When Tim Butcher finished decorating the lobby of London's prestigious Goring Hotel with his one-of-a-kind wallpaper, he knew he had found the place to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his luxury wallpaper firm, Fromental.
He did so in March this year, only weeks after the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton dotted the eye of a whimsical unicorn among the other animal motifs hand-painted on top of silver leaf gilded walls at Goring's reopening ceremony.
"It was a special project," Butcher recalls. "We built upon the idea of a classical English Arcadian garden landscape and put a playful spin on it - think grizzly bears hiding in the clouds, swans in the leaves and snakes in the branches."
Wallpaper that has long been overlooked by interior designers is slowly taking the spotlight. Making the comeback stronger is luxury bespoke wallpaper rendered in precious materials such as gold leaves, glass beads and silver crystals as well those applied with artisanal techniques such as marquetry, hand screen paint and embroidery.
The luxurious rolls come with hefty price tags attached. Some of Fromental's luxury wallpaper fetches US$2,500 to US$3,000 per square metre. One living room Fromental fitted cost a client more than US$95,000.
"For many years, wallpaper was not considered a 'big-ticket' item, but that has changed," says Butcher, who founded Fromental with his textile designer wife Lizzie Deshayes.
Interior designers now treat wallpaper as more than a background, and take the opportunity to enhance the surroundings of luxury homes.
"Wallpaper is now seen more in the realms of artwork adorning the walls and a focal part of the whole [design] concept and scheme," says Simon Rawlings, creative director of London's famous David Collins Studio, whose portfolio spans luxury homes, retail concept stores and five-star hotels. The studio works extensively with luxury wallpaper brands such as De Gournay and Alpha Workshops.
While white walls were the expression of purism during the '80s and '90s, providing decoration ground zero for homes, embellishments are making a strong comeback, says Chiara Enrico, founder of Milan-based luxury wallpaper brand Misha.
"People are [once again feeling] the necessity of embellishing their homes with luxury and one-of-a-kind solutions to escape from [the] uniformity of minimalist spaces," Enrico says.
The production of wallpaper is full of potential to unleash this "more is more" approach. Designers employ sophisticated artisanal techniques to create couture wallpaper. Hand print screen is commonly used as well as embroideries on silk wall panels.
Fromental works with veteran painters and craftsmen in Suzhou - a city in Jiangsu province that has been famous for its silk embroidery since the 18th century.
German firm Welter, known for its gold leaf and precious metal panels which decorate the venue for The Academy Awards ceremony, employs a variety of techniques for wallpaper. To create a special three-dimensional effect, Welter's artisans work with porcelain powder, chalk and glue, topped with a layer of hand-applied gold leaf for a luminous finish.
Luxury maison Hermès also taps its rich resource of artisans for its wallpaper and furnishing fabrics.
"The fabrics are printed in our workshop in Lyon on graceful, heavy silk that perfectly symbolises Hermès' creative approach and renders the prints even more stunning," says Florence Lafarge, creative director of Hermès' Art de Vivre.
The craftsmanship has elevated the otherwise modest wallpaper to a new level of luxuriousness, yet it's not the only thing sophisticated customers are looking for. The sense of engagement is essential.
Bespoke authenticity - something which is made just for you - is important too, according to Fromental's Butcher. "Wealthy clients appreciate quality value [bespoke authenticity]. To retain that cache of luxury, it must be the hand who's making it just for you," he says.
Wallpaper designers offer made-to-order options or bespoke alternatives. They develop entirely new prints for clients - prints that have special sentiment. The tailor-made aspect appeals to customers who indulge in other bespoke aspects of lifestyle, from homeware to fashion and even holiday getaways.
"Our clients often ask for something unique," Misha's Enrico says. "They buy luxury, handcrafted goods to distinguish their homes from ordinary people."
Bespoke wallpaper sometimes carry as much creative input from designers as from clients. This kind of wallpaper becomes storytelling murals for unique home decorations.
"Wall coverings [can] evolve into more of a narrative wall hanging with embroidery," says interior designer Rawlings, referring to his earlier collaborations with Fromental, such as the boutique hotel The London NYC which features delicately embroidered wallpaper depicting the scenic 1950s Hyde Park.
Hermès' latest collection, called "Jungle Life Imprime", is inspired by the magical world of a distant and extraordinary natural environment observed by naturalist painter Robert Dallet. "The creation takes its energy from the unique heritage of Hermès and the new drawings that are made specifically each year," Lafarge says.
Despite luxury wallpaper's growing popularity, designers suggest to never hold back accessorising them. "Always consider how wallpaper can be seen in conjunction with artworks and the effect of light on the walls and how it changes from day to night," Rawlings says. Fromental's Butcher agrees. "Even if the wallpaper is beautiful and dramatic, [you can] still put mirrors and paintings on it. They are works of art - stunning and impossible to ignore [the] background - yet they must still do their job as wallpaper."
WHERE TO BUY LUXURY WALLPAPER
Most famous for its chinoiserie-esque exquisite hand-painted wall coverings, the London-based firm offers made-to-order solutions for clients. www.degournay.com
Founded in 2005, the firm focuses on made-to-measure luxury wallpaper featuring anything from gold leaf to embroidery and hand painting. www.fromental.co.uk
Hermès' wallpaper and furnishing fabrics revolve around inspirations from equestrianism, travel and fantasy. www.hermes.com
Misha offers one-of-a-kind hand-painted silk wallpaper influenced by traditional Chinese painting and embroideries. Furnishing fabrics are also available. www.mishawallpaper.com
The German firm applies special techniques such as marquetry and puts precious materials such as gold leaf and crystal beads on exquisite wallpaper. welter-wandunikate.de