Wall Treatments in Every Budget
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I don’t know how many houses I’ve walked into and thought, “how did they decide on this paint color?” That might sound harsh, but it’s not intended to be. Some people just love “Barbie Pink”, neon blue, or “Harley Orange”. I’m not joking with those, I’ve seen them all in houses. (One of them was actually amazing in that particular space.) On the other hand, some people feel like white walls are their only hope. They can’t visualize how to make color work, so they go back to their default.
If you’re the type of person who already knows “John Deere Green” is the staple of your interior design, have at it. You’ve already nailed down your choice, and good for you.
But if you’re not already tied to the decision, read on. There are so many ways to make your home creative and inspiring without getting into fist-fights with the guy trying to match your paint swatches.
General Design Tips From Years Of Failing To Design
For years we would emulate houses that we liked. It’s natural, of course, to do that. But we didn’t always understand why their house looked nice. So, as you can imagine, the end result wasn’t so great. I’m not proud of it, but I once painted our dining room “Leapfrog Green”. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
As part of my personal learning curve, I have come to appreciate subtlety. I realized that by painting every wall in a room a really bold color that it meant nothing was “bold”. It was all just red. Or purple. …Or Leapfrog Green. Nothing stood out in the right way.
Moving between rooms was another problem, too. If one room is purple and the next blue, it might look okay, but nobody is likely to argue that it looks “amazing”. Unless you’re going for subtlety and your “purple” is more like a grey with a tinge of purple.
The house we’re in now is primarily a light neutral color. The kitchen is yellow, however. I wouldn’t have painted it this color exactly but I think the previous owners did a good job with it. (Nevertheless, we’ll likely change it when we do a full repaint.)
We decided to go with a shade of grey on almost every wall in the house. The benefit to grey is that it’s versatile, and we can use other colors throughout the house as accents. But we don’t want the grey to be boring either. Some areas will have a darker grey and others will be a lot lighter. And while we’re painting walls grey, we want to use neutral colors and natural materials to add warmth to it all. Plus, there’s the matter of accent walls.
Why Wall Treatments? Isn’t Paint Enough?
Two years ago, my family and I moved into our first house and started asking ourselves what the overall vision was for it. In the past, we had only ever painted. Paint is amazing stuff, and versatile, too. But paint isn’t the only option around.
When you visit your local home goods store, you’ll find piles of those little paper swatches of color. It can be an overwhelming ordeal. If you think blue might be right in the master bathroom, you’ll find an actual hundred shades of blue. If you think picking an ice cream flavor is hard, try choosing paint colors.
But paint is also fun.
If you find that you enjoy painting your house, you can change things up each year. If you’re really bored, you can change each season. But we don’t recommend it.
Depending on your goals, painting a room can be incredibly inexpensive. We found three gallons of a beautiful dark grey in the “oops” section at our local store. It cost $9 per gallon so we grabbed all three. If you find one gallon, and love it, you can always have them color match it if you run out. Purple, pink, grey, and green are really popular colors to find in the discounted section. So if one of those is of interest you could find the perfect shade and save big at the same time.
If painting is your preference but you struggle to choose the right color, this guide to selecting paint that won’t disappoint might be for you.
Unless you really enjoy painting and are exceptional at it, patterns can be tricky. That’s why most people go with wallpaper instead. Don’t tell my mom (who has fought wallpapers for hours of her life and now hates the stuff), but it can be beautiful and well-worth the effort.
At some point, the lower part of my office wall was repaired. Instead of mudding and smoothing, which can be annoying, the previous owners used wallpaper to make it look nice and save time. They did such a good job that I thought the wall was painted. Until my toddler noticed a loose piece and started pulling.
But wallpaper can be tricky to install. Some types vary in how they’re installed best, so you will want to read instructions before you even buy your wallpaper.
Don’t forget, it’s okay to wallpaper only part of a room. In my office the wallpaper was only under the chair-rail. You could also paper a single wall as a focal point.
