Wall stickers: Vinyl demands

More striking than paint, less permanent than wallpaper, wall graphics offer pattern for commitment phobes. Clare Dwyer Hogg gets stuck in

Friday 03 December 2010 01:00 GMT

About a year ago, as the birth of my daughter loomed, my husband and I thought we were getting prepared by sticking a vinyl wall sticker montage on the study that was to become her nursery. He stood on a chair with wheels; I sat and watched him being artistic with little birds and strips of red vinyl that were made to look like telephone wires. Some flew overhead, others were resting on the wires, a few were flying away from the cat he smoothed on to the wall nearby.

It didn't prepare us for anything other than having a nice thing to look at for a brief moment at bedtime, when we're tiptoeing past the rubble of our previous life (we didn't quite get around to moving the desk and all the papers – Elle Deco our nursery is not), but it was an extremely effective way of changing the tenor of a room. One minute: study; next minute (shut one eye so you can't see the desk): child's bedroom. It's so much less daunting than painting or wallpapering, though there's the scary bit of sticking things on the wall at the correct angle.

I bought the wall sticker collection, by a company called Blik, in a tiny independent shop on Columbia Road, Bethnal Green, London, best known for a trendy flower market. This reference is not to underline how hip the shopping choice was – although, yes, it was quite hip – as much as to show that, two years ago, that's where you'd find such things. Now there's a proliferation of shops and websites selling wall stickers, and it's becoming less niche, more the norm. Ikea sell them: it must be a trend. Blik (whatisblik.com), it turns out, is something of a forerunner in the field – in the business for eight years, it is its sole concern, and as a result Blik is a good place to start shopping. It describes what is sells as "Wall Graphics for the Commitment Phobic": many of its designs are removable. When Blik began, there was little alternative to wallpapering or painting. Today, it boasts hundreds of designs by a collection of guest designers, from Atari (if you would like little digital space invaders dotted around the room) to Threadless, the people who designed my cat on a wire montage ( "Ambition Killed The Cat", suggesting something more sinister than it looks in real life), with multiple styles and colours in between. It's an American site, but with a comprehensive list of UK stockists. And despite the many competing designs, it doesn't feel like they're clamouring too much for attention; search by colour or theme, and feel organised, not overwhelmed.

If you find too much choice a tyranny, online shop Bodie and Fou has a bijou but well-chosen collection. The range is quite whimsical (the Dandelion and Cow Parsley sticker, with oversized wild flowers waving in the wind, is typical) but it goes a step further with the Big Ben Wall Clock. A replica of the Westminster icon, it stands (or sticks) 1.5 metres high, and comes with a real clock face, black metal hands and "silent sweep" working Quartz movement. At £85, it's more expensive than an average wall sticker (they are usually around £40), but you get plenty for your money. But don't let this give you the impression that the phenomenon is mainly for children. Although the stickers do lend themselves well to children's rooms, thanks to their use of block colour and the suggestion of fun – the whiff of which is usually banished in adult-zones – they're not just for the miniature among us. More sober environments, particularly minimalist-leaning living spaces, can benefit from a glimpse of colour or pattern (that can, remember, be easily removed once you tire of it).

Ease is key. Instead of wallpapering with dubious skills, or employing someone with better skills but a dubious sense of how much it should cost, it's a speedy way to make a room look more thought-out. And it can still be fun. For instance, if space is something you need to conserve, a coat stand is a luxury – unless you buy the Coat Tree sticker from online store Skandivis. A simple tree shape that forms around coat hooks on the wall, it's fun but not (that) silly, and looks much more beautiful than plain hooks.

Before we get carried away, it's worth noting that there's always the slight danger with a DIY stickathon that you'll end up transforming your home à la Changing Rooms and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, circa 1997. Temporary but nasty design surprises – aquariums made from MDF, crinkly blue polythene and paper fish – are not the goal; be judicious in your choices, as "visual jokes" seem to wear thin more quickly than style. If amusement and utilitarianism collide, however, you're in for a treat. Rockett St George, an online design shop, stocks a clever calendar sticker (£69.95), with letters spelling "This month ... " and 35 black squares which you arrange in a box and write on with chalk. When words fit better than images, they also stock wall text stickers (£36); if you want something poignant to decorate a corner, the lettering "Life is Beautiful" isn't a bad attempt.

For those reluctant to let go of wallpaper completely, you could turn to the "cut-out kits" by designer Deborah Bowness. She's known as the wallpaper designer to go to if you want beautiful prints with unexpected themes – bookshelves and lamps, instead of more traditional patterns – and now she's doing cut-outs in the same vein. Her range (which should be stuck with wallpaper paste) includes a "Cagey Birds" pack (a cage with three feathered friends) for £37, clock faces for £26, and the "Mere Chandelier" for £45. Her retail outlet is Caravan (caravanstyle.com). They are beautifully illustrated but, again, one is probably enough per room if you don't want your walls to look like a scrapbook (although, saying that, scrapbooking was inspiration enough for Cecil Beaton).

Let's not take ourselves too seriously. Vinyl wall stickers are to the interior world what Velcro is to the sewing community. Technically, they're cheating, but in practice they're a very creative way of getting what you want, really quickly.

Where to buy

Bodie and Fou: bodieandfou.com

Caravan: caravanstyle.com

Blik: whatisblik.com

Not on the High Street:notonthehighstreet.com

Skandivis: Skandivis.co.uk

Rockett St George:rocketstgeorge.co.uk

IKEA: ikea.com

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