Pattern Play

Give boring walls (and ceilings!) a boost with these clever ideas from an avowed wallpaper enthusiast.

Photographs by Michael D. Wilson

For 20 years, Portland designer Jeanne Handy has been urging clients to use more wallpaper. “Pattern and texture are underrated ways of making a room feel cozy,” she says. “A flat color change doesn’t always do it.” But the only spots people tended to view as pattern friendly were powder rooms. That was, until two years ago. “Since wallpaper started trending, the requests have been coming from clients, not just me.” In Kate Ervin and Andy Kaplan’s recently completed Camden home, Handy specified 13 different papers — and not just to envelop whole rooms, though there are plenty of examples of that. She also used prints between built-ins, on a ceiling, and on single walls. For those looking to dip their toes in the trend, Handy’s ideas offer fresh, fun ways to do it.

ways to use wall paper, accent wall


Handy employed seven papered accent walls in the Ervin-Kaplan home, each serving a distinct purpose. In this guest room, Schumacher’s Birches, juxtaposed with Sherwin-Williams’s Whitetail on the walls and Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace on the ceiling, extend the forested landscape and lure the eye toward an ocean view. Meantime, in the couple’s eldest son’s room, a different tree print behind his bed balances a woodsy window view on the opposite wall, so you feel “surrounded by the outdoors,” Handy says. Still, not every space merits a feature wall. “Ask yourself, ‘will the room be better with or without it?’” Handy advises. “And listen to your gut.”

ways to use wallpaper, lining cabinet shelves and backs


The dining area was a “plain, nothing room” when Ervin and Kaplan purchased their newly built, but largely unfinished, house, Handy says. She worked with Rockport’s 2A architects and Camden project manager Peter Tranchell to inject visual oomph in the form of a coffered ceiling and massive built-in, crafted by Pine Ridge Carpentry in Hope. The latter was designed to showcase Schumacher’s historic Chiang Mai Dragon print, which functions as art and drove the room’s palette, comprised of Sherwin-Williams’s Restrained Gold on the walls and Robust Orange in the cabinets. Have open (or glassed-in) shelves without an open wall? Add personality by lining the backs with a simple, graphic paper, Handy says.

ways to use wallpaper, ceiling


To make a large space feel more intimate, papering the ceiling can be a great solution. In Ervin and Kaplan’s grand upstairs hallway, patterned walls would be overwhelming, but a subtle ceiling print — Schumacher’s Whirlpool — visually shrinks the room’s stature, while “adding interest, elegance, and activity that wouldn’t be there otherwise,” says Handy, who paired the paper with Sherwin-Williams’s Mexican Sand wall paint and the couple’s Clarence House Jaipur silk drapes. Ceiling paper also provides a playful, unexpected touch in powder rooms and bedrooms — Handy once used a starry night motif on a boy’s room ceiling, “but I would have been just as happy there.”