paper, in general, is very unforgiving, and must be installed with precision. 4. Always use a sharp, fresh blade to trim the overlap, and allow time for the paper to dry sufficiently to avoid tearing. 5. In dim light, thankfully everything looks better. 6. In the end decorating should be fun, and it's not permanent, so enjoy it.

That's what I am doing. Enjoying it. I love the new mod look. It really freshened up the room, adding a more masculine and design oriented look. It ties in some of the other modern design elements scattered throughout the apartment, (tear drop fixtures, lit globes, tulip table and chairs, round bed), and coordinates with all the other colors present.

Coming up next: When I grow tired of this look, I plan on delicately shredding back some of the paper, to reveal glimpses of all three, to create that textured, layered, effect. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, for more tips on wallpaper and creative things to do with it, check out my Paper Arts Course on

For more on the Beverly Hills Hotel - a must see in LA:

For more on William Morris check out: 

Janovic Paint and Paper Stores:

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