Eye-teasing wallpapers

Trompe l’oeil designs with wit and style

Osborne & Little Ponti, £88 per roll
Osborne & Little Ponti, £88 per roll

If you tend to stick to the plain and simple in design terms, you might not have realised quite how dramatically wallpaper has changed in recent years – possibly because it had gone so far out of fashion that designers felt they had to do something, anything, to make us take notice again.

Deborah Bowness Glass Tableware, £30 per metre
Deborah Bowness Glass Tableware, £30 per metre | Image: debroah bowness

How To Spend It readers will already be acquainted with Deborah Bowness and her trompe l’oeil ways (most interestingly in her Genuine Fake Bookshelf paper). Now, instead of covering your walls to look like a bookworm’s hideaway, you can line the backs of shelves or alcoves to appear as if you have a collection of elegant glassware. Wine glasses, tumblers, decanters, carafes and jugs feature on her charcoal-grey-and-white handmade paper (£30 per metre, second picture). It’s a witty design that, if imaginatively used, has a wonderful ability to trick the eye.

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At Andrew Martin, a new collection called Engineer (from £39.90 per roll) also has a lot of fun with trompe l’oeil. It has a stripped-back, industrial aesthetic that celebrates raw materials such as wood or stone, as well as vintage luggage and drawers (third picture).

Andrew Martin Curator, from the Engineer collection, £69.90 per roll
Andrew Martin Curator, from the Engineer collection, £69.90 per roll

There’s more visual deception in the Fornasetti II collection printed by Cole & Son (£140 per roll), which launched in January and conjures up the Italian brand’s magical and quirky world with wallpapers that play on its trademark architectural themes. Balaustra (fourth picture, shown with the Macchine Volanti pattern) reproduces images of marble or stone balustrades and is designed to be hung like a frieze along the bottom of a wall; Procuratie, with its classical arches, features the well-known façades (in four neutral shades) of buildings in St Mark’s Square, Venice; while Nicchie shows exquisitely drawn alcoves, each filled with a “surreal assortment” of mandolins, fruit, keys and hourglasses. Most captivating of all, though, is its Magia Domestica, which offers up an intriguing domestic scene of an open door, a tiled floor and a suit of armour (£375 for a set of five panels).  

Cole & Son Fornasetti II Balaustra, £140 per roll 
Cole & Son Fornasetti II Balaustra, £140 per roll 

Finally, Osborne & Little has come up with some intriguing designs. There’s the striped Ponti, in shades of grey and bronze (£88 per roll, first picture), which gives the impression of corrugated iron. It caused a sensation at the recent Maison et Objet show in Paris, with visitors continually touching it in disbelief. And also Cabretta, resembling a piece of quilting (£95 per roll, in nine colours). All in all, wallpapers deserve a second look – some are not quite what they seem.

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