When looking back at projects I find that 70% of my favorite rooms that we’ve ever designed have one thing in common – a high impact wallpaper or tile. That’s not to say that you need to have a crazy wallpaper to make a room look great (and frankly it’s not appropriate for a lot of living rooms) nor is it true that I didn’t end up loving many, many rooms that don’t have one of those elements. And when I say ‘high impact’ I don’t even necessarily mean bold or bright – just super special. In my years of experience, the rooms where we’ve splurged on that one thing are easier to design and they look more pulled together because they have a clear jumping off point – something special to help set the tone, which makes everything else more simple. To prove this point here are a few (like a lot) of those projects.
For Elliot’s first nursery I fell in love and chose this forest wallpaper (I’m from Oregon, I have a thing for trees) that feels like it’s inspired by Where the Wild Things Are. Once I nailed that down, the room came together so easily. I obviously couldn’t have a patterned rug with that wallpaper, so the decision to have a simple white rug was a no-brainer. That particular rug was a splurge (and it’s like walking on clouds, from Lulu and Georgia) but a simple white one would work as well (which is how we staged it to sell). The crib was Target, the curtains were solid (from Loom) and while yes, that vintage rattan bed was special, I think even a simple wood or white daybed would look great in here because the star of the room is the wallpaper and everything else is a supporting player.
We staged this as a guest room to sell and it totally worked as well (with almost 100% Target furniture and accessories – see the rest of that room here).
I apparently couldn’t let go of the tree thing for her, and in our new house it’s a completely different company and color, but it’s still a forest mural (just in blush!!!). And while above is just a sneak peek (as we only recently shot it as the nursery it currently is, and it will be revealed in Real Simple in September) you can see that it is magical. The rest of the furniture we used was Target (with that rug from Armadillo and Co) and white simple drapery. There is almost no art, just that amazing paper that sets the tone and does all the work for you. Check out when Elliot’s Nursery went global for Target here but stay tuned for the reveal (Pink Forest Wallpaper here.)
Charlie’s wallpaper was the first time I did this sort of large scale all-over pattern thing in a kids room, and while this boldness wouldn’t work in every room, this, again, made this room so easy and affordable to design. You splurge on one thing, and then you don’t have to think as much with the rest. His wallpaper is from here, read more about Charlie’s Nursery and see it as a big kids room here when we staged it to sell).
Our old laundry room (read all about it here) got a dose of that classic wave pattern, and without it would have been so boring (and yet totally fine, because it’s a laundry closet). But with the wallpaper it became a really fun special space in the middle of our house. The labor on that job was $250 with the paper being around $500 (I believe, but it was gifted) so it’s definitely not nothing. But if you are looking to make a boring utilitarian space more special, which we were, then think about a paper instead of paint. (Wallpaper from here).
It doesn’t always have to be super bold – even creating a texture like this one below gave the room so much interest and direction (whereas just paint would have meant that we needed to put more on the walls and ‘decorate’ more).
In their nursery we put up temporary bunny wallpaper. Yes, we put it over orange peel walls and while the installer wasn’t happy with us, we are totally ok with it since this room was going to be a guest room in a couple years and the client didn’t want to pay for skim-coating the walls (which is a terrible and very expensive process). Read all about that room here, wallpaper from here. Again, broken record here, the rest of the pieces in the room are just from Target. Splurge on one thing and then you can save on everything else.
Photo by Tessa Neustadt
Here we went a bit more bold (full reveal here) in a guest room and man is it a popular room and one that I really want to be invited to sleep in. We chose a classic toile (as it is a traditional home) and everything else was simple and solid. In this case the pieces weren’t super affordable necessarily because the client had a larger budget. They aren’t crazy ornate or anything, just simple pieces to compliment and work well with the bold paper (available here).
Photo by Tessa Neustadt
In their daughter’s room (see the whole room here) we chose a more subtle paper as we wanted something more calm for her, but that all over pattern still set the tone and made it so we didn’t have to do anything else that was too bold in the room (wallpaper available here).
I can give you example after example, but you get it – splurge on one thing that will change and direct the room, and it let’s you keep everything else simple and pulled back. Now before you think that every room has to have a wallpaper, it doesn’t nor should it. I think that wallpapers are best for dining, guest bedrooms (or subtle ones for master bedrooms), kids room, playrooms, dens, bathrooms or hallways. I literally just named every room except ‘living room’. These are the rooms we are in the least, and in a way you don’t want to have to think about their design as much, but once you get an amazing paper in there you are kinda done, or at least have a good jumping off point for the rest of the design. Sure, you can absolutely put a wallpaper in your living or family room, just make sure it’s one that you can truly live with for years and years, all day every day.
