Whether wacky, whimsical, or wonderfully textural, nothing transforms a room quite like wallpaper. “It’s an instant refresh!” says Charlotte-based designer Barrie Benson, who’s known for working wallpaper like a total boss. Barrie’s cache of know-how makes her a certified wallpaper whisperer. From painterly prints to dashingly bold stripes, Barrie’s gives us the scoop on what inspired some of the smashing interiors she’s wallpapered in the past, and reveals a few pro tricks. Plus, don’t miss her stunning curation of Chairish finds.
Feel the Fern!
For a renovation of celebrated architect Lindsay McCullough’s Georgian Revival, Barrie opted for a fabulously uninhibited fern-print wallpaper. “Lindsay had just moved back to Charlotte from New York and loved the banana leaf pattern that Dolce & Gabbana had everywhere,” says Barrie. “I was worried she would grow tired of it seeing it on everything, including her walls, so we decided to do something similar, but inspired by her southern roots. When I saw the fern pattern I thought it was the perfect fit.”
Takeaway Tip: For busy wallpapers like this one, select an area of the home where it won’t have to compete with other fabrics or textures. “This is a backstair hallway, so we knew there would be very little fabrics and furniture and it was easy to keep this space edited but bold with the wallpaper,” says Barrie. “We then selected a Crespi-inspired table, which adds a sculptural element against the backdrop of the paper. And of course Lindsay’s fabulous Donald Judd is the cherry on top!”
Monet All Day
“This wallpaper always reminded me of YSL’s apartment in France,” says Barrie. “It adds texture and a painterly quality. It also worked perfectly with the owner’s grandmother’s rug, which was a sentimental addition, as it softens the room at night—which is important when you’re eating dinner. Likewise, the beautiful colors in the wallpaper pattern look fabulous with candlelight at night.”
Takeaway Tip: A statement wallpaper can be an excellent choice in rooms with limited wall space. “This room has a lot of windows and openings, so I knew there wouldn’t be room for much art,” says Barrie. Wallpaper—especially a divinely printed one—can lend interest, much like artwork, negating the need for framed paintings and prints. Likewise, a riotous pattern can unifying a choppy space broken up by numerous windows, vents, and the like.
Pattern à Trois
“We originally had planned to remodel the whole kitchen, but then decided against it,” says Barrie. “Since there was an unusual pattern on the countertops, we selected a wall covering with a small pattern to add texture and interest to the space. We updated the existing hardware and added the wallpaper, which was a much more cost effective way to update the space.”
Takeaway Tip: Using a wallpaper in tandem with other patterns isn’t impossible, but does require a little finagling. Try to match up the patterns’ textures and scale, says Barrie. “For instance, I love balance geometrics with soft florals,” she says. “There also needs to be unifying colors. It doesn’t need to match exactly, but the colors need to speak to each other.”
For a client’s daughter, Barrie says “We wanted a simple color backdrop—she was our client’s third child, but first girl, so we knew we wanted pink walls—but wanted it to feel not too sweet. Treating the ceiling with wallpaper helped balance that and also added a little maturity to the room, which allows it to grow with her if she wants to change the pink when she’s older.”
Takeaway Tip: As you can see here, any wallpaper is game for the ceiling. “If you’re careful in your pairings, anything can go on the ceiling,” says Barrie. “I always think grasscloths are nice for a little added texture and smaller patterns, but I also LOVE the idea of the Peg Norriss’s “Queen’s Flight” wallcovering on the ceiling, which is a larger scale. You just don’t want too many down lights, speakers or registers because they can make it hard to navigate.”
“This home was for a young family that have raised big UVA fans, particularly their son,” says Barrie. “This wallpaper was a handsome way for us to incorporate some of those colors and honor that, but still make it timeless so he can grow into it.”
Takeaway Tip: Barrie has just seven don’t-forget-’em words: “You can never have too many stripes!”
A Touch of Grass
“When we began designing this beach house, the homeowner handed me a collection of shells as her color palette inspiration and they all had this beautiful purple color to them,” says Barrie. “When we found this wallpaper that matched one of the shells, we knew we had to use it in her bedroom. It is still her favorite color to this day!”
Takeaway Tip: When in doubt, go with grasscloth. “It adds softness and texture, and can stand up to strong architectural elements while complementing it,” says Barrie. “I love the dimension it adds to the walls.”
Lead photo by Brie Williams