Though CWI.Design offers a comprehensive portfolio of design services, the “W” still stands for “Wallcoverings.” So we turned to CWI.DESIGN president and principal designer Rachel Kapner to discuss what’s going on with wallcoverings now.

CWI.Design curates one of the largest collections of wallcoverings in the Northeastern United States. So how do Rachel and company decide what stays in their portfolio. “Pre-COVID, the sales reps would come around. Every day, someone would be making an appointment, have an appointment, drop in to show new lines,” Rachel recalls. Some lines don’t even need to stop by. “I’ve picked the companies that we enjoy selling for, that have good customer service on their end, that have beautiful product which enhances what we do.”

There’s also the process of elimination. “Over the years, we stopped selling certain things because they weren’t selling,” Rachel says, matter-of-factly. “So that’s sort of self-weeded.” But something else always comes along. “I’m always looking for new sources,” Rachel says.

Fabric is the New Wallpaper

So what’s been inspiring Rachel lately? “Recently I’ve done a lot with fabrics that I backed for wall coverings because I hadn’t been able to find things that had the dimension and the texture I wanted. So instead, I just sent them out to be acrylic backed and then apply them that way,” Rachel explains. “It gives the room a lot more warmth, because sometimes papers can feel flat. And it also can mean less seaming because they’re usually wider than the typical wallcovering. It just needs the expertise of someone who obviously knows how to install a textile versus a wallcovering.” Rachel explains that the fabric application process separates the run-of-the-mill paper hangers from the real craftspeople. But ultimately, the benefit to the finished design is worth the effort. “It makes the walls come alive,” she says. “It’s almost like you’re layering in more of what you want the room to say.”

Designers Are Looking at Pattern from Fresh Angles

Whatever you’re hanging, it’s worth considering the pattern beyond how you’ve seen it displayed in a showroom. Changing the angle of your wallcovering gives “the feeling that you’ve put more creativity into it than just pulling the paper,” says Rachel. “There are many striped wallcoverings that are beautiful. At a vertical, they’re just stripes, but if you turn them horizontally, they become almost like a wrap around the room—really brings it all together.”

Rachel’s also not afraid to mix wallcoverings, where appropriate. “We finished a show house in May, and we did a metallic raffia on the ceiling and what looks like an antique Mercury mirror behind the bookcase,” Rachel says. “So that was two wallcoverings right there. And then, in the hallway adjoining, we had a hand painted fabric applied to the wall. So the comments, as people were coming through, were along the lines of: ‘I wouldn’t have thought to use that many pieces together,’ or ‘They really complement each other and make it look as if you’ve put mirroring behind the bookcase.’ It brought the bookcases to life.”

Design Doesn’t Stop at the Ceiling

Rachel knows that ceilings can be controversial. “It definitely is personal style,” she admits. “Even within my company, other designers have very different tastes.” But when it comes to people who like adding interest above, things are looking up.

“I like to accentuate the ceiling, whether it’s contrasting paper, contrasting trim detail, putting in something that you just wouldn’t think of on the ceiling,” Rachel continues. After all, in a way, the ceiling is practically just another wall. “To me, it’s part of the wall system, but sometimes it gets left without anything. Even if it’s just a contrasting color of paint, it can have a little more dimension to it than just doing a white ceiling.”

Customization Is Within Reach

But the most interesting new wallcovering of all just might be — anything you can imagine. “What’s interesting now is: a lot of the companies are going to digitally-printed wallcoverings—where you could pretty much pick exactly whatever image, whatever scale, whatever color, whatever ground you would like: a totally custom item. You can submit pictures, submit ideas, or they have their own, but you can change them in whatever fashion you want so easily that it’s not cost prohibitive—even if you change one color,” Rachel explains. “They used to hand roll and hand screen all the papers, so every time you put an ink roll in there, it would be a certain amount of money per customization. And now it’s just usually a flat fee,” she enthuses. “It’s pretty straightforward, and it doesn’t take very long. So that’s kind of nice.”

The Wonderful World of Wallcoverings Now

So where does that leave us, when it comes to the wonderful world of wallcoverings? There’s more to consider applying to your walls than paper – especially fabric. Whether you’re applying fabric or paper, consider hanging it at an unexpected angle or pairing it with a complementary or contrasting wallcovering. Don’t be afraid to highlight the ceiling—either with a striking color or interesting wallcovering of its own. And if you don’t find a wallcovering that sparks joy, it’s no longer cost-prohibitive to create your very own. Happy decorating!

Get more advice on taking your design to the next level on our blog, and follow Rachel’s work on CWI.Design on social media via the links below.