By Design

Even if you're not a "pattern person," 'fess up. Some designs just pop -- especially on the walls and floors. Like a compelling piece of art, a giant bloom or palm frond on an open ground can be beguiling. A dynamic geometric, like a chevron or a wide stripe, is particularly arresting in graphic black and white. An allover abstract recalls grand expressionist canvases. A multi-patterned patchwork can be appreciated for its intricacies, just as in the hand-sewn equivalents. Surfaces can be stimulating.

One thing is certain: Ornamentation is back. And its expression is morphing, in large part due to the explosion of technology, namely digital printing. And part of the reason for the growing popularity is the desire for personalization and an artisanal touch -- real or perceived.

"It's all about personalization," says Michelle Lamb, publisher of The Trend Curve, which reports on international trends in the home furnishings industry. "The term 'eclectic' is now dated," says the Minneapolis-based forecaster, "and it's not about mixing styles and stripes and (color) values. It's about creating an environment that is unique to you. You can almost see the mark of the maker, and it's absolutely key."

Although wallcovering waxes and wanes in popularity, it is most definitely enjoying a moment, especially with the influx of so many artisanal producers. At the high end, companies like Fromental are go-to sources for designers seeking sophisticated and elegant patterns. Or de Gournay, which draws raves for magnificent landscapes as large as life, gorgeous chinoiserie and period murals, sometimes touched with gilt.

For many, patterns are intimidating. But not so for Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke, partners in life and in their design firm, Madcap Cottage. They're not at all afraid to put pattern on walls, on floors, on ceilings, windows, sofas and pillows -- sometimes in the same room! Authors of the new book "Prints Charming" (Abrams, $35), they show how to choose, use and layer patterns. They also are debuting a wallcovering collection this fall, first on One Kings Lane (www.onekingslane.com).

"We're in a new Arts and Crafts movement," says Nixon. "It's a reaction to all the technology on Instagram and Facebook every hour of the day. We want to have moments of life where we feel something special. A hand touch. Something authentic in our homes."

The Madcap gents reside in the more is more camp -- with the honed eyes and editing that it takes to pull it off. But even designers more known for modern style, like L.A.-based Michael Berman, are appreciating surface decoration.

Berman thinks that the popularity of mid-century modern style, which has morphed from a style trend to a core of design, allows for pattern to be used as backdrops.

"The furniture is so simple, with linear silhouettes and clean lines," says Berman. "That allows people to get a little more adventurous with pattern on walls and floors."

Berman's new wallcovering collection for Fromental "reinterprets traditional paper through a lens of modernity," with some Art Deco inspiration.

Trends seen at shows like Cersaie, an annual tile showcase in Bologna, Italy, have been largely focused on amazing innovations in porcelain, many of which highlight the graphic capabilities of digital printing. Themes in recent years have focused on nature, wood lookalikes, geometrics, some with 3-D effects, retro looks, artistic murals and integration of metallics (accents or allover shimmer).

Within these themes, there's much room for creativity. Take the uber-popular wood looks, for example. We've seen wide "planks," narrow "boards," heavy grains, a range of hues, including the more fashion-forward taupey grays. We've seen them laid up in chevron patterns. And then there are the unexpected twists, such as the intriguing Woodline collection from Unica. It takes a wood grain pattern, plays with it to create still another design with a crisp black outline, as it also creates dimension.

And it's not even nostalgia as much as an appreciation for great turn-of-the-century or mid-century design that drives some revisiting. Concrete and amazing facsimiles in porcelain often have rich ethnic roots. The Cir brand from Gruppo Romani, for example, introduced a collection of glazed porcelain stoneware in muted colors that evokes the look of historic tiles from Havana. The tiles are especially effective when installed in a patchwork pattern featuring the different designs.

A new wallcovering from Flavor Paper highlights another global inspiration with a simple pattern -- an almost Suzani-like linked circle, but in blown-up scale and with a detailing that looks like stitching. It was inspired by a print the designer describes as "South Africa's denim equivalent," dating to the 1800s.

A rich oversized floral from Black Edition's Herbaria wallcovering collection was actually inspired by Dutch masters. Voutsa's exotic Tahitia chinoiserie by artist George Venson features enchanting foliage stretched vertically on a long panel that can be isolated or ganged together to create a larger piece of art. Printing on grass cloth gives it texture.

Madcap Cottage's jungly fronds in shades of green seem electric, like neon on a black ground in wallpaper for York.

Allover prints such as Aimee Wilder's cheetah can be equally arresting -- both from unorthodox teamings of color as well as the treatment and scale of the pattern, which has a sort of swirling motion. It's both the scale and palette-teaming that differentiate the newest designs from the miniprints of the '70s.

Another prevalent touch -- both in tiles and in wallcovering -- is a hint of metallic, especially gold, which has been warming home decor for some time. It can be like a whisper, as in a wash, even on grass cloth. Or it can be part of the design, as in a "stripe" or geometric hexagon in gold on a white tile that actually is an inlay of real metal on marble or porcelain, sometimes with a hint of veining beneath.

While there are so many patterns to entice, application is further intriguing. Besides conventional spots for tile, like bathrooms or backsplashes, ceilings have been added to feature walls as prime locations -- parallel to the way wallcovering are being used.

Even borders are no longer limited by typical linear dimensions or heights. They can be enchanting and even whimsical, as in a collection of Fornasetti air balloons, blimps and sailing ships staggered and in various sizes by Ceramica Bardelli, available at Hastings Tile & Bath.

Whether it's dreamy or whimsical, fantasy or vividly realistic, you can find an artisanal look for walls, floors and ceilings that covers a wide range of budgets -- from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Add your own vision and personalize as you wish.

Sources

-- Black Edition, The Romo Group, 800-338-2783, www.blackedition.com

-- Flavor Paper, 718-422-0230, www.flavorpaper.com

-- 41Zero42, email info@41zero42.it, www.41zero42.com

-- Fromental, 347-625-1838, www.fromental.co.uk

-- Hastings Tile & Bath, 212-674-9700, www.hastingstilebath.com

-- Italian Trade Commission (for Italian tile companies ABK, Ceramica Francesco de Maio, Gruppo Romani, Unica) 212-980-1500, www.italtrade.com

-- New Ravenna, 757-442-3379, www.newravenna.com

-- Voutsa, 646-892-7797, www.voutsa.com

-- Walker Zanger, 732-697-7700, www.walkerzanger.com

-- York Wallcoverings, 800-375-9675, www.yorkwall.com

-- Aimee Wilder, 347-746-2554, aimeewilder.com

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