It is believed that on his death bed in a cheap hotel in Paris, playwright Oscar Wilde said, “This wallpaper is atrocious. One of us has to go.” The wallpaper won – but it has experienced its own death and rebirth many times ever since.

If Wilde’s mint green floral walls were indeed atrocious, they were far from the exciting wallpaper on the market today. In fact, “wallpaper” should be substituted with “wallcovering” as it is now made with different materials including cloth, grass, vinyl, metal, and even flexible glass. During my last trip to the San Francisco Design Center, I noticed three trends: color, large graphics and grass.

The graphic papers were striking with large-scaled, geometric and dramatic patterns. All could confidently be strong focal points in any room and guide the rest of the design. And, for homeowners whose art collection is a little wanting, these papers offered an excellent alternative.

The grasses came in a rainbow of colors as well as the neutral tones we remember from the 1960s. As I flipped through the sample books, I paused on the aqua page and pictured it with dark, chocolate brown upholstery. A color scheme rich with dynamic contrast. The apple-green grass paper triggered a vision of bamboo cabinetry and a slate floor — like a serene spa.

Back in Napa, I met with custom wallpaper creator, fine artist and graphic designer Tatiana Mandel. Russian-born and currently residing in Ottawa, Ontario, Tatiana was here to meet Mickey Mantle (not the Yankee great, of course, but the Pixar software great). Mickey and his wife, Natasha, had commissioned her to design a large mural for their Bear Keeper Winery in Marin County.

While showing me renderings of this piece, Tatiana explained the intimacy she brings to her projects. “Each piece I create is a one-of-a-kind, hand-painted, handmade treasure in which I leave a little bit of my soul — thus distinguishing it from machine-made replicas.” She further explained that, in a digital age, working with long-distant clients is not a challenge.

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Using special rolls of biodegradable art paper, odorless, low-chemical paints and antifungal glue, Tatiana first sketches her designs. She next develops the color scheme and begins to paint. After six to eight weeks, her pieces are ready to be installed by specialists. Fortunately, I had a local installer that I could enthusiastically recommend. Peter Fitzgerald, a native New Zealander, has been transforming walls from drab to fab for nearly 35 years.

Over these years, Peter, who is also a painter and Venetian plasterer, has seen several wallcoverings come and go. He notes that today’s are better than ever, and that technology has produced a higher-quality product with more consistent dye lots and textures. His latest job was at the Millennium Towers in San Francisco where he installed a Maya Romanoff paper that looked like a mosaic made from Mother of Pearl.

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Patti L Cowger is the Napa-based owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her interior design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net. Demystifying Design appears every other Saturday.

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