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The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Wallpaper in Your Powder Room

Top Washington designers answer your most pressing questions.

“Luzon” wallpaper by Thibaut. Designer: Alison Giese for her own home in Burke. Photograph by Robert Radifera, Styling by Charlotte Safavi.

Why is the powder room a good place to try it?

It’s self-contained, so you don’t have to worry as much about a loud pattern clashing with other spaces. Plus, wallpaper can make this small room feel like an escape, says designer Alison Giese, who outfitted her own powder room with Thibaut’s “Luzon.” She says the vivid pops of aqua and coral remind her of her family’s previous home in Brazil. Not that adventurous? “I would go with a grasscloth or a textured, tone-on-tone pattern,” Giese suggests. “It feels a little more timeless than an in-your-face pattern.”

Peel-and-stick or traditional?

Wallpaper hanger Michael DiGuiseppe tells clients to order only traditional paper. Bubbles and creases are a constant plague when you’re trying to hang peel-and-stick, and you have to remove the entire strip to reposition it, he says. When you paint glue on a primed wall and apply dry paper, you can move it around and smooth it before it dries. Today’s papers are also easily strippable later on, DiGuiseppe adds.

“Birds” by Galbraith & Paul. Designer: Pamela Harvey for clients in Arlington. Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg. “Birds” by Galbraith & Paul. Designer: Pamela Harvey for clients in Arlington. Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.
 “Battle of Valmy 1792” by Brunschwig & Fils. Designer: Annie Elliott for clients in Potomac. Photograph by Jenn Verrier. “Battle of Valmy 1792” by Brunschwig & Fils. Designer: Annie Elliott for clients in Potomac. Photograph by Jenn Verrier.

How much should I expect to spend?

Wallpaper prices run the gamut. A roll from a big-box retailer such as Home Depot can cost less than $30, while made-to-order, hand-painted paper from companies such as Gracie or de Gournay can cost thousands. But generally, says designer Annie Elliott, “it is a bit of a splurge, which is one of the reasons so many people do it in powder rooms.” She recently outfitted one with Brunschwig & Fils’s “Battle of Valmy 1792.” The minimum two-roll order for that luxury brand tops $460, and a standard powder room requires about three double rolls. That’s before you pay a paper hanger—an additional cost of about $400 to $500, according to DiGuiseppe, who hangs paper for some of the area’s most prominent designers. Larger rooms can cost $900 to $1,200 or even more, depending on the paper and the intricacy of its pattern, he says.

If you go cool and bold with wallpaper, you can get away with just needing a mirror.

On the other hand, designer Erika Bonnell notes, wallpaper may actually save money: “If you dress your walls boldly in wallpaper, it removes other things that need investment, like art. In the powder room, if you go cool and bold with wallpaper, you really can get away with just needing a mirror.”

Can I hang it myself?

For an entire room, designers recommend hiring a professional to avoid costly mistakes, but the DIY approach works well for smaller jobs. Try it on the backs of bookcases or the back of a desk that floats in the middle of the room, suggests designer Pamela Harvey. Frame it as art or use it as a backsplash. If you buy paper on your own, make sure to confirm that all the rolls come from the same dye lot, says Elliott. If they don’t, the colors might vary from one strip to the next.

“Poppy” by Cole & Son. Designer: Erika Bonnell for clients in Wesley Heights. Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.

How do I find a contractor?

Local paint and hardware stores that stock wallpaper sample books can offer referrals. (See below.) Neighborhood listservs such as NextDoor are also a good place to ask for referrals.

Where can I shop locally and get more advice?

Casart Coverings, by appointment (Alexandria), 888-960-5554.

Color Wheel, 1374 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean; 703-356-8477.

Farrow & Ball, 5221 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-479-6780.

Monarch Paint & Design Centers, downtown DC, 202-289-1601; Georgetown, 202-625-2600; Chevy Chase DC, 202-686-5550; Alexandria, 703-768-1975.

Potomac Paint & Design Centers, 5701 Lee Hwy, Arlington; 703-534-4477.

Sherwin-Williams, Multiple area locations.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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Jennifer Sergent

Writer Jennifer Sergent has lived in Arlington for 20 years. She blogs at dcbydesignblog.com.