How to Choose the Perfect Wallpaper, According to Rebecca Atwood

Picking Wallpaper - LEAD
Photo: Emily Johnston

Choosing the perfect wallpaper is sort of like choosing a tattoo. You want to find a design that reflects your personality and brings you joy, a piece that won’t bore you to tears once it’s been on your wall—or your body—for more than a year. Of course, wallpaper is a bit less permanent than ink, but it’s a big decision nonetheless.

To help you find your perfect wallpaper, we chatted with Rebecca Atwood, home textiles designer and artist, whose new book Living with Pattern: Color, Texture, and Print at Home ($22; comes out today, Aug. 30. Read on below for Atwood’s expert answers.

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How can people choose a wallpaper they won’t get tired of?
"The first step is having a true understanding of what you really love! Test out patterns in smaller amounts, or less permanent places, before taking the plunge," suggests Atwood. "Spend time getting to know your specific tastes as there are so many unique options out there. Once you know what you love, think about the mood you're trying to create, and what scale, colors, and types of patterns may best suit the space. Bigger scale or bolder patterns may be best reserved for a powder room, hallway, or entryway where you don't spend as much time. Textural patterns can go anywhere and are great for layering. Next, don't forget to order swatches! Hang them up in the space you're thinking about using them. See how they look in different lights. Live with them a little bit."

Are there certain patterns or colors that are better for different types of spaces, like a bathroom versus a bedroom?
"For me, yes, but remember this is all personal–so you have to first think about your personal story! The best patterns and colors for a space come down to the vibe you're trying to create. For example, in the bedroom, most often we're trying to create a calm, serene mood. When that's the goal, you want to look for colors and patterns that give you that feeling. Cool colors (think blue, green, grays, etc.) are calming and recede in space, whereas warm colors are more energizing and advance in space," Atwood explains. "But just because cool colors may be a more obvious choice for this space, it doesn't mean you couldn't choose soft taupes, blushing pinks, lilacs, and even tangerine for a beautiful bedroom setting. Think about places and moments that give you that feeling you're trying to achieve."

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Emily Johnston

"When it comes to pattern, you're basing it off of that same line of thinking," Atwood continues. "First of all, color affects pattern, so keep that palette in mind. Then think about the kinds of patterns you want to use. Going on that same theme of calm, you might want to incorporate a lot of smaller scale patterns, as they read as texture. You also might want to look for painterly patterns that reference water. Some people feel more comforted by cozier spaces with lots of visual interest though, so if that's you, then you'll want to go in another direction."

How do you choose what kind of art to mount on a patterned wallpaper?
"That's a great question. I've seen this done really beautifully, and I think it's most successful when scale is considered. If you plan to hang a lot of art, I'd first consider a smaller scale pattern or something very large and abstract or painterly. You don't want the two items to conflict with each other, but rather to have a conversation. If the scale is too similar it will be hard for your eye to understand what's going on and know where to focus. Wallpaper functions the same way a painting does," says Atwood. "I love homes where people are a little less precious with their artwork and treat it more like the different pieces are having a conversation. Artwork should be the pieces you love and want to look at."

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