But remember, pulling wallpaper is usually a little painful if you installed it well. And when you do pull it, don’t give in to the temptation to just paint over it. If you stay in the house for awhile you will likely come to regret it. Or you’ll be further tempted to compound the problem with more layers of wallpaper.
Grey Athena Wallpaper
What I like about this wallpaper is its subtlety. Wallpaper has to tile, and most err on the “busy” side. The white-space on this print keeps it a bit more open than most. So it won’t overwhelm a room as fast as some patterns.
Palatine Grey Leaves Wallpaper
Nudging it up a notch on the “busy scale” is this beautiful leaf-focused wallpaper. It’s not quite as open as the previous wallpaper, but the pattern is well-designed and great for smaller surfaces and spaces.
Olive Branch Wallpaper
One thing I love about wallpaper is its unapologetic way of breaking up the linear nature of most rooms. This wallpaper by Magnolia Homes (Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper) handles that job nicely.
Vinyl And Vinyl Wallpaper
If you like the idea of wallpaper but have an aversion to the installation process, vinyl might be for you. When we replaced the flooring in my grandmother’s kitchen a few years back, my job was to place the new vinyl floor. Even though it was a floor, and we’re talking about walls here, it’s basically the same process. But flooring tends to be thicker. (And vertical.)
Vinyl most often comes in a sticker form, which also makes it easy to remove if you need to.
To install it, you start at one side of the room, peel and stick. If you come to a point where something is blocking progress, (like a window, door, or maybe even a thermostat), you have to cut the vinyl (usually with a utility knife) to go around it. But don’t let that scare you off. Even as a home decor and building novice I was able to place the vinyl on the floor to where people thought it was “good enough.”
One neat thing about vinyl, too, is that it’s often made to be painted. Some of my favorites are actually raised textures only. So if you’re on the fence between a solid color wall and a bold texture, that can give you some middle-ground options.
Price-wise, vinyl can get a bit expensive if you have a large room. But it does some things that wallpaper and paint don’t. And you don’t necessarily have to do a full wall in it either. You could go with a nice texture above or below a chair rail, or on a pop wall. Remember, if you make everything bold, nothing is bold.
Here are a few of my favorite vinyl textures over at Home Depot:
Folded Paper Paintable Wallpaper
What I like about this is the non-linear pattern. Most often you see wallpaper that forms a grid of some sort. This gives the impression of breaking that grid on a smaller scale. I wouldn’t use this on just any room, however. I would lean toward this only if the rest of the room was on the bolder side. And then, I would downplay this wall a bit so that it doesn’t try to grab too much attention from everything else.
High Leaf Paintable Wallpaper
The neat thing about vinyl like this is that it can be as bold or as subtle as you want. You can downplay it by going with a grey or white paint. Or, you could even roll a small paint roller gently across the top of it to paint only the raised parts. (Good luck!)
Grey Wood Plank Peel and Stick Wallpaper
I’m a big fan of wood walls, but sometimes that isn’t an option. (If you have a landlord, for example.) With vinyl, you can approximate the look of wood walls without upsetting anyone. The reason I like this particular choice is that it’s on the grey side. Grey wood is “in” right now, but the better reason to like it is that it won’t overshadow the rest of your room. So you can buy that chartreuse couch without worrying if the tone of the “wood” wall will still look okay.
Fabric Wall Treatments
Before vinyl and wallpaper were options, fabric was used to cover the walls of homes. Back then, it was mostly found in higher class homes, however, since fabric can be pricey in the first place. But today, fabric is mass-produced in most cases, so the price is lower by comparison. That doesn’t mean it’s “cheap” by any means. Covering your room in suede is still going to be expensive.
So, why would you want to cover your house in fabric? Like wallpaper and vinyl, it can add texture to an otherwise boring room. You can even get some beautifully bold colors and textures in fabrics that may not come in wallpaper or vinyl.
