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Splurge on One Thing, Save on Another...

How splurge-worthy wallpaper or tile can make a room ….

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Photo by Tessa Neustadt

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.

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Photo by Tessa Neustadt

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.

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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).

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Photo by Tessa Neustadt

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.)

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Photo by David Tsay

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).

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Photo by Zeke Ruelas

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).

Check out the whole makeover here. Up close it’s a gray and white skyline, but it’s really more of a texture than a pattern (wallpaper here), and it still felt really special.

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.

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Photo by Zeke Ruelas

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).

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Photo by Zeke Ruelas

Man, I love that kitchen so much. Check out the full post here.

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Photo by Tessa Neustadt

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:

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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.

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Photo by Tessa Neustadt

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.

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Photo by Tessa Neustadt

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.

If you are wondering where to buy such wallpaper and tile – check out our huge cement tile roundupwallpaper roundup and temporary wallpaper roundup to get you started.

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  1. I’m a renter and these posts just make me wanna cry hahah Please house Gods give me the chance to one day own a home and splurge on pretty tile and/or wallpaper?!! Till then, I’ll be pinning my little heart out with this post 🙂 In all seriousness though, great points and I love the advice about where to splurge/save. Looking forward to the day I can use it 🙂

    1. Check out her temp paper roundup then, some of those are surprisingly good!

      1. Thanks Virginia! I’ll take a look, we also have textured walls so I always thought it was impossible but Emily’s nursery post with the bunny temp wallpaper has got me thinking that it might be worth a shot!

    2. Amen, sister.

    3. Definitely look into rugs and art. They can make all the difference!

      1. Agreed! I’ve just started making small changes with things like swapping out rugs, mirrors and it’s already making such a difference 🙂

  2. For what it’s worth, my wallpaper installer used a liner paper underneath our recent splurges (this for nursery and this for hallway) to smooth out our wall texture at a much lower cost than skim coating. It’s not perfect, but it’s much less noticeable than the bumpy (not orange peel, just weird and bumpy) plaster we had going on before, and it only added a few hundred bucks to the overall installation which was still pretty cheap. I don’t know the name of the product he used, but I recommend asking installers or wallpaper dealers about such an option since it seemed like an ideal inexpensive middle ground.

  3. I’m thinking about remodeling my bathroom, and I’d like to use interesting tile, but I worry because it’s a teeny tiny bathroom with no windows, so I don’t want to overwhelm it with too much color and/or pattern/shape.

    1. Small spaces usually do really well with bold patterns and colors!

      xo

      The Pattern Collective

    2. I was just thinking the same thing! I have a small bathroom with no natural light but want fun/interesting tile. Any suggestions?

  4. great post, emily! within the world of tile, there are SO many options at a ton of different price points. for many people, the difference between a $25/sq ft tile and a $55/sq ft tile may come down to what they personally like better. i fell in love with this $55/sq ft tile at heath recently (it’s the long hex set in a leaf pattern, ugh!). it’s not going to bankrupt us since we need just 15 sq ft. but at the same time, a cheaper tile with texture like cle would make a statement too. can’t wait till we can finally pull the trigger and put this agony to rest!

  5. Gah, that Spanish modern kitchen is one of my faves. Really, the whole house is excellent.

    1. It’s my favorite house too.

  6. Great post!!! I am in total agreement with letting a great wallpaper or tile do the heavy lifting wherever possible. Loved going through these images and thanks for linking to your awesome roundup posts!

  7. We just received an order of mixed Moroccan cement encaustic tiles for our bathroom remodel yesterday and I am in LOVE with them. I debated for ages about what kind to get, and I thought a random mix might be too busy, but the colours and patterns work together so well and they are such good quality.

    The best part is that they were $1.28 each so much cheaper than anything we could buy at a shop!

    1. …and you got them where????

      1. Hi Priscilla, we got them here:

        http://best-tile.co.uk/moroccan-encaustic-cement-tiles/moroccan-random-mix

        Don’t know how much help that’ll be to you in the US but they’ve got an amazing range and the prices are very reasonable.

  8. Love, love , love this post! Adding patterns just gives your space an extra layer of interest.

    xo

    The Pattern Collective

  9. Love this post! The wallpaper and tile examples are just gorgeous. I can’t wait to see the reveal of Elliot’s nursery and I can’t get enough pictures of your patio. Since you can afford it, that tile was worth every penny.

  10. Love your patio tile. Is it slippery when it gets wet? Thank you.

  11. May I suggest that you and your staff use ‘compliment and complement’ correctly? It’s a word that is used frequently in the context of design, and for me (and others ?) the incorrect usage is like fingernails on a blackboard. COMPLIMENT: The drapes say to the sofa, “Wow, you look great today, baby!”
    COMPLEMENT: It’s pleasing to see the drapes behind the sofa because they look great together.
    And may I offer you a compliment? Your posts are killing it.
    Thanks ever so much.

  12. Great post! Maybe I need to get a life but reading your blog every day is a highlight. Thanks for the pretty joy!

  13. Loved this post! This may finally give me the confidence to pull the trigger on dining room wallpaper I’ve been eyeing for years!

  14. These wallpaper tiles are quite beautiful. I would like to have some in my home. I love the designs are made.

  15. Totally agree! A big wallpaper on an empty wall looks amazing! Thank you for this glimpse of inspiration!

  16. Great examples and I could not agree with you more! Finding something truly special for the wells or floor makes you happy for a long time

  17. These are all so beautiful, and thank you for making these points — so many people these days seem stuck on “white walls only, and build your room’s personality with what you put in it,” but you make such a good case here for taking the leap and letting the white walls go. Some of us have to do that when we don’t live in SoCal with the beautiful bright sunlight all the time!
    Question though, if you’re willing to answer or consider a post — I want desperately to wallpaper a room or two, but if I’m splurging on fancy paper I definitely don’t want to risk installing it myself and screwing it up. But how do I find an installer who’s as…okay, let’s be honest…anal as I am? Wallpaper isn’t big in my area as far as I can tell, and I can’t seem to find a local rec, and when I read the review sites they’re all over the board. Any advice for making sure I hire well and don’t ruin a room I want to love? How do you screen people, what do you ask, etc.? Thank you!!!

  18. 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

  19. Thank you for your sharing. Thanks to this article I can learn more things. Expand your knowledge and abilities. Actually the article is very practical. Thank you!

  20. I like the color in this room

  21. I love wallpaper so much, and really wanted to put a bright floral design in our laundry and larder of all places! I wasn’t sure but now I’m definitely doing it. On another note, I really would love to use the forest wallpaper on my sons room but his room is super tiny with French doors directly opposite his bedroom door, would that large scale wallpaper just be a no no on such a small space ?

  22. This home is so dreamy! I love that wallpaper against the blue wall paneling at the top!
    five nights at freddy’s

    1. You are right Kevin …I loved the room …Would love to see how the backyard looks

  23. 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.

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  25. Love the outdoor space! Looks so relaxing for reading and just enjoying the sun…

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  28. Love, LOVE the forest wallpaper. All of your pictures (wallpaper and tiles) are awesome!