Shopping: You need a good pasting

Home decorating is about to get complicated again. A lick of white paint on your walls is no longer enough. By Dominic Lutyens
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The Independent Culture
Wallpaper has been dismissed as a naff migraine-inducing style aberration for the past decade. So, brace yourselves Anaglypta-phobes: not only is wallpaper being rehabilitated, but many designers are revelling in loud prints.

Sharon Elphick's bold, screen-printed Prefab Stripe wallpaper features close-ups of tower blocks (pounds 120 per roll, which covers five square metres). It's a spin-off of her paintings of high-rise buildings in New York, Paris, London and Berlin.

Ella Doran's bespoke designs smother entire walls with a single, digitally enlarged photo of a red Gloriosa lily (pounds 60 per square metre). And Ottilie Stevenson has a dogtooth check design, Houndstooth - think Chanel on acid, or Cecil Beaton's larger-than-life sets for My Fair Lady (pounds 20.50 per 10- metre roll). She also sells a Seventies-style paper, Variee Stripe, in deep red, forest green, terracotta and cream. "Today's wallpapers are definitely Seventies- inspired," says Elphick, by which she means the disco-dizzy, not back-to-nature Seventies.

There's no danger of these wallpapers recalling twee, sage-green Laura Ashley sprigs or William Morris acanthus leaves, circa 1975. So far so hip. But how best to hang today's wallpapers? Opinions are divided on the subject. Fill an entire room with a lairy pattern and others will surely admire your postmodern aplomb, yet there's every danger your room will shrink, optically speaking, to the size of a broom cupboard.

Others prefer to use bold patterns more tentatively - as "feature wallpaper" - papering small areas only. Stevenson, who designed for Osborne & Little for five years before launching her wallpaper range, favours an all-or- nothing approach. "I'd paper the whole room. Putting it on one wall is horrible. Hang pictures on wallpaper and it doesn't look so dominant. It looks calmer than stark white walls." Doran and Elphick's response to that would be "There's no accounting for taste".

"I prefer wallpaper on one wall. It would be a nightmare to paper a whole room," says Doran, whose powerful single-image designs bravely break with the tradition of a repeat pattern. That said, Doran, who also papers walls with shoals of fish, asparagus, artichokes and pebbles (from pounds 50 per square metre) and plans to bring out fruity patterns in May, admits that she would love "to let rip in a big space".

Nineties open-plan living and loft-dwelling, says Elphick, partly explain why wallpaper is back: "People have got the space for an interesting paper without it dominating everything."

Elphick began designing wallpaper partly because she sensed it was about "to reinvent itself". Seventies retro aside, she sees its comeback as symptomatic of a greater interest in interiors in recent years. "Magazines like Wallpaper* are full of the stuff." She also sees her wallpaper, derived from her more expensive canvases, as a way of selling "art on a roll". Elphick is currently exhibiting her work at the cutting-edge east-London furniture shop Same (until 9 May).

So much for Seventies-inspired excess. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, BBC Changing Rooms' ruffle-shirted dandy, has a surprisingly measured take on it all. "Wallpaper has to be used simply. You have the option of papering one wall, which looks quite Seventies. But something I've done, which works well, is not to let the paper hit the corners of the room. You leave a margin of about three or four inches so the wallpaper exists as a panel."

When applying this idea, contrary to Nineties decorating orthodoxy, don't chuck out the chintz. "Tiny sprigs aren't going to work," he believes, but "big chintzy flowers, by Laura Ashley, say, with a contrasting painted border, would look in keeping with the up-and-coming trend for Fifties florals. The more modern-looking florals look great with today's Fifties- style, splayed-leg furniture. I think most British homes work well with wallpaper. In Britain, most of us live in houses built between 1880 and 1940, and these lend themselves very well to it."

For interior designer Kelly Hoppen, high priestess of neutrals, eye-popping wallpapers are anathema: "Wallpapers are a thing of the past unless they're very plain," she proclaims. "I think people see bright colour as unnecessary now. At home I've used a Donghia silver, crunched paper [pounds 68 per square metre]."

Llewelyn-Bowen believes that fans of brash wallpaper are likely to stand their ground: "We've all got used to rooms being unpatterned. But people are looking at pattern again and thinking it's a good way to decorate... The key is to use one pattern, rather than doing the whole pattern-on- pattern thing that you used to find in the Eighties. Whatever you do, never use a wallpaper border," he concludes with a mephistophelean cackle. "Anyone who does deserves to rot in hell!"

Contacts: Donghia (0171-823 3456); Ella Doran (0171-375 1466); Laura Ashley (0990 622 116); Ottilie Stevenson (0171-739 7321); Same (0171-247 9992); Sharon Elphick (0171-813 3632)