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Decor how-to: Wall Finishes

With trend forecasters proclaiming that “a can of paint is the new scatter cushion,” and wallpaper technology constantly improving and gaining traction, the years of white or beige rooms are quickly falling behind us (especially since those same trend forecasters have announced that pastel is the new neutral) – the problem, however, lies in the massive variety of finishes out there.
It helps to know a few basics, just so that you can at least make informed choices when facing the vast array of options, and have to take on the daunting task of narrowing it all down to just one.  Many people are also intimidated by concepts such as wallpaper, not knowing how much it has changed over the years.
While it doesn’t have to be plain and boring, it’s important to remember that the walls in your space constitute the largest expanse.  You can see it as a canvas for all of the brilliant and beautiful things that you are going to fill that space with, so it has an important role to play in the everlasting design goal to achieve harmony.
When facing a new or changing space, one of the first decisions to be made is the type of finish to be used.  Solid colours are an easier background to manage, leaving room for change as time passes.  A basic rule to remember is that it isn’t necessarily wise to use more than one dramatic print or pattern in a space (I know recent fashions would suggest otherwise, but we’re talking long term here.  Fashionable clashing prints would possibly be better in the form of small, soft furnishings, that can easily be changed with passing trends).
In choosing the type of wall finish, consider the uses of the space in question.  As durable as new wallpapers may be, if you like a daily hot and steamy bath, I personally wouldn’t install an off-the-shelf wallpaper in your bathroom.  A guest toilet or powder room, on the other hand, is a small space that has less traffic and limited usage – it offers a chance to go a little crazier than you would normally.  If you have birthed a boys soccer team and own a year old Labrador, or have a darling princess that considers herself to be Matisse with a box of crayons, your best bet would be to go for durable tiles, vinyl or washable paints – especially in high traffic areas like kitchens and family bathrooms.  (Should the above scenario be true in your case, make friends with Sugar Soap.  It’s magic stuff.)

As time passes and your adorable pumpkins grown into angsty teens with oversized metal band t-shirts and a tendency to blast the aforementioned metal band at unspeakable volumes, that thin or hollow wall separating your bedrooms may become a problem.  Have a look at your fabric, cork or wood paneling options to help restrain you from plucking the sound system cables from the walls like a loose thread on jersey.  Practical options will help you remember that you do, in fact, love your angsty teenager, and that this is all just a phase.


Wall treatments influence the mood and style of the room, so bear that in mind when choosing.  Having an some idea about colour psychology can also help in that regard, (Red can be seen as passionate or angry, so probably not the best colour for the aforementioned teenager.  Orange has been shown to make you hungry, so if you love to entertain but your flopped mac and cheese could rival that of Susan Delfino, splash a lot of orange around, and perhaps your guests will be too hungry to notice) and it’s also important to remember the brightness of the room.  Rooms that don’t get a lot of sun should possibly not be painted Hunter Green.  A “gender” can be assigned to a room via the wall treatment as well, for example, Scottish Twill vs pastel florals.

Alkyd paints, better known as oil-based paints, are enamels, ranging from gloss, satin, matte, and eggshell finishes.  Water-based paints are referred to as acrylics, emulsion paint, PVA or Latex.  These include standard ranges, but can also be mixed on request to your own specifications.  (Just make a note of your formula for next time.)
Other finishes include epoxy, for highly glazed, non-porous surfaces, including plastic, tiles or screeded concrete; primers for newly plastered walls; undercoats for over the primer or on previously painted walls; varnish in a variety of finishes (eg. clear, gloss, eggshell, satin or suede) for interior wood; and whitewash, (also referred to as distemper) which is only available in a matte finish and can be used both inside and outside, with added tints, tones or shades.
Wallpaper is amazing, and I have noticed that it seems to be quite a trademark in the interiors that Che’ creates. (It’s beautiful – come see her stand at Decorex Durban to see her impeccable taste and the AMAZING wallpaper we have chosen.  Drool.)  The possibilities are practically endless, but this is what you need to know when it comes time to choose:
“Lining paper: Inexpensive neutral coloured wallpaper used to cover uneven walls.  The decorative wallpaper is then applied over the lining paper.
Vinyl coated papers: A thin transparent glaze of PVC is applied to wallpaper, giving a more durable, washable surface than paper.  It can be cleaned with a sponge but cannot be scrubbed.  (Most off-the-shelf papers fall into this category)
Vinyl: Made from PVC, it is a flexible, practical material, which is water resistant and can be scrubbed with a soft bristle brush to remove most marks.  Most vinyl’s are already pasted with a fungicidal adhesive.
Embossed Vinyl: PVC moulded to give a raised pattern and backed by a tough paper substrate.
Foam polyethylene: Lightweight covering made from foam plastic with no backing paper.  You paste the wall instead of the covering.  It makes a good choice for bathrooms or kitchens where condensation is a problem.
Naturals: Grass cloth and silks, cork, wood veneers, hessian and all products made from natural materials applied to paper backings.  Hanging them usually requires some degree of expertise.
Flock: An elegant background for traditional decor and furnishings.  Finely chopped wool, rayon or nylon is applied to the design, which is coated with adhesive, resulting in a velvety effect.
Source - Spotted this adorable wallpaper at Home Fabrics in Durban last year.
Relief papers: Usually white, relief papers include Anaglypta, which was often used in Victorian interiors.  Bonding two sheets of paper together and then passing it through deeply embossed rollers make Anaglypta.
Foil: A thin, flexible metal sheet – often aluminium – is laminated to a substrate of paper or fabric creating an exotic wall covering with excellent reflective quality.
Mylar: A new type of foil made from tough polymeric polyester, which is a resin that becomes a flexible plastic sheet.  It looks like real foil, but won’t show creases after hanging.
Murals: Usually produced in sets of panels, they range from maps of the world to scenes of autumnal forests and tropical islands.”
Source - this beauty was up for display at Hertex Durban last year; it was to die for.
There you have it – it’s a lot of information, but now no one can go into their home makeover and plead ignorance when it comes to choosing the best wall covering for each situation.  Always remember that if you’re stuck or overwhelmed, Portfolio is always there!
- Lee
* Information sourced from experience and Design School South Africa.

