Design: Wallpaper Gets Down

Knitting needles, brooches and swing skirts aren't the only vintage accessories making a comeback. At last week's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York--an annual showcase of high-end design for the home--a crop of start-up companies showed off a fresh take on something long associated with Grandma's house: wallpaper. Instead of yellow daisies and toile, there were sequins, fringe and trippy Mylar. "Wallpaper is getting a new lease on life," says Arlene Hirst, a senior editor at Metropolitan Home.

The return of attention-grabbing graphics for walls is only the latest sign that minimalism is dead. Austere, Zen-like spaces, so popular in the 1990s, are giving way to bright colors and witty designs. The ICFF show was brimming with examples, like LED lamps that looked like stacks of yellow, orange and blue children's blocks (; furniture made from loose change (, and chandeliers decorated with gilded leaves and flowers (

Plain, painted walls were the last bastion of restraint. "Customers are going for a more complete, more decorated look," says Kathy O'Brien, a vice president at home-furnishings supplier F. Schumacher & Co., which has seen an uptick in sales of wall decor over the past two years. But this time around, clients will use the stuff more sparingly, predicts Gregory Herringshaw, assistant curator of wallcoverings at New York's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Perhaps that's because designers are creating patterns that are wilder than ever. London-based Tracy Kendall ($180 to $350 per roll; tracy stitches or tags buttons, sequins and Post-it-like squares onto paper. Jon Sherman, founder of New Orleans-based Flavor Paper, hand-screens psychedelic 1970s prints onto Mylar ($150 to $250 per roll; flavor just installed some in Lenny Kravitz's Creole cottage in Louisiana. Kyra Hartnett of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Twenty2 also has unveiled new Mylar prints ($111 to $175 per roll;

Other designers are creating do-it-yourself wall coverings. Wallpaper-by-Numbers ($114 per roll, including acrylic paints; lets patrons color in gerbera daisies or flying dogs. Philadelphia-based Jaime Salm of Mio showed panels of sculpted, recycled cardboard ($28 for a box of 12 square-foot tiles; mioculture .com). "You can paint it," he says. "You can rotate the tiles to create new patterns." Up next, says Salm: wallpaper on the ceiling.

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