If you search a #homedecor hashtag on Instagram, you'll scroll through a bevy of beautiful spaces, most of which have something in common: neutral walls. The ubiquitous backdrops in shades of white, beige, grey – or their hybrid, greige – have populated interior decor to the point where the desire against sameness has resulted in a wall-treatment revolution of sorts. From graphic wallpapers to sculptural wall panels to high-tech wonders, designers are looking for ways to introduce colour and texture into our interiors.
"Walls are more than just spaces to fill. We are starting to see them more like canvases for our imagination," says Carly Stojsic, a leading Canadian trend forecaster and former market editor at the Worth Global Style Network (WGSN). "We are looking at the most interesting surfaces that we can find right now."
Stojsic bids farewell to extreme minimalism that has been the prevailing trend of this decade in both design and fashion, in favour of "hyper-styled" visual collaging that is currently equated with luxury design. "Interior trends are often ignited by fashion design trends," she explains, crediting Gucci's Alessandro Michele for leading the consumer toward a fearless approach to print and colour.
As with runways, exuberant prints are no strangers to design fairs, where new wallpaper companies are popping up along mainstay heritage brands such as Farrow & Ball. It's a growing sector in product design.
Among them is San Francisco-based Hygge & West, whose name comes from the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), a decor trend du jour with an ethos in coziness. The small company works exclusively with independent artists and designers to create luxurious hand-screened wallpapers. One of them is Los Angeles-based designer Justina Blakeney, a blogger behind TheJungalow.com, whose motto "Decorate wild!" is an antithesis to Kinfolk magazine's pared-down minimalist aesthetic. Blakeney's penchant for tropical flora is a perfect companion to Greenery, Pantone's 2017 colour of the year. The designer's bold prints are available in solid sheets, as well as in the form of 24-by-32-inch (61-by-81-centimetre) removable wallpaper tiles that could be easily removed and reused – ideal for non-committal wallpaper enthusiasts.
Wallpaper has come a long way since its creation in first-century China, when Ts'ai Lun invented papermaking from textile waste. Popularized in the Tudor era in the Western world, for centuries wallpaper was relegated to living areas as it was vulnerable to humidity in spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms. That's not the case today. Italian wallpaper company Wall & Deco has pioneered Wet System, a patent-pending technical wall finishing for damp environments. They also offer Out System, a weather-proof system that allows the wallpaper to be applied outdoors, creating endless possibilities for exterior design. Taking things even further, Wall & Deco has used their designs for ceiling coverage, something Stojsic believes is greatly overlooked. "We see it happening in restaurants and retail, but we don't do enough decoration in our own spaces."
Hygge takes on a different, more literal appearance in Murals Wallpaper's Knit collection by designer Anna Fell. This larger-than-life, digitally printed wall treatment brilliantly fuses the aesthetic of Nordic design with the whimsical play on scale, creating a bit of a dollhouse illusion. The London-based company also made use of the current terrazzo trend and presented it in paper form. The bits of colourful "marble" floating on a solid surface recalls compositions of Memphis design, another recent comeback story (although they do have a collection dedicated to that as well). They also offer a range of marble and brick designs for fans of simulated texture.
Those craving real texture can look to Muratto, a Portuguese-based brand specializing in natural-cork wall coverings. Muratto's modular designs are a far cry from ordinary cork sheets draped on office walls, or the outgoing rustic trend of reclaimed and recycled materials. They take on shapes that mimic terra cotta, stone and metal. But it's the Organic Blocks range that pushes the material in the most exciting way, creating soft wall sculptures with an undulating 3-D effect.
New technologies are driving toward three-dimensionality in flat surface design. "Everything is so multisensory now, and it's what gets traction," says Stojsic, who believes that our walls will soon mimic our screens. At the 2015 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, Kyra and Robertson Hartnett, the duo behind printing studio twenty2, presented that sentiment with DEEP. This 3-D wallpaper collection, a result of four years of research in collaboration with Pratt Institute's Sarah Strauss, consists of five patterns by five designers, from florals to graphic geometry to a seascape of sailing ships. It's an illusion to be viewed with anaglyph 3-D glasses, but it helps, of course, that they also look beautiful without them. Black and white or grey-scale line drawings use the red and cyan offsets to create a 3-D effect, much like old 1980s comic books.
The idea of experiencing one's space through wearable technology is not so far-fetched in the era of rapid technological advances. A decade ago, London-based design sister duo Maria and Ekaterina Yaschuk of Meystyle created LED wallpaper, transforming walls into light structures. Given the longevity of LED lights, it's more pragmatic than it sounds. In 2015, Google patented a technology that could turn walls into screens by using photo-reactive paint. The smart wall, controlled by a computer or a smartphone, could then take on any image just with a simple click. Stojsic sees these innovations as natural progression. "The digital space is something we will always want to surround ourselves with. That's why materials that emulate, resemble or reflect the sentiments of the digital world – things that are glossy and imagined and lustrous and electric – are so interesting." Whatever the future holds, plain walls do not apply. In the meantime, it's all about having some fun.