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dining room wall decor with wall panels and wall paper

The Wallpaper and Wall Panels

Some wallpapers are works of art and have a lovely effect on any wall they cover. Hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, used mostly in formal dining rooms where people gather for celebrations, is sumptuous and elegant. Originally these panels were called "India" papers because Britain's East India Company was the largest importer. In the glow of candlelight, silver, and crystal, there is nothing as richly beautiful as hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. These wallpapers come in forty-six-inch-wide panels in lengths ten to twelve feet high, and are sold in sets to cover the entire room's four walls. The scenes of blossoming trees and fantastic rocks with animals, birds, and insects are brilliantly colored in naturalistic detail. There was a time when this wallpaper was so popular that some people even built a room to fit the panels' dimensions. As early as 1787 President George Washington ordered a set for Mount Vernon.

Woodblock printing eventually brought down the prices of painted wallpaper in the latter part of the nineteenth century after the introduction of Japanese prints, but there is nothing as breathtakingly beautiful as the handmade originals.

wall decor with wall panels

In a dining room with antique mahogany furniture, a lemon-yellow background is sumptuous. One client wanted a room with yellow panels of flowering trees cascading from cornice to baseboard, while another aspired to having oriental wallpaper in her dining room but couldn't afford the expense of covering the entire wall space, so she compromised by selecting short hand-painted panels of flowers designed to hang above a chair rail, achieving the same effect at half the cost. If you install a four-inch molding with a deep projection, there is a quality architectural base to support the paper. If you desire a dining room decorated in this extravagant way, have a breakfast room where you can eat your family meals. Few can stand this amount of richness as a daily diet.

If you do want wallpaper and can't afford hand-painted wall panels, select a quiet, small pattern or a wide stripe so any art you place on the walls won't clash with the paper. Large-scale designs don't work well with art and photographs, leaving mirrors and brackets with porcelain the only way to break up the pattern. But even these displays can look fussy. And any room without pictures, with the exception of a powder room or a formal dining room, will be a lifeless, rigid space.

With this warning, in the right room, wallpapers can be pretty, and a suitable alternative to expensive woodwork. For example, rather than going to the expense of having real trellises installed on the walls, some papers fool the eye and are extremely effective in creating an architectural garden mood. Guest rooms can be charming papered with small-scale geometric patterns or flowers. If you have a vacation house where you go infrequently, paper could be welcoming, though I prefer quilts or botanical prints, photographs, or paintings.

Unless you're properly trained, do not install wallpaper yourself. Because of the lengths from cornice or ceiling to baseboard, usually over eight feet, the risk of creasing is too great for inexperienced hands. Glue bubbles can cause stains on the seams that often don't show up for months, and if the paper is not glued evenly, the seams curl. Professional paperhangers are expensive. The more valuable the wallpaper the more they charge because of their responsibility for any potential damage.

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