Ask the Experts

By staff May 1, 2003

Q. What's an interesting wall color or faux finish for a living room decorated in the ultra-modern idiom? I'm tired of these chalky white walls but I can't think of an alternative.

Laura Jackson of Home Resource responds: Modern design is a trend right now and a lot of people are experimenting with the style who don't necessarily want all-white walls. Fortunately there are plenty of options. I suggest repainting in a pale cool gray. Benjamin Moore makes a really nice color called Pale Oak. It's sophisticated and gives a hint of color but isn't at all dreary. Use an eggshell finish rather than the flat because you'll get a subtle luster and you can wipe down the walls. Do your trim in bright white so it pops. Then pick an accent wall-a fireplace wall, the wall behind your sofa, a wall with a dramatic built-in-and do an interesting treatment. You want to create a focal point. And it should be a wall that is contained and has a definite stopping place, not a wall that flows into another space.

That wall can be a bright, bold color, one that picks up from a color in your furniture or accessories. Or it can be the gray color, only a few shades darker. For something really unusual, select a wall covering with a lot of texture for your accent wall. It should be a tone-on-tone in the palest gray. Lots of wallpaper books show patterns meant to coordinate with modern art and modern furniture. You might want to investigate some. 

Q. I notice a lot of wallpaper again in model homes and I'd like to do my small powder room, which has a bright white pedestal sink and toilet. There is no window. What kind of paper should I use and what about the ceiling? Can I paper that, too?

Jonathan Slentz, owner of the Wallpaper Store and an interior designer, says: If you're worried about moisture buildup because you don't have a window, it's really not a concern today because environmental laws mandate that all wallpapers are vinyl coated and protected. If your walls are properly prepared and the right adhesive is applied (and I can't stress enough the importance of proper wall preparation), you should have no problem with the paper staying up.

Having said that, I do caution against fabric and grass cloth. Both will absorb water and stain and they're not the best option for a bath unless the room gets very little use and your tidy guests can be relied upon not to splash water.

Since your fixtures are white, I'd like to see some white in the background of the paper to create a harmonizing relationship. Don't ignore your white fixtures; bring them into the scheme. That doesn't mean the whole background has to be white, just some white in the background or pattern. Florals are generally a good solution for a touch of white.

We do ceilings in wallpaper and clients usually love the result. A contrasting ceiling pattern in a small room with a high ceiling creates an intimate feel and will bring the room down a bit. If you're dealing with a low ceiling, put the same paper on both walls and ceiling and it will make the ceiling appear higher and the room more expansive.

The old rule about a small print in a small room is nonsense. Some of the most glamorous and best- looking powder rooms I've seen have big, big patterns, so go with what you like and don't be afraid to be bold. But do bring information about the room to your wallpaper expert. A photo of the room or its dimensions and a sketch will help an expert guide you to the most successful choices. Let the expert know about any special features in the room such as crown molding, columns, ledges or open shelving, because this will influence the paper you choose. 

Q. I want to give a tent effect to my screened lanai by draping the ceiling with fabric. How do I figure the yardage, what kind of fabric should I use and who puts it up, a wallpaper hanger or someone who specializes in window drapes?

Interior designer Micheline Laberge, a fan of draping ceilings and architectural elements, advises: You want to deal with a designer, who in turn works with a quality drapery workroom. Most of these workrooms don't deal with the public direct. Draping or tenting creates a wonderfully intimate and inviting environment; and more and more Florida homeowners are choosing it because we live so much in our screened outdoor rooms. Tenting and draping look like a simple, casual alternative to paint, but the engineering and the expertise it takes to pull it off make the process complicated. Use experts.

For fabric you want one made by Sunbrella, the main source for material that will withstand rain, humidity, dirt, etc. The cost will be determined by the fabric you choose, because it can run from $20 to $80 a yard and more. Other pricing factors include the size of the space, how much you want to drape, and how much detailing is involved in terms of things like pleating or fancy trims. None of these things should discourage you from trying this high-impact treatment. Clients of mine who have tented are always thrilled with the result.

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