Although wallpaper can sound like an outdated concept, experts say it exists in hotels and they are finding ways to incorporate it in a fresh and timeless way in guestrooms, hallways and public spaces.
GLOBAL REPORT—Wallpaper has been around for centuries, but even in 2019 it’s still a popular way to cover walls in hotels across all segments.
Jennifer Dwyer, director of design at Kraemer Design Group, said the term wallpaper is more commonly used for residential, while the term wallcovering is used for commercial properties, such as hotels, because there is a difference in quality and durability of the material.
Fortunately, there’s so many different design concepts and neutral patterns with wallcoverings that it’s hard for it to go out of style quickly, making it a good option for designing guestrooms, public spaces, corridors and more, she said.
Benefits of wallcoverings, keeping it intact
Dwyer said most hotels are expected to turn over every five to 10 years. Hotels are typically OK with that life cycle and updating wallcoverings during that time, she said.
The cost to replace wallcoverings is also pretty low and can even cost less than repainting the walls, she added. Commercial wallcoverings today have more of a fabric backing with a water-based adhesive. This allows for easy removal with a wet sponge.
“It’s really not as labor-intensive as you would think,” she added.
Dwyer suggests using type II commercial quality wallcoverings in hotels as it’s best for high-traffic spaces. She said Kraemer Design Group has mostly seen wallcoverings in midscale hotels to create a sense of style that’s unique to the brand.
Kevin Caulfield, senior design manager of furniture, fixtures and equipment at Wilson Associates’ New York studio, said he sees wallcoverings mainly in the luxury segment, and most lifestyle brands are only using wallcoverings for the headboard wall or corridors.
“There are so many innovations in wallcoverings available for the hospitality design industry,” he said in an email interview. “… Wallcovering is no longer flat or simply textured.”
He agreed that the usual life cycle of a guestroom is seven to 10 years, and even by then many wallcoverings are still performing well. Additionally, it is faster to replace a damaged wallcovering than it is to repaint an entire wall and wait for it to dry, he said.
However, for hotels doing a tight-budget renovation, “the labor cost to strip and patch and rehang new paper is questionable,” he added.
Azadeh Hawkins, creative director at Montage International, which manages the Pendry Hotel brand, said in an email interview that wallpaper installation is key.
She advises working with someone who has plenty of experience and is able to install it so the edges are matched and it’s a smooth application. Wallcoverings can definitely be an investment, so being smart and intentional about the selection can be key.
“It’s nice to find something that feels timeless. Selecting patterns and colors that are within your comfort level aesthetically and add a layer of texture can lift the space up,” she said.
To help protect the wallcovering, she suggests keeping a piece of furniture against the wall to keep it from getting scratched as people walk by.
For historic hotels, Dwyer said technology has come in handy when needing to replace an old wallcovering that might not be accessible from the manufacturer anymore. She said it’s possible to take a photo of the wallcovering and digitally recreate it.
At the Saint James Paris hotel in Paris, GM Laure Pertusier said while it’s possible to glue a small scrape in the wallcovering, more often than not the covering needs to be replaced. She agreed that the application can be tricky.
“The positioning is quite fastidious, not to mention that the walls need to be as straight as possible and absolutely smooth, which is a challenge in old constructions,” she said in an email interview.
Instead, use paint in areas that are likely “to get hit by suitcases… or spilled wine,” she said.
How hotels are using wallcoverings
At the Pendry San Diego, the wallcoverings are custom-designed in the guestrooms to include a fun representation of San Diego, Hawkins said. Guests can see hints of waves and a surfer in the design.
“It’s not something that immediately jumps out but once you give it a good look it’s a fun surprise,” she said.
The wallcovering adds a soft layer of color and tells a story of the local destination, she said. And in the Pendry San Diego’s pre-function space, there is wall that is covered with images of books, which exudes a sense of a library space.
“It adds dimension to the seating areas in the space,” she added.
Each guestroom in The Saint James Paris, which was designed by Bambi Sloan, is mostly “covered by fabrics but specific wallpapers are used in some (rooms where the designer) did not wish to cover the entire wall,” Pertusier said.
In the Queen’s Suite, for instance, the walls are covered by a delicate white painted paper. In the Tonkinoise Junior Suite, a white and blue floral paper has been put on panels to compliment the fabric on the other walls, she added. Then there are some suites that feature an ivy wallpaper that pulls inspiration from the hotel’s outside garden, she said.
For the hotel’s lobby and corridors, “Two very iconic (wallcoverings) have also been used. The neo-classical columns have been covered with ‘literary marble,’ the paper that was used to cover books in the past, to remind of the property’s past as a foundation for scholars,” she said.
The Saint James Paris hotel in Paris features a whimsical wallcovering along the lobby’s staircase with hot air balloons and monkeys. (Photo: Saint James Paris)
The walls along the lobby’s spiral staircase are covered with the design of hot air balloons to pay homage to the past of the grounds which were used as Paris’ air-balloon landing field before the hotel was built, she said.
“On the balloons, monkeys in suits are playing. Since the monkey figure is a lucky charm and a must-have in all bourgeois families since the 18th century, why not integrate them in the wallpaper?” Pertusier said.
Caulfield said hotels can create an iconic feature with wallcoverings that helps drive or reinforce the design concept. Also, he doesn’t think there is a place where a wallcovering can’t be used in a hotel.
“It is all the question of the aesthetic you are looking for,” he said. “Honestly I think guestrooms, corridors, gyms and spas offer great opportunities for wallcoverings.”
There is always an ebb and flow to design trends, Caulfield said.
“Designers are like magpies when it comes to new products. New items in the ever-changing market constantly sparks creative notions in the design industry,” he added. “But when it comes to wallcoverings, I think it will always have a place in the hotel industry.”
Every year Caulfield said he sees new patterns, new textures and ways to use wallcoverings, which is exciting.
“Also, as new processes are investigated in terms of manufacturing, innovation will create less waste of resources in production, make it more (healthy) in the build environment and create less waste for the landfills,” he said.
Dwyer said she’s seeing a rise in creating a “monochromatic room” and going for darker wallcoverings as well as choosing fabrics and textures that would be found in nature.
There’s more of a desire to add greenery and plant life, even if it’s in the wallcovering, she added.