Decore how-to: Principles and Elements Part II

Continuing on from Part One, we continue with our message (and the message of million’s of others) that good design is founded on principles and elements.  They “describe fundamental ideas about the practice of good visual design.”  After covering Principles in Part One, we’re on to Elements.  But before turning to Elements, I found this quote by William Lidwell that I found quite interesting, stated in “Universal Principles of Design:”
“The best designers sometimes disregard the principles of design. When they do so, however, there is usually some compensating merit attained at the cost of the violation. Unless you are certain of doing as well, it is best to abide by the principles.”
The elements of design are:
  • Line
  • Colour
  • Texture
  • Form
  • Light
Line is defined as the starting points of shapes and form, seen as moving points in space – they create different effects as the eye moves from one point to the next.  They can be described as curved, straight, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, organic, masculine, bold – they can communicate concepts and atmospheres, like daintiness, boldness or grace.
Curved lines can be viewed as more playful and informal, although the controlled curves found in objects like furniture can be more formal than free flowing curved lines found in plants or the folds of curtains.  Diagonal lines can increase visual width, and are also less formal – however they are sometimes difficult to apply successfully.  They appear strong when in opposition to each other, but weak when portrayed individually.
Straight lines express force, with verticals appearing strong and dominant, drawing the eye upward and adding height.  It has a formal effect, and seems active, where horizontal lines seem restful.  Horizontal lines also give the effect of width.
While we have covered colour in more depth previously, we have to reiterate its importance as a design element.  Beside the obvious design influence that colour has, we must also realise the unconscious influences that it has.  It arguably has the most important role in obtaining elements and principles – for example, objects arranged with correct proportions can suddenly appear incorrect when the colours are changed, seeming unbalanced.  If a stronger colour is introduced, the object or area may seem heavier.  Should there be a lack of balance, there won’t be any sense of harmony in the design, which is the ultimate goal of any design.  While there are no firm rules, the effect of different colours should be considered due to their ability to create atmospheres and influence moods.  It’s wise to always bear the intensity of a hue in mind.
Texture is the surface quality that deals with the sense of touch – we appreciate it in a tactile/physical sense, as well as visually appreciating the effects that it may have. (For example, the highlights and shadows that are caused by a specific texture – the surface patterns my change with changing light.)  Certain textures also communicate certain messages, like that of something sheer and light giving the impression of something dainty.

Rough textures such as wood or wool appear to be warmer and more informal, and absorb light, whereas smooth, fine textures reflect light.  These textures more easily suggest formality and a cool environment.  Coarse textures tend to diminish colour, so are often most effectively used in conjunction with dark colours.  However, pile fabrics such as corduroy and velvet both reflect and absorb light.  Therefore combinations of textures can create a colour scheme even if the overall colour scheme is monochromatic.



Form can be two or three dimensional – two dimensional forms are defined by lines, whereas three dimensional forms are defined by volume.  Form should contribute to harmony in the space, with the basic building blocks being square, rectangular, triangles, and circles.Square forms are viewed as regular and stable, but can become monotonous when used alone.  Rectangles add visual length or width and triangles are visually interesting and draw attention to corners.  Circles and ovals can seem formal and self contained – they keep the eye within their borders, as well as creating intimate environments.



Hugely important, artificial and natural light contribute a great deal towards focal points and balance.  Design should be approached in such a way that natural light should be able to create balance unaided, and when it becomes dark and that light changes, artifical light must then restore that balance.  This allows an opportunity to switch between day time and night time focal points.  Light can completely change the atmosphere of a room.


As mentioned in Part One, the place to check out for design and decor information and courses is the Design School South Africa – for information about their open days, check here.

Always remember though, that knowing the rules well means you can break them well!  And if you’re confused or stuck, there’s always Portfolio.

– Lee

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