How to Get Past Your Fear of Bold Wallpaper Prints

Follow these tips and you’ll never be afraid of putting up that pattern-crazy paper again

Casey Design/Planning Group Inc., original photo on Houzz

Bold wallpaper may seem like a risky indulgence. After all, you can always brush over a too-bright hue of paint, but tearing out a wallpaper mistake is a different story. Follow a few tips, however, and you’ll be able to use a personality-packed paper with confidence, creating a high-style statement without DIYer’s remorse.

Balance Bold With Visual Breaks

Bold-print papers are popular in even the smallest bathrooms, where they can make a big statement with plenty of style.

Part of the reason they work so well is that bathrooms almost always include at least one sizable mirror, which helps break up the walls, much like the windows, door and all the (usually white) fixtures do.

This means you get a look that feels bold but has lots of visual breaks, so it isn’t overwhelming.

This same principle can work in other spaces too. Once you’ve installed a bold wallpaper, layer over it with a mirror and lighter-colored furnishings to help tone down the look. It will feel lively but livable.

In a bedroom, a headboard and dreamy full-length curtains will break up a bold print. Choose simple solids for these; if you like, add a little more pattern through throw pillows and a blanket.

You can also use a large pendant shade (like this one made of fluffy feathers or a simple white drum) to indirectly break up a wall. Here, the natural-print paper almost becomes a tall headboard, while the stretches of white keep the room breezy.

In a kitchen, let backsplash tile, cabinetry and a large sideboard or cupboard break up your wallpaper. The fresh blue-based paper here makes the space look clean without feeling at all clinical or boring.

In any space, there are ways to balance out the amount of wallpaper that shows by using visual breaks, many of which can be added after the paper is installed. So there’s really no reason to fear making a bold choice — you can always tone it down until it feels just right.

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Choose the Right Location for Best Effect

Accent walls. To get a bold print without going all-in (and to save some work and money), paper just one wall. Be sure to pick

Simonini Homes, original photo on Houzz

up this color somewhere else in the space so it feels harmonious. (Note how the vivid blue of this chevron print is echoed in the cube poofs.) Pick a wall that’s already a visual focus — often the one facing you as you enter the space — or a wall that frames a terrific view.

Wallpaper can help tie a complex wall together, blending together little bends and bulkheads for a more put-together look. In this bedroom, the stormcloud paper wraps around two corners and behind the shelves, so the entire entrance feels like one powerful feature wall. This is a simple decorating trick that makes the room feel a little more visually organized.

Foyers. Talk about making an entrance: A bold wallpaper print turns a simple foyer into an experience, greeting you and your guests with a style statement. 

Chris Chapman Bespoke Kitchens & Furniture, original photo on Houzz

As mentioned before, a large mirror will help keep the space feeling open, and a piece of furniture like a console or a slim bench will further break up the pattern so just the right amount shows. To really go wild, add a contrast-pattern rug in a similar color.

Stairwells. Stairwells are inherently transitional spaces: We rarely linger in them, so they’re a great place to add a bold print you might otherwise grow tired of. Keep in mind that the installer will need the skill and a little extra material to deal with the sharp angle.

Alternately (and as an easier DIY), cut your paper into strips and apply it to the risers of a staircase. This works especially well with vertical patterns, such as these branches that appear to stretch up to the next floor.

Complement Bold Walls With Solid Furniture Fabrics

Eclectic spaces. Don’t want to tame your wild instincts? For those who love a more-is-more look, a bold wallpaper is stunning in an eclectic space. Layer it with interesting wallhangings, and don’t be afraid to get a little asymmetrical.

Shelving. For a more demure living room application, consider applying wallpaper to the back of shelves or glass-doored

Ann Lowengart Interiors, original photo on Houzz

cabinets. Books and picture frames look great in the foreground, and an area this size can usually be covered by just a single roll.

If you want to inject some color without clashing, blue is generally a safe bet. It’s neutral enough to work with an array of other colors. This paper is quite vivid and bold when you look closely, but peeking out from the back of these shelves it appears as more of a subtle visual texture and a little pop of cheer.

Paneling. Filling areas of wall paneling (either pre-existing panels or ones added for the purpose) with a few sheets of paper creates an elegant accent that recalls neoclassical style. Notice here how the green accent paper is paired with another paper in the sitting area. Frames like this let you use a bolder print to complement a much more subtle paper dressing a larger area.

Small areas. In this eclectic dining room I designed with my team in Toronto, there were only a few thin stretches of wall left between the ceiling, windows, fireplace and wood paneling that wraps the room. In a quieter space, a simple paint would suffice, but when you have just a small area, why not add some big drama? This tropical bird print picks up on the bold ceiling hue and injects some vitality, making a truly unique statement even without much square footage.

The lesson here: Don’t be afraid to reach for a boldly printed wallpaper. It will give you the sort of decor satisfaction a simple paint color never could.

Considering Wallpaper? Here's How to Get Started

Alexander Johnson Photography, original photo on Houzz

Toronto Interior Design Group | Yanic Simard, original photo on Houzz

Categories: Architecture and Interiors, Artwork and Design