I never thought this 'reveal' would come. After a year and then some of waiting for it all to begin and then watching one catastrophe after another unfold, I began to believe that the idea of a finished kitchen had become a figment of my imagination. Luckily, I am thrilled with the finished result now that it's all done. And especially now that it's decorated. Exactly as I wanted it. But that was no easy feat.
I knew what I wanted for the two empty walls of this newly minimalist kitchen, but I couldn't find it. Thinking that paint would look too stark over such a large area and not wanting to fill the space with shelves for the sake of it - the 'more is more' decