New chapter in wall-to-wall style: Unrolling the latest wallpaper trends

Metallic patterns and bold colours are bringing a new wave of home decorators back to an interiors classic

When the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese was racked with indecision on which wallpaper to buy last month, she posted some pictures on the social networking website Twitter and her many followers rushed to offer advice. "Selecting from all these great wallpapers is extreme torment for an indecisive Libra woman like me," she tweeted with an image attached.

Shortly afterwards she added another picture with the comment: "This velvet flocked wallpaper is killing me. Of course it's available in ANY colour combination."

Although when the advice came in she rather tetchily rebuffed it with the words: "I am indecisive until someone tries to choose for me. Then I am quick to decide."

Whether you would leave your interior design choices to a bunch of strangers or not, Von Teese is right about one thing; the choice of papers out there is now overwhelmingly huge. Wallpaper Direct alone has more than 5,000 designs online and, although you can filter by colour, design or style, that's an impossible choice if you just had a vague notion of perhaps papering a wall and hadn't really given it much more thought than that.

Melanie Adams, from Wallpaper Direct, has the following advice for Dita and anyone else who can't make their mind up.

"Patterns are bold and we are seeing that people definitely want colour back in their lives. There is a strong trend for brights to sit alongside the more familiar beige and, with the property market so slow, more homeowners are decorating their houses not with an eye to resale, but with a view to how they will enjoy living in them. It's much more about self-expression now," she says.

"The other really strong trend we are seeing is the idea of personalised wallpaper. There are various companies now that allow you to upload your own images and have them printed off as wallpaper to fit your wall exactly. You can choose your own holiday snaps or your children's faces, or favourite landscapes. The idea is that it's completely personal and unique to you."

One such company is 55Max, which started out offering to print your photos and images on to canvas and has expanded into cushions, garden art and bespoke blinds and wallpaper. Their paper costs from £45 a square metre (there is also a £30 set-up fee and an £85 charge for additional artwork requirements) and they will hang it for you. If you think an entire wall of your beloved, beaming children might be a bit much, one pop star, who sadly the company refuse to name, had her entire bathroom papered with images of herself.

So, from one of the newest companies offering the most contemporary of designs to one of the oldest. In 1860 Arthur Sanderson set up his business in Islington, north London, importing French wallpapers. He rapidly became known for his expensive, luxurious products and, in 1879, opened his first factory in Chiswick, west London. Today Sandersons, which is the oldest surviving English brand name in its field, is celebrating its anniversary by reissuing some of its earliest designs, which are proving extremely popular. These days you can also buy co-ordinating fabrics and paint as well as bedlinen and tableware, and in 2007-08 the company's revenues increased by 25 per cent, which against the background of the housing crash is astonishing.

David Walker, sales director of Sanderson and Zoffany, says: "People are getting braver. When I started working here in 1987, the most popular papers were small prints in several colours. It's much more about making a statement now, with bigger designs and more colours.

"Having said that, florals are always the most popular but there is a strong metallic trend at the moment and we have been amazed how contemporary and popular the Twenties designs have proved to be."

It might be the height of fashion now but wallpaper has been around for centuries. It first became fashionable in Renaissance Europe, where those who couldn't afford to hang tapestries on their walls turned instead to paper to decorate a room.

The earliest known fragment of European wallpaper that still exists was found on the beams of the Lodge of Christ's College in Cambridge and dates from 1509. During the reign of Oliver Cromwell all production of wallpaper was halted as it was regarded as too frivolous for the Puritans. But after Cromwell's death King Charles II was quick to reverse that proclamation, and by the mid-18th century England was the leading manufacturer in Europe.

Perhaps the most famous wallpaper story is the one about Napoleon in exile on St Helena. After the emperor's death, traces of arsenic were found in his hair, which gave rise to rumours that he had been murdered by poisoned wallpaper. This was not so fantastic as it might sound – back then the best way to obtain the colour green was with arsenic. Indeed Walker points to an early Sanderson's advertisement which trumpets: "guaranteed free from arsenic".

In 1980, a fragment of Napoleon's wallpaper came to light. It was indeed green and did, indeed, have traces of arsenic. A post-mortem examination found that Napoleon actually died from a perforated stomach ulcer that became cancerous, but there is no doubt that the arsenic, while not strong enough to have killed him, would certainly have made him sicker.

Walker himself is mad about wallpaper. "Every time a new range comes out I have to have it. I have a paper in every major room in the house, often in a bright pattern on one wall and co-ordinating plain colours on the other three," he says.

"My wife has finally learnt to trust me and she lets me get on with it now. I never get tired of wallpaper and the upside is that I'm pretty good at putting it on myself.

"The great thing is that if you are spending £40 a roll you can afford to redo it every few years, whereas previously people would leave it up for years and not change it."

This is a trend that Adams has also noticed. "The increasing number of paste-the-wall papers, which are easier to apply, has meant that not only are more people choosing paper but they are also changing it more often," she says:

"It's so easy that we are seeing people in their twenties and thirties changing wallpaper far more often as they consider a feature wall to be art. And, as they think of it in these terms, they are often happy to pay higher prices for it. We are selling many papers at over £100 a roll, which have beautiful effects such as crystals and flock."

If you are going to put your own wallpaper up, then Walker, after more than 20 years in the business, has the following advice: "You really have to strip off all the old paper first and then smooth the wall so that it is completely flat.

"You should absolutely use lining paper. It gives a better finish and there's no point spending money on beautiful paper if you're not going to put it up properly. Make sure you use the recommended paste and finally, take it from me, do not allow your spouse to help as this is guaranteed to end in major marital discord."

Now, admittedly this does make it sound easier than it is in practice, but if you're worried about air bubbles and going round the light switch, take comfort from some of the stories in Sanderson's complaints archive. One woman complained that her new wallpaper was making her bread mouldy. She was eventually persuaded that her damp house was the cause of the problem. Another woman fell in love with a sample of Suva, a classic tropical scene that has long been a Sanderson's best-seller, but when she returned home after the decorator had left she was horrified to discover that a large bird was integral to the pattern. She complained that the sample hadn't shown the bird, explaining that she was ornithophobic.

Useful contacts

Very Sanderson, an exhibition celebrating 150 years of the company, is at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 13 June (Ftmlondon.org; 020 7407 8664)

Wallpaper Direct (Wallpaperdirect.co.uk)

Sanderson (Sanderson-uk.com)

55Max (55Max.com)

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