Moving on to tile.
We find the same thing to be true in kitchens and bathrooms, but with tile. Now, I know you guys get worried about trends and making sure that you aren’t dating your kitchen with a pattern (we worry about this, too), but I think if it works with the architectural style of your home and you choose a really special/unique tile (which means you’ll probably have to splurge) then it will absolutely take your kitchen or bathroom to the next level.
I love a classic subway, but we tend to combine it with tiles that are bolder as a simple subway being the only special thing in the room, doesn’t make my heart sing. Take the kitchen above (see full post here) we all fell in love with the tile and really designed the kitchen around that (floor tile here, subway tile here).
Man, I love that kitchen so much. Check out the full post here.
Our midcentury bathroom in our old house (full reveal here) is another great example. One bold floor tile, complimented by a simpler (although still very special and beautiful) surround tile from Fireclay and it feels special, but not crazy. We could have used even a white subway on the walls (which would have looked less special but certainly more affordable).
Probably the single best example of how a tile can absolutely transform a space, is the patio tile at our new house, below:
That tile MADE the patio (see full post here). Everything in the picture below besides that bird is from Target and a lot of things in the picture above as well. And while the tile and install cost upwards of $12k the impact it had on the entire house (not to mention resale if we ever decide to leave) is INSANE. (Tile available here – I chose Midnight and Hawk).
To hit the point home, here was the patio before we tiled:
While it still looks great, it doesn’t really compare to the after with the tile. Now it seems obvious to say that if you spend $12k on your patio it will look better than if you spend $120 to paint it. Duh. But my point is more about where to splurge and save and how a pattern on your floors or walls will amplify the style of your room GREATLY without having to add a lot of other fluff to the space. A more DIY version would have been to paint or stencil a pattern on the floor and I think it would have really looked great – probably not as good as the real thing, but that is obvious.
The furniture is affordable, the tile is not. When you are on a budget (small, medium or large) you have to figure out where to splurge and I have found that I don’t splurge on furniture – I buy vintage from the flea market or affordable pieces from large retailers. And then I splurge either on really special art, wallpaper, tile or rugs that will last forever in the space. I had less examples of statement rugs in my portfolio so we stuck to paper and tile for this post.
Moving on …. In my kitchen we chose a subtle tile, but one that still makes me excited every time I enter.
That tile has so much texture and depth and reflects the light around in such a beautiful way. It’s not a big pattern nor color, but it gave the kitchen a direction in a more quiet way. So see? It is possible to do this wth neutrals, just make sure you choose a tile that has a lot of texture if it doesn’t have color or pattern. See full kitchen reveal here.
Years ago I put two different cement tiles in this spanish modern house (more about the remodel here). Now this particular job was interesting because they bought it mid-flip where the contractor already hired had to finish it and we weren’t allowed to change too much. The cabinets were already in and while we didn’t love the profile of them, nobody wanted to pay to have them completely replaced (and we were in a weird, ‘not allowed to make major changes while in escrow’ situation). So we had them painted ($3k) and instead stopped the generic tile they were going to put in here and chose these instead. Now I’m sorry that I don’t remember how much these were, but I remember thinking that the floor was really affordable ($8-$10 a square foot), while the walls were more of a splurge. (See similar floor tile here, and backsplash tile here.) If anyone knows where we got the floor tile let us know and we’ll link it up.
Meanwhile read about the whole process here.
Their bathroom also had a statement tile (from Arto). The vanity is simple, the walls were painted a slight off white, so that tile is what gave the room its real style and direction. I will never forgive myself for putting just one leg of that standing towel rack on the mat. Why didn’t I just shove the mat towards camera????
Have I proved my point? You can splurge on a million things while designing and decorating your house, but obviously most budgets don’t allow for that. And while this splurge doesn’t have to be wallpaper or tile (vintage rug or large scale art is a good choice, too) make sure that whatever you are splurging on (if you are) is special, will make a large impact, be it bold or subtle which will make it so you can save on the rest of the room. One major splurge-worthy piece can change the context of the other, more basic pieces and elevate them so that they look far more expensive than they are. It’s the same in fashion. If you are going to a special event you don’t need your entire outfit to be riddled with pattern, color or uniqueness, but you do need something to be special.
It’s all about how you want your room to look and feel. And not every room needs to have a statement piece, certainly, but if you are struggling to design a room and you need a jumping off point think about wallpaper, tile or a vintage/unique rug.