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Wall Surfaces Evolve to Meet New Design and Performance Challenges

06/10/2020 By Matthew Jones

What are designers looking for in wall surface materials and designs in 2020 and beyond, and how has that changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Wallcoverings Association reached out to member companies to see what design directions and performance technologies they are bringing to market to address designer requests.

What we found is that interior design considerations are evolving to further safeguard health, safety and wellbeing, and wallcoverings manufacturers and distributors are playing their part.

Here are a few of the design and performance initiatives the wallcoverings industry is pursuing.

Engineering for Cleanability

Durable, stain-resistant and nonporous, the surfaces of vinyl wall products are well known for being easy to clean and disinfectmaking them particularly well-suited to healthcare environments and other public spaces where infection control is paramount.

Wall surface products come in many forms: Type I, II and III wallcoverings, semi-rigid rolls, and rigid panels are a few of the options that are made with antimicrobial properties, extreme stain resistance and maximum cleanability.

Much of the personal protection equipment, medical products and devices used in hospitals are made from vinyl, as its unique performance characteristics meet tough healthcare standards, while also being durable, easily sterilized and non-breakable.

Vinyl wall products have similar characteristics. They are often cleanable with bleach-based solutions, are resistant to soiling and stains, and provide wall protection from impacts and abrasions.

Most are low-VOC and have a 10-plus year lifecycle, making them a sustainable selection.

More than 2,000 wall products are certified to the NSF 342 Sustainability Standard, providing a wide array of environmentally preferable wall treatments.

A host of cleanable wallcoverings are available, including:

  • Quadrille from National, a hexagonal pattern made of vinyl and a water-based topcoat that resists stains and abrasions and provides a scrubbable surface for bleach-based solutions.
  • Versa Designed Surfaces, MDC and Wolf-Gordon are a few of the wallcovering providers that offer semi-rigid wall surfaces that shield walls from the impact of rolling traffic and resist scratching, soiling and tough stains.


(Photo: Rampart; Credit: Wolf-Gordon)

  • Hytex’s Unity acoustical wallcoverings are made from 100% water bottles and incorporate an FDA-cleared antimicrobial that inhibits the growth of viruses such as MRSA, Strep, Legionnaires, SARS, Norwalk and the common cold.


(Photo: Unity; Credit: Hytex)

Projecting Wellness and Wellbeingl

As people emerge from isolation, they may gravitate toward environments that impart a sense of calm and wellbeing.

The beauty of nature has inspired wallcoverings for decades, and the more recent focus on biophilia and wellness have only added impetus.

In order to build restorative environments that positively affect moods and feelings, wallcovering designers work not only with pattern but with nature-inspired color palettes, textures that hint at nature, and real and simulated natural materials. 

Urban Wood by Colour & Design is just one of many wallcovering collections that offer a selection of wood looks for a fraction of the cost of the real material.       

(Photo: Design Urban Wood; Credit: Colour & Design)

The outdoors is making an appearance in vinyl simulations of wood and stone as well as natural materials like cork, grasscloth, wood veneer and woven paper.

Large-scale botanicals that were already popular are now being embraced for their healing imagery.

Murals of panoramic vistas and painterly vignettes of garden scenes and landscapes serve as life-sized art, and daring floral designs, leafy tropical plants and shades of green have been revamped in bolder interpretations that are often digitally produced.

Level harnesses digital technology to bring a wide array of large-scale, nature-inspired murals such as Painted Brick Chrysanthemum.


(Photo: Painted Brick Chrysanthemum; Credit: Level)

[Related: How Working from Home is Changing Our Perceptions of the Workplace]

Geometrics Offer Reassuring Structure

Already popular, geometrics are garnering more interest as they remind us of structure, order and control.

Digital printing technologies are producing oversized, graphic geometrics where bigger really is better.

Look for Art Deco and Mid-century-inspired designs, 3D effects, and structures that look hand-drawn.

These are often rendered in bold color palettes, but more subtle interpretations are available in monochromatic mat and iridescent inks embossed with large-scale geometric textures.

(Photo: On Pointe; Credit: Symphony)

Parallelograms, cubes, intersecting line drawings and everything you remember from geometry class are imbuing wall decor.

J. Josephson’s Symphony brand offers such geometrics like On Pointe, where interrupted metallic and matte lines project a hand-drawn quality.

(Photo: Green Wall Modern; Credit: Level)

Furthermore, Level’s Green Wall Modern presents a collage of leafy green foliage overlaid with a triangular grid, combining the trends toward both geometrics and wellness.

MDC’s Zintra acoustical sheets, such as Cosmic, evokes the days of drawing with a protractor.

(Photo: Zintra; Credit: MDC)

Combining function and form, Zintra reduces noise, while injecting a sophisticated modern aesthetic into the space.

Designed for Blended Environments

Our homes have been working quadruple duty as living spaces, offices, schools and fitness centers.

And through the power of video technology, these once private interiors have now become public.

Because of this, consumers are yearning to refresh their homes and are doing it with products like DIY peel and stick wallcoverings.

These easy-to-use products transform environments, whether applied to an accent wall or throughout the room.

York Wallcoverings is seeing creative applications of peel and stick wallcoverings to embellish furniture fronts and doors, cover vertical risers on staircases, and mimic tile backsplashes behind kitchen counters.

(Photo: Surestrip Branches; Credit: York)

The lines between home and office have been blurring for years.

As a result, people want a home that works more like the office and an office that feels more like a home.

Wallcoverings providers have responded with crossover designs that work in any or all spaces where we live, work and play.

For instance, patterns from York’s Magnolia Home Collection by Joanna Gaines are available on a residential peel and stick wallpaper as well as Type II commercial vinyl.

(Photo: Joanna Gaines; Credit: York Magnolia Home)

At home in any space, Astek’s Ephemeral is a collection of painterly murals celebrating the unexpected beauty that occurs when pigments and textures collide.

The design libraries of most wallcovering companies lend themselves to a range of environments—home, office, hospitality, healthcare and education.

Wallcovering providers print on a wide variety of substrates and offer both standard and customized designs to suit any application.

As the economy continues to awaken, the members of the Wallcoverings Association are delivering inspired patterns and state-of-the-art performance technologies that are needed in today’s market.

Visit www.wallcoverings.org/samplebooks to obtain a tri-fold sample book that includes samples of various wallcoverings materials, information on available backings and suggestions for common applications.

Read next: 4 Ways to Create Spaces That Inspire Workplace Wellness


About the author: Matthew Jones is Executive Director of the Wallcoverings Association, a nonprofit trade association representing wallcoverings manufacturers, distributors, designers, specialty manufacturers and suppliers. The WA educates consumers, designers and specifiers about the beauty and use of wallcoverings. The association keeps the industry at the forefront of sustainability with specifier tools such as NSF 342 and Environmental Product Declarations. To view a list of Wallcoverings Association members, go to www.wallcoverings.org.