Earthy Essence

Natural fiber wall treatments add an outdoorsy feel inside your home.


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Photo by Ramona d’Viola

Mention the word wallpaper, and one might envision the velvety flocked/metallic variety in your grandmother’s sitting room. If that’s your taste—all good. But if you’re looking to update a dreary room or bring a natural, earthy essence into your home, consider today’s reimagined natural fiber wall treatments.

Just like it sounds, grass cloth is woven from long strips of dried natural grasses, such as sea grass, papyrus, or jute. Once woven and manufactured, you can go au natural and let the materials speak for themselves or choose from a prism of dyed colors. Sublime to outrageous, these versatile wall coverings are adaptable to every design concept, from Victorian to Mid-Century and beyond.

“I think of natural material wall coverings as one of many layers in an interior design,” said Quinn Morgan of San Francisco's Quinn Morgan Design. “Fantastically adaptable—they add depth to a room—or act as a starting point for a concept.

Photo by Suzanna Scott, Courtesy Arana Craftsman Painting/LMB Interiors

“The use of organic materials indoors lends an energetic connection to the home,” Morgan added. “These earthy elements bring nature inside, appeal to our human-ness, and bring us back to source.”

Many “eco-chic” grass wall coverings score high green marks for sustainability. If your intentions are to create a greener home environment, look for products with LEED credit ratings, paired with a low VOC-rated adhesive. Companies like Phillip Jeffries, LTD, Madison and Grow, and Graham & Brown are at the vanguard of responsibly sourced and manufactured products for home décor.

As in all good work, it starts in the details. Preparation is key, and in this case, unless you’re really handy, best not to make this a DIY project. Creating a perfectly smooth surface, applying just the right amount of paste (so it doesn’t soak through and stain your expensive cloth), getting it straight, and lining up seams: Let’s just say, it’s risky business when dealing with expensive, delicate materials. When it comes to installation, best to go with a pro.

“Hanging wallpaper is truly a skill. Creating a flat surface and matching seams take years of experience. Our installer has been hanging wall paper for 40 years,” said Catherine Baldi of Arana Craftsman Painting. “With the resurgence in popularity of wall papers, we’re experiencing a real dearth of qualified installers.

“Sea grass wallpapers are the most popular type of wall covering interior designers are spec’ing for their projects,” Baldi continued. “Unlike vinyl or paper, these types of wall coverings will never match seams perfectly, due to the nature of the product. However, the additional vertical seam can be minimized, or played up to create a visual pattern. It’s a really versatile and interesting material to work with.”

Far from maintenance-free, grass cloth, and other natural materials, age well, but it’s probably not the best choice for a toddler’s room.

“You’ll need to take care not to get them wet,” Baldi advised. “They’ll stain or warp.”

 

Published March 21, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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