Exploring the Wallpaper-Inspired Tile Trend at Cersaie

A section of a wall covered in gray and white patterned paper, with a gray table full of books standing against it.

Wallpaper-inspired tile can fit modern decor schemes, too. Photo courtesy of 41zero42/Ceramics of Italy member company.

You might have grown up in a wallpapered bedroom, or spent loving hours in Grandma’s kitchen surrounded by her cheery wallpaper, but there’s an equal likelihood that the home you own now has little or none of the sticky stuff on its walls, even though it is making a comeback of sorts.

Many homeowners recall all too well the headache of removing it, or the sight of curling, fading wallpaper in their parents’ homes or the property listings they didn’t buy. For those who love the style power of pattern, there is a new alternative: Tile inspired by wallpaper. 

Why tile? It’s extremely durable, for one. Installed correctly on an undamaged wall, it will not peel off over time and will stand up to the rigors of family living. Two, it’s extremely fire resistant in case the worst happens. Three, unlike wallpaper, tile can add value to your home. Four, with the very rare exception, it’s heat and water resistant for use on shower walls, kitchen backsplashes and fireplace surrounds. 

Those are all good reasons for choosing a wallpaper-inspired tile. Here are some to consider from a recent press trip to one of the world’s premier tile shows, Cersaie, the massive expo held every year in Bologna, Italy. The press corps was hosted by Ceramics of Italy, a trade group that promotes exports. 

Let’s start, though, with some tips on how to choose wallpaper-inspired tile if you decide to make the investment.

Smart Choices

Pattern packs a heavy punch when it comes to design, so you might opt to cover an accent wall, rather than an entire room. This could be the one behind a bed, crib, couch or freestanding tub. Choose solid colors from the pattern for the room’s other elements like paint and countertops, so that the tile becomes the statement and the other elements in the space complement it.

If the room already has a lot of pattern – for example, an heirloom bedspread or natural cherry cabinets – you can opt for tile wallpaper that makes its statement with texture and color, (think ceramic grass cloth), rather than pattern. 

Resale should also factor into your choice. While you may plan on spending the rest of your life in your home, sometimes a new job or family situation creates the need to move in a hurry. If you follow the smart choice tips mentioned above, a personal pattern will blend well with your home and not necessarily impact your selling speed or price.

What’s Available

European tiles have different U.S. release schedules. Some reach our shores in three to six months. Others aren’t available here for a year or longer. Some brands are so popular that their distributors have U.S.-based warehouses. This typically means a much shorter wait for your single room order and U.S.-based customer service if there’s an issue with your shipment. 

Many of the wallpaper-style tiles on display were inspired by nature or fabrics. Some were inspired by modern art or architecture. They are all thin. One brand at Cersaie called Vallelunga & Co. showed a three-millimeter-(.118 inch)-thick surface that looked so much like wallpaper from the side that you’d never guess it wasn’t. Most of the tiles were a little thicker, but still a fraction of the thicknesses you’ll spot at your local home center. They are also installable with very tight grout lines to reinforce the wallpaper impression (and simplify maintenance). 

Another brand, called 41zero42 after its Italian zip code, created quarter-inch thick tiles in both modernist and botanical patterns. They are not rated for installations near heat or water, so backsplash, fireplace or shower walls would not work for their Paper41 line. They would be terrific in other interior living spaces, stair walls and hallways. 

The nature lover might go for Ornamenta’s Jungle Animalier animal or botanical prints. Numerous tile makers had fabric-inspired tiles, ranging from heavily patterned to solid color linen-look textures. Sant’Agostino’s Tailor Art plaid even felt like fabric.

Last Words

When choosing patterned tile, you’re going to want a style and color scheme you’ve enjoyed for many years, rather than something you recently discovered. You’ll have it on your walls for decades to come, so you want to be sure it’s going to be loved for just as long.

Jamie Gold is a certified kitchen designer in San Diego and the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work (Taunton Press). She is currently writing the New Bathroom Idea Book.

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