Natural Companions Decorating with Wallpaper

There is no better backdrop for paintings, prints, collectibles and other wall-hung treasures than patterned wallpaper. A visit to almost any restored historic home -- from humble to grand -- proves the point.

A large-scale blue scroll pattern covers the walls of the tiny back room of the house in Philadelphia where Betsy Ross fashioned our nation's first flag. Today, her collection of Delft tiles and floral china plates still adorn those walls, personalizing and warming the space just as they did when Ross lived and labored there. Floral wallpaper surrounds many of the priceless paintings on display in the grand, restored estates once inhabited by the Biltmores, Rockefellers and DuPonts. Without the patterned backgrounds provided by wallpaper, the art, as well as the rooms of these historic mansions, would seem sterile and institutional.

Modernists, too, combine art and wallpaper. A large portrait of Louis Armstrong hangs against bold harlequin-pattern wallpaper in the New York apartment of Wynton Marsalis, adding a vitality to the environment for both of these talented musicians.

Famed English interior designer Roger Banks-Pye once said, "Though there are moments when plain white walls might seem a relief, those moments are rare, and should be discouraged." He taught a generation of interior designers that bold patterned walls not only allow hung art and objects to stand out, but also unify a room. Without a unifying element of pattern, the art becomes a series of unrelated focal points, often visually at war with one another.

Banks-Pye took his clue from nature. A walk through the countryside or a city park, especially in spring, offers abundant evidence that a patterned background adds texture and dimension to our surroundings. Further evidence can be seen in the living room, shown here with and without wallpaper. When the antique prints and the hunt-club painting above the fireplace are set against a large, textural banana leaf wallpaper pattern, they are, at the same time, showcased and nestled into an overall design. The art pieces are no longer add-ons, but integral design elements of the entire room.

The warm apricot, greens and tans of the wallpaper from the Winnetka collection by S.A. Maxwell Co., blend with the browns and golden hues of the art, the gilt frames, and the combination of new and antique furnishings. The colors in the pattern are repeated in paisley damask on the sofa, in silk plaid draperies, and in the larger plaid on two upholstered chairs. While the colors coordinate, the variety of patterns and textures gives this room the added interest of contrast.

Old dinner plates, collected at flea markets or thrift shops, make a wonderful decoration for walls in dining rooms, halls and kitchens. The individuality of each of the various patterns in such a collection is shown to its best advantage against a pinstripe, plaid or subtle wallpaper pattern. The background pattern then becomes a unifying "display case" that holds the whole collection together.

A background that reflects both the colors and artistic style of a Manet-like painting make the painting a focal point in this young girl's room. The yellow wallpaper, with its own splash of floral bouquets, enhances the mood and colors of the flowers in the artwork. Because the flower print wallpaper and the coordinating plaid on the ceiling are from Maxwell's Winnetka collection, they are perfectly coordinated in color and scale. Patterns in all S.A. Maxwell collections are fully coordinated to make mixing and matching patterns easy and risk-free.

Fear of pattern-clash prevents many homeowners from obtaining the warm, rich, dimensional interiors they see in magazines and show houses. Maxwell takes the fear out of selecting patterns that work together to become the natural companions of your favorite artistic treasures.

Courtesy of ARA Content