There are plenty of ways to add a sense of joy to an interior, and certainly one of the most popular these days is colorful, cheery wallpaper. After years out of favor, wallpaper has been back with a bang for several seasons thanks to a wide variety of bright, punchy options. We spoke with eight designers about how they use different types of wallpaper to bring some cheer to their spaces — and excitement to their clients. See their tips below.

Living room with orange and white patterned wallpaper and matching blue wicker armchairs.
Photo: Kim Sargent Photography

Pin It and Ponder

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t need to make huge design decisions all at once either. Gil Walsh advises her clients to take a beat and think about how different wallpapers make them feel. “I prefer large, bold, and colorful patterns that add a bit of quirkiness to a room,” says Walsh. “Don’t be afraid to use playful wallpapers in small or large spaces. Pin it on the wall and walk by it for a couple of days. See what your eye tells you. Look at it in the day’s light and in the evening light, before you commit to it. And definitely don’t be afraid to do the unexpected, like adding it to the fifth wall – the ceiling. Have fun and enjoy.”

Bedroom with floral and butterfly wallpaper and metal canopy bed and  green drapes.
Photo: Werner Straube

Play With More Colors – Not Fewer

Designer Summer Thornton likes to let cheery wallpapers do the talking in her spaces—in a natural way. “I’m drawn towards patterns with lots of colors because I think they feel more natural. Nature is this incredibly diverse palette of colors so when you have a paper with 12, 16, or more colors in it, it feels authentic compared to a paper with fewer colors,” Thornton says. “And you can be playful without being overly preppy — aim for that and don’t make it sugary, or it will look childish. I try to mix in some antiques as well as some more traditional and formal elements to make sure the design doesn’t feel too sweet.”

Bedroom with bold flamingo wallpaper, black circular side tables and black pendant lights.
Photo: Joshua McHugh

Embrace the Unexpected

Sometimes the surprise of the wallpaper itself can bring joy to a room. “I like unexpected wallpaper installations—that element of surprise alone can be cheery,” says designer Elena Frampton of Frampton Co. “There are many wonderful flora and fauna designs on the market, which can be used as a way to bring the outdoors in, or abstract graphic creations that add an artful angle. Those patterns tend to scare almost everyone — I’m amused by some of the reactions we get — so when a client tells us to ‘go for it,’ the magic can really happen. It’s important to start from a concept; ask yourself, ‘What do I want this to feel like?’ and explore from there.”

Dining room with red floral wallpaper with deco-style cabinet and wicker-backed black dining chairs.
Photo: Jenn Verrier

Balance Dramatic Wallpapers with Furniture Choices

Make sure you aren’t selecting wallpapers in a vacuum — if you’re choosing bold papers, pull back on the furniture. Andrea Houck of A. Houck Designs gravitates toward floral and botanical motifs, and keeps that in mind when it comes to furnishings. “Nature-inspired designs convey exuberance or elegance, depending on the color palette and scale,” says Houck. “For these clients, we selected a dark red wallcovering embossed with a gold-leaf flower motif. To balance the wallpaper’s rich hue and motif, we covered the host chairs in a tightly patterned floral fabric in softer shades, while the guest chairs boast ebony woven backs and leather seats. A quartet of hammered-iron pendants and a large gilded mirror heighten the drama and stand up to the daring tone set by the wallpaper.”

Bathroom with green and yellow floral wallpaper, rounded mirror, and vase of yellow flowers.
Photo: Suzanna Scott Photography

Start with a Favorite Base Color

If designing with wallpapers feels too challenging, start with colors that speak to you. “When it seems intimidating to clients, we often start with a base color they love and work from there,” says designer Regan Baker. “A bright, fun print can go a long way to add a burst of joy every time you see it. In this powder room, the homeowners had different design priorities. She likes whimsical patterns while he loves bold, masculine pieces, but the end result turned out beautifully. The floral patterns and pastels are tempered beautifully by the fixtures, and in turn those heavier pieces feel more upbeat around sunny yellow and pale rose tones. The bright palette also brought some warmth to a space that was low on natural light.”

Dining room with dark floral wallpaper, wood, raw-edge dining table, and black wood dining chairs.
Photo: Molly Culver

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark in Big Spaces

That said, cheery wallpaper doesn’t always have to be brightly colored. Don’t fear the dark side, says Sara Barney of BANDD Design. “Be sure to consider the space that the wallpaper is going into and what colors or patterns might change that room’s appearance. For instance, a dark wallpaper in a smaller room (unlike this one) might give the illusion that the room is smaller than it actually is. Also, you’ll want to choose a wallpaper that has a pattern/color that fits with the overall feel of the rest of your home. If you’re splurging on a wallpaper, remember that you’ll want the design to be timeless and unique to you so you’ll still love it years later.”

Bathroom with pink floral wallpaper with white bathroom cabinetry and marble floor.
Photo: Rickie Agapito Photography

Step Out of the Ordinary

And don’t be afraid to try something different when you’re making wallpaper choices. Andrea Martoccia of Motivo Home encourages her clients to say no to the ordinary and do something big and bold. “Generally speaking, I think wallpaper that evokes a feeling of cheerfulness usually includes big, whimsical patterns or playful colors. My key advice is to have fun,” says Martoccia. “Step outside of the ordinary and find what brings joy to the room….if it makes you smile, you’re doing it right. Keep in mind it’s always about balance, so make sure that if you are going with a super bold and playful wallpaper that you tone down other elements in the room.”

Bedroom with purple wall-paper accent wall, white secretary desk, and white upholstered headboard.
Photo: Brantley Photography

Consider the Scale

Finally, think about the scale of the pattern you’re working with, especially in smaller spaces. Wallpaper aficionado Jamie Blomquist advises it, particularly when it comes to larger prints. “We are using wallpaper in every project these days,” Blomquist says. “We’re in love with large floral prints, because who doesn’t love flowers? Large format prints often become the artwork in the room. Just be mindful of the design’s scale as it pertains to wall length and ceiling height. And of course, the colors used within the pattern need to complement the palette being used in both the room and throughout the home.”


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June 10, 2020

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.