5 Strategies to Get the Most From Wallcoverings

March 12, 2020

Wallcoverings are one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to generate design impact. Find out how to have them do double-duty.

When you enter a room, the walls might be one of the first things you notice. Luckily, wallcoverings are one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to generate design impact.

Whether they are big and bold or soft and textural, wallcoverings can communicate your design vision. They can offer a host of functional benefits:

  • Wall protection: Since wallcoverings can be long-lasting and durable, they can protect the wall and camouflage imperfections, stains and abrasions.
  • Double-duty material: Can be another use, including acoustical product, dry erase board or mimicking the look of a more-expensive product.
  • Sustainable: Many wallcoverings are low-VOC, meet NSF standards and have a long lifecycle.

Wallcoverings are the stalwart of design projects for many reasons, and at the Wallcoverings Association we often hear the following strategies for making wallcoverings work harder.

Photo: Astek & Society of Wonderland's Uptown—Black; Credit: Astek & Society of Wonderland

Wallcoverings as Art

Rotogravure wallcoverings offer a nearly limitless library of patterns, colors and textures that turn wall space into design statements, often with more impact and less cost than traditional artwork. Many designers are using digital wallcoverings to customize dramatic floor-to-ceiling murals that visually expand the boundaries of the room with bigger-than-life imagery.

We’re seeing wall murals of botanicals grounded in the biophilic trend, geometry-inspired graphics that project 3D effects, industrial finishes such as porous concretes and riveted metals, and gradients of abstract color washes. More powerful than accent walls, digital murals are sparking visual drama in lobbies and public spaces, on headboard walls in hotel guest rooms, and in elevator lobbies and restaurants.

To create large-scale art for the wall, Astek partnered with the Brooklyn-based Society of Wonderland design house to concept geometry-inspired wallpaper. Informed by art movements of the past, the collection features dynamic geometrics and bold shapes in a palette of bright colors and refined metallics.

Designers are often called upon to create artistic murals that ground the interior space in its geographic location. Signature Graphics helped Gensler do that in the redesigned Omnicom building in Dallas, where colorful walls in elevator lobbies feature the names of cities in and around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In another project, Signature Graphics developed a mural for Jumpin’ Jax House of Food that depicts the restaurant’s surroundings in downtown Jacksonville, FL, as it looked in the early 1920s.    

[Related: Integrated Floor and Wall Solutions]

Sustainable Finishes

More than 2,000 wallcovering styles have been certified to the NSF 342 Sustainability Standard for Wallcovering. NSF 342 is a multi-attribute, third-party standard that evaluates the sustainability impacts of the wallcovering’s lifecycle from sourcing of raw materials to end-of-life management. The standard is unique in the building industry in that it requires participation of both the manufacturer and distributor. To help specifiers and purchasers find certified products, the Wallcoverings Association has created a new identity mark that is displayed on qualifying wallcoverings.

Certified wallcoverings are accompanied by Product Certification Scorecards that show how many points were awarded in each NSF category, allowing specifiers to zero in on issues important to them, such as energy reduction, minimizing VOCs or post-consumer reclamation. It also facilitates comparison of specific sustainable attributes among multiple products. For a list of wallcovering providers certified to NSF 342, visit

Many wallcovering providers offer Environmental Product Declarations. Developed in conjunction with IGI-The Global Wallcoverings Association, these EPDs are accepted internationally and cover five constructions of typical and specialty commercial and residential wallcoverings.

Photo: Wolf-Gordon's Ballari Mylar; Credit: Wolf-Gordon

Off-the-Wall Durability

Nothing dates a lobby, corridor or public space more than scuffed and dirty walls. Wallcoverings protect the wall and preserve a clean, fresh appearance throughout their lifetime. Type II vinyl wallcoverings have long been valued for their durability, becoming the go-to selection for high-use spaces. This type includes heavy vinyl embossing and polyester woven blends that have the duel benefit of high resistance to damage and the ability to hide spots and perforations when they occur.

New options in flexible wall protection provide additional durability when needed. All are engineered for high-traffic environments to shield walls from the impact of rolling traffic and to resist scratching, soiling and tough stains.

  • Wolf-Gordon’s RAMPART offers performance characteristics that fill the gap between Type II wallcovering and rigid panels.
  • Versa Designed Surfaces offers two products: VersaGuard, a flexible wall protection, and Impact, a semi rigid product with strong resistance to abrasions and perforations.
  • MDC promotes Duratec as a semi-rigid wall protection that’s conceptualized for the wall but built with performance standards more like floorcovering.
Photo: Versa Impact; Credit: Versa

Creating Comfort

Wallcoverings often create a sense of calm and comfort that form an oasis from the stress and commotion of the outside world. (Photo: York Wallcoverings, Joanna Gaines Handloom; Credit: York Wallcoverings)

Some celebrate biophilic design with large-expanse, nature-inspired imagery that reconnects occupants with the natural world. Natural materials—such as woven textiles, wood veneers, grasscloth, cork and paper weaves—can contribute soothing details that invite us to unwind. Other wallcoverings simulate natural elements such as silk, linen, leather, wood and stone to create a similar feeling of warmth and relaxation at a more accessible price point.    

Wallcoverings providers like National are meeting this design need with patterns such as Kireina by Denovo and Lario by Colour & Design. Kireina, the Japanese word for beautiful, is a shimmering ombre textile design that projects Zen-like tranquility, while Lario mimics the look of cozy, crackled leather. York’s Magnolia Home Collection by Joanna Gaines includes selections like Handloom, a pattern that beckons to a slower-paced time that valued handwoven fabrics and artisanal objects.   

Improving Acoustics

Noise control is an important consideration, especially in open offices, high-ceilinged lobbies, hotel and hospital corridors, restaurants, classrooms and assembly space. By virtue of their sound-dampening qualities, wallcoverings are a better acoustical selection than paint. In addition, they can be perforated to enhance sound absorption.

New acoustical wallcoverings have an NRC rating of up to 0.20, making them ideal for any space with hard flooring surfaces. 3D embossed panels are also available in a variety of textures and finishes for both sound control and impact resistance.

Photo: Acoustic Felt by Level Sibilance; Credit: Level Sibilance

Look for acoustical wallcoverings such as Level’s Sibilance acoustic felt. Derived from post-industrial recycled polyester, it has an NRC rating of 0.20, is digitally printed and is available for custom designs. For greater acoustical control, MDC offers Zintra Acoustic Solutions, sculpted panels that resemble decorative architecture and provide an NRC rating of 0.46 to 0.60 depending on the design.   

Read Next: Specify Wallcoverings

About the Author: Matthew Jones is Executive Director of the Wallcoverings Association, a nonprofit trade association that represents wallcoverings manufacturers, distributors and suppliers. The WA educates consumers, designers and specifiers about the beauty and use of wallcoverings.

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