When decorating a room, one of the first questions to be considered is wall treatment. Paint or wallpaper are the most common and practical choices. There are several points to consider for each.
Condition of walls: This is especially an issue in older homes that may have damaged walls. Whether you are papering or painting, damage must be repaired. However, wallpaper may disguise minor cracks or uneven patches. Paint will not.
Cost: even the most expensive paint is cheaper than wallpaper, which can run to several hundred dollars a double roll. Bargains can be found in home and décor stores, provided that there is enough of the bargain paper. But even bargains are likely to be more costly than paint.
Choices: even though there seem to be a nearly infinite number of hues, shades, and tones, there still are really only the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Any other color is simply a variant of one of these. Wallpaper, on the other hand, can incorporate patterns from the very simple to the outrageously ornate, in one or many colors. Wallpaper provides many more options than paint.
Ease of application: Painting is easier – nearly anyone can paint. While pre-pasted papers make hanging wallpaper fairly easy, unless you are very handy, you may want to hire a paperhanger. Matching patterns at seams can be especially tricky.
Equipment: According to Annapolis Paint Designs, both painting and wallpapering require an initial outlay for equipment, such as brushes, trays, ladders, paint stirrers, and wallpaper brushes. In both cases, the equipment can be cleaned and reused, which mitigates the cost somewhat.
Practicality: newer formulations make both paint and wallpaper washable and suitable for high-activity areas such as kitchens.
Other considerations: Technology continues to improve both paint and wallpaper. In a very recent development, construction scientists have created wallpaper reinforced with glass fibers that will help prevent damage in earthquakes (Wallpaper; Wikipedia). Paints formulated with no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) permit use of the room almost immediately after the painting is done; no need to wait for the new paint smell to diminish.
Once you have dealt with the practical aspects, consider aesthetics. What look and feel are you trying to achieve? In general, wallpaper is considered more formal, although there are such a variety of patterns and colors that appropriate paper can be found for even a very casual space.
Wallpaper can add texture and dimension to a room that paint will not give. Highly textured wallpapers such as grasscloth can lend softness to a room full of hard surfaces, such as a kitchen or bath. By the same token, wallpaper can have too much detail and appear to be too ‘busy’. In rooms with a lot going on – many pictures on the wall, many pieces of furniture or accessories – paint may be a better choice, providing a more neutral background.
Of course, paint and wallpaper are not mutually exclusive choices. Using a mix of both in a room can result in a striking and original design. Divide a wall with trim for a chair rail or even a plate rail, and use paint on one side and wallpaper on the other. Or apply wallpaper to the back of shelves for just a touch of color and pattern (Staying cool, bold and collected; Keeps; Los Angeles Times, Apr 26, 2014). Wallpaper on a ceiling is an unusual idea, but the right pattern can add interest to a part of a room that is often overlooked. To add architectural interest to a room that has none, attach pieces of trim to create a series of square frames on a wall. Then paint or paper inside the frames in a pattern or color that contrasts with the remainder of the walls.
Whether you choose paint, wallpaper, or some combination, make the room your own with choices that reflect your style and taste.