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Wallpaper: The decorator's secret weapon

Brightly coloured wallpaper is more popular than ever. Kate Watson-Smyth reports

The wallpaper trend has been going strong for some time now and shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. The designer Barbara Hulanicki has referred to wallpaper as one of the greatest weapons in the interior decorator's arsenal. Not only will a single roll often cover a whole wall, making an affordable, yet dramatic, statement, but it is also great for covering up those bumpy walls that you can't afford to strip and replaster. So as well as hiding a multitude of sins, you can also use it to change a room and then, if you go off it, you can change it again.

Melanie Adams, of wallpaperdirect, the internet arm of Brewers, the largest independent wallpaper retailer in the UK, says: "Customers are getting more adventurous so the trend for feature wallpaper is still growing. Red is a real favourite colour at the moment, particularly used with grey and taupe, and the top five colour palettes are red, black, duck egg blue, brown and, of course, the neutrals. Having said that, we are also beginning to see an increase in yellow with black or grey and lime green and shades of aubergine and purple.

"Large floral designs are still the best sellers but there has been a big increase in demand for stripes, particularly irregular designs. They are being used either vertically to add height to spaces or hung across to give a feeling of width to a narrow room.

"There is also a lot of interest in the very decorative, and more expensive, types of paper, particularly those studded with Swarovski crystals. They can sell for up to £176 a roll."

The average price for a roll of paper is about £25 so for around £100 you can dramatically change a room. If you're feeling very brave, by all means do every wall, but that might be harder to live with long term. The best idea is to do just one and it won't overwhelm the rest of the space. Use it to define an area in an open plan room, or to create some drama instead of hanging pictures. Remember that darker colours will absorb the light so it's probably best not to hang it near the window as it will suck up all the light coming into the room and make it even darker. Instead, use light paint near the window and put the paper nearer the back of the room so the natural light will bounce towards it.

But of course you don't have to stick to ready-made wallpaper. Plenty of places now offer the opportunity to create your own murals using photographs, try Digimura or conceptcoverings.co.uk. Or pick up some old maps or posters, stick them to the wall and cover with a layer of protective varnish. Finally, a number of places now sell vintage wallpaper – try visiting www.vintagewallpaperonline.com or www.ewmoore.com , which has a selection of designs from the early sixties from £23 a roll.

Using wallpaper carefully can also change the shape of a room, unless you're lucky enough to live in a Georgian mansion with large square rooms when you won't need to. But for those of you with L-shaped spaces or long narrow sitting rooms, consider using horizontal stripes on one wall.

And you don't have to stick to the sitting room. You can buy a range of papers that are strong enough to cope with steamy bathrooms and kitchens. Another suggestion is to paper a wall in the bathroom and cover with a glass splashback which will protect the wall and negate the need for tiles.

In addition to that you don't have to restrict yourself to the walls. How about pasting some along the back of shelves or cabinets. Ikea has done this to great effect with its Billy cases and there's no reason why you shouldn't copy. If you've got a boring old metal filing cabinet, cover the drawer fronts in different, but toning, offcuts of paper – textured for a luxury feel – you can even use samples, which won't cost a penny. Some designers are a fan of decoupage, which is building up layers of paper in a collage effect on chairs and tables and then varnishing. Now obviously this can look a bit twee, but a dramatic modern paper, in perhaps a geometric pattern, fixed to the top of a cheap wooden table, could look great. The website Etsy, a US site selling all things handmade, has just sold out of a vintage vinyl wallpaper covered lampshade, which it was selling for $112 (£76). You could do that yourself for a fraction of the cost.

You could also paper the inside of the kitchen drawers or cupboards so that they cheer you up every time you open them. And remember, as the design won't be on show all the time you can afford to be really dramatic.