They do make specialty fabric wall coverings. But if you’re forever in DIY mode, you aren’t limited to those options. In theory, you can go to the fabric store, buy a lot of your favorite fabric and adhere it to the wall. But you should have it properly backed for the best results and to make your life easier. But backing does add to the price.
Wood and Pallet Wood
If you live in a modern house, the chances are good that your walls aren’t made of wood. If they are, consider yourself lucky. A lot of people, when remodeling, tend to cover wood walls (and brick or stone walls, too) as they find them. Most people don’t seem to appreciate wood walls unless they see them done well. It’s usually easier to cover them and paint.
But if you’ve watched 15 minutes of HGTV, you’ve probably seen some amazing wood walls. And that may or may not mean that the natural color of the wood is even present. Wood on its own, even painted, can add a nice texture with the small gaps between the boards. (Think of spaced tongue and groove boards or shiplap here.)
On the other side of the wood-wall spectrum, you have the range of natural wood colors and textures. You can have something that looks like an old, cedar cabin. Or maybe your walls are more like a beach house with an aged plank look.
Some people, like my friends, love the idea of converting palettes into something instead of discarding them. As someone who values trees, I respect that a lot. One thing that seems to make the rounds in wall-treatment conversations is using palettes to cover a wall. Certainly the perk is in the price. Palettes are often free for the taking. The downside to working with palettes is the sheer amount of work that goes into anything you want to do with them. But if you think of them in the long term, past the fad of covering a wall with reused wood, the result can be beautiful.
Beyond planks and palettes, you can borrow inspiration from old English homes, or the castles of Eastern Europe. Many of those had deep-colored wall treatments with more subtle grain. The planks tend to run vertically, and the rich colors have less variance to mask any seams. So the result is a room that feels like it’s made of one, impossibly large, tree. You can further add to that illusion by breaking the layers of wood up with more interesting mouldings and bevels.
Wood walls don’t have to look like the latest fad. Because wood walls are, at the core, a choice of building material that has been around forever. How you choose to display wood walls makes all the difference.
Shou Sugi Ban
Speaking of your choice in how to display wood walls, take Shou Sugi Ban, for example. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that you take your wood planks, lay them on the ground, and torch them. The result is that as the wood burns the grain starts to expand and contract in different ways. The more you torch it, the more that happens. So you can just use the flame to turn the outer layer of wood a darker, burned color, or you can make it completely charred.
Once your boards are charred to perfection, you cool them down and place them on the wall. The result is an incredible, but natural wood texture that you won’t find in most houses. Yes, it is a bit of a design trend at the moment, but because of how it’s done, you’re not likely to see it in every house on your block.
The other perk of shou sugi ban is that the wood is naturally fire and mold resistant after being charred. So if you like the look of shou sugi ban, there are a few reasons you might consider it.
Faux Brick and Stone
As much as I like the idea of having brick or stone textures in my home, adding a real brick or stone wall to it wasn’t realistic. (The outside of mine is actually a brick veneer, because I live in Florida and everything is made of block.) I would venture to guess that you don’t have the luxury of knocking down a wall and replacing it with a beautiful stone wall either. Even if you did, your home’s foundation may object.
That’s where faux brick and stone textures come to help.
I’ll admit here, it’s rare that I think this treatment actually works in a home. But when it does, it can look fantastic.
To me, the secret is to make it as natural looking as possible, which may or may not mean “more expensive”. A friend of ours put stone veneer on the back wall of their home and, because it was made of a stone-like material, it felt natural. But if you go with a veneer, you have to choose your products carefully. Some look more tiled than others. Without variance, or if you don’t spread out similar pieces enough, it will look fake.
Some people try to fight the “fake stone” look by plastering over the veneer. And that can work, but it’s a lot of effort. The key to that tactic is to make the wear patterns look like they happened with age or wear. That might mean the wall is 90% covered with plaster and only 10% of the stone peeks through. The risk is that the wall could look like it wasn’t maintained. I don’t recommend this route to most people, but if you’re trying to convert your house into something out of the old Mediterranean countryside, this is how you would likely want to start.
