When it comes to choices in wallcoverings, facilities managers currently suffer from an embarrassment of riches. Facilities managers can choose from paints that develop their glossy finishes as they dry; vinyl that looks like bamboo; bamboo that looks like grass; grass that looks like linen; or leather that looks like metal. The possibilities grow more intriguing with each new product.
Not long ago, when it came to commercial wallcoverings – utility ruled. Durability, quick installation, and simple maintenance were the only criteria for wallcovering choices. These criteria are still top on the list, but aesthetics is rising.
A focus on appearance benefits all end-users. Walls that used to be strictly background now feature unexpected combinations of color, texture, and pattern. These new looks bring with them the wake-up call that brass and percussion bring to a string symphony. Walls aren’t boring anymore.
But when we open our new treasure chest of materials and patterns, we are confronted with some difficult decisions. So many of the new wallcovering products are visually bold. What is the practical value of decorative wallcoverings? Where would these products fit best?
Let’s take a walk through the aisles of a hypothetical showroom lined with exhibits of textiles, coatings, laminates, gilded tiles, skins and pelts, nature’s bounty, and synthetics all engineered to cover the walls of offices, hospitals, schools, and more:
There’s vinyl in a series of sharp geometrics featuring matte/metallic contrasts in colors like anthracite, steel, and stone.
There’s a set of upholstered leather panels stitched to create dimensional designs, including box pleats, buttoned flats, and more.
There are multicolored rolls of fabric that feature sparkling glass beads.
Not for you? Consider the use of a bold wallcovering as an accent. How about a splash of flair applied as an accent and repeated so that it contributes to a theme? Consider the dado, the wainscoting, accent walls, the frames and surrounds of doors and windows. Another design option is turning doors themselves into accents by upholstering them with one of the new generations of wallcovering stunners.
Lindsay Volkening, founder, Architecture/Design (A/D) Alliance, Philadelphia, knows something about accents. “We use accents to freshen the look,” says Volkening. “It could be on the walls or on the floor; or it could be in the lighting. The purpose is to change the pace and introduce a mindset that helps people work more productively.”
A/D Alliance likes to introduce contrasting textures and sharply focused color notes in high-profile spaces like reception areas, conference rooms, and employee cafeterias. In training and video-conferencing areas, Volkening recommends wall carpet for its acoustic properties. Wall carpet wainscoting is a great choice for high-traffic areas. “In hospitals or anywhere that rolling metal carts are used, wall carpet wainscoting protects walls; it doesn’t snag or tear, and it doesn’t clang when it’s run into,” says Volkening.
As to cost concerns, Volkening puts it in perspective. “Some of the materials we use are expensive by the square foot, but we don’t need to use a large quantity. What they might add to the overall cost of a project is infinitesimal, but the accents are what people remember.”
Practical, utilitarian, and with a splash of pizzazz, the new look of wallcoverings presents a compelling invitation to explore outside-the-box solutions.
James R. Harper is the vice president of Harper Hadley Alexander, a marketing communications company serving manufacturers, importers, and distributors, headquartered in Newtown Square, PA.