Your Papers, Please

When and why wallpaper works.

Lisa Marie Hart Interior Design, Real Estate

Interior designer Mark Nichols eschews 
painted accent walls in contemporary homes.

Style knows no city limits. Designer Mark Nichols’ recent clients, a 
Canadian couple, envisioned buying a second home in Palm Springs. After finding better value in Rancho Mirage, however, they called Nichols to overhaul their new digs.

“They discovered that, with the right designer and about nine months to renovate, they could get exactly what they needed further down valley,” he says. His down-to-the-studs remodel revealed some tricky problem areas, care of the original builder. Wallpaper by Toronto-based artist Karen Darling provided an aesthetic solution.

Darling’s paintings appear on wall treatments by Area Environments. The company showcases 
imagery from a group of international contributors who create “wallpaper with artists’ eyes.” To achieve the look that caught Nichols’ eye, Darling scrapes through multiple translucent layers of wax, down to her abstract paintings below, in a technique that adds intriguing depth. Here’s how Nichols put her art to work in Rancho Mirage.

Problem 1: an odd space off the kitchen. “This sitting area now has a den-like feel, but it was built as a dining room. Because it shares a property wall with the adjacent neighbor, redefining the room as anything other than a space adjacent to the kitchen was impossible. The room was windowless but quite visible from the entry hall. I chose to lean into it and make the room a focal point with Darling’s ‘Chilled.’ I’m not a fan of the painted accent wall in contemporary interiors, so I sought out a digitally printed wallpaper that was scalable to the wall, had a touch of urbanity, and yet felt ethereal, as the room’s primary function is relaxation.”

Problem 2: a shallow master bedroom. “While having the better bathroom and view, the master is shallow compared to the other bedrooms. I sought to up its importance by cladding the entry vestibule and headboard wall in another pattern by Darling called ‘Urban Groove.’ It’s slightly playful, but not too strong for a bedroom. Both patterns read as fine art, where a painted wall would have been a weak choice.”


The den and master bedroom  found instant atmosphere from scalable wallpaper.

Nichols’ words for wall-treatment skeptics: 
“In my experience, the best interior design 
outcomes are always preceded by architectural challenges. Here, wallpaper solved two problems that were inherent to the as-built plan and that could not be solved architecturally. Wallpaper could also be successful when the intention is to deviate from the main narrative of the home; in other words, used sparingly but intentionally to highlight or surprise, such as a punch of metallic in the powder room, a pop of color in the dining room, or an inviting texture in the den or study. If I’m clear with myself and my client as to why I’m straying from paint to paper, it’s usually not a hard sell. Assuring the client that we’re not flocking the walls from floor to ceiling and adding matching drapery and valances usually closes the deal.”

For those still on the fence, an increasing array of removeable wall treatments gives scoffers the option to pull the paper clean off without damaging those boring white walls underneath.