You can do that with brick and brick veneer, too, for the look of an old NYC warehouse conversion. And it could be helpful if your style is more industrial.
But remember, planning is key. One random inner wall or column made of brick will probably look out of place and fake, even if the application is perfect. So, stick to walls where a builder might have used brick or stone in the first place for the best chance of success.
If you do opt to put stone veneers in your house, just remember that they’re hard. That may seem obvious, but if you have clumsy kids around it can raise the number of injuries.
When you look back to old buildings, a lot of them were built with plaster. But plaster is a bit of a pain to maintain, and over time it can wear down. So what happens when your old cathedral loses some of its decorative plaster work? You have to bring in someone to fix it.
And that’s the need that Lincrusta noticed and built their business around. A long, long time ago.
Lincrusta is an alternative to working with old plaster. It’s like a cross between the aesthetics of ornate plaster and wallpaper. The first time I ever looked through their examples, I was ready to buy.
The dilemma with Lincrusta is, however, that it’s not cheap, and it’s harder to install yourself. But this isn’t quite like installing bargain wallpaper either. This is what you would use to restore old buildings. And, really, it’s not right for every application either.
Lincrusta is installed a lot like wallpaper. And when you’re done, you have a fully-textured wall that can be painted in a lot of detail. (Much like the vinyl options.) Lincrusta recommends hiring someone to do the installation, but you can buy it and take your chances if you’re feeling adventurous.
It’s also worth a note that Lincrusta has a whole line of products that you would install below a chair rail or “dado rail”. The result is a beautiful texture lower on the wall, and the potential to go with a less bold treatment further up. If you have high ceilings this can be especially effective.
You might think this recommendation is off-base, and that would be fair. But there’s something beautiful about a wall full of bookshelves. It could be that your walls are of the right size for wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling shelves. Most rooms aren’t. (There are, of course, safety considerations when you go with taller bookshelves, too.)
Taking a quick mental poll of the houses and apartment I’ve lived in, some didn’t have a room with an unobstructed wall. But, then, if you’re looking at a series of custom shelves, it can be even cooler to wrap a doorway or window with bookshelves. A full wall of bookshelves could even act as a way to break up a large room into two smaller spaces.
Most rooms will find a solution with one of the other options mentioned here. But some rooms just ought to have books. Lots and lots of books.
This is another recommendation that won’t work for a lot of places. But when it does work, it’s incredible. Some historical buildings have rooms completely covered in copper. At first the surface is shiny. But as the plates age the patina on the surface becomes more prominent. The patina adds a texture that is unlike other wall coverings and textures. And if you don’t like patina, clean it! In severe cases the metal will completely oxidize and start to change color.
You aren’t limited to copper either. Whatever metal plates you can find can be placed on the wall. Assuming you can cut them to size and work them around things like wall outlets and windows. I don’t recommend using lead, however.
Style-wise, metal plates will quickly move your room toward an industrial look. That can be awesome unless you’re in a house that isn’t already leaning that way. I’m all in favor of juxtaposition, but in some cases bolder treatments like this can detract from everything if it’s not right. And, if you’re thinking about selling your house, not every buyer will appreciate your metal plate wall.
It would probably be a good idea to check with a local builder about your metal wall, too. I can imagine that in some places it could go against fire code. So if you do it, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Before You Pick A Wall Treatment
You have a lot of options, but take a step back and consider your choices carefully. What happens if you get in over your head on one of these? Like, say, you get half-way through placing fabric on the wall, only to find that the store doesn’t have any more of your pattern. Or when you leave your house, will you want to take down the palette wall?
Let’s face it, some people don’t even feel like re-painting on move-out day.
If you do take on some wall treatment changes, send us your before and after photos. We would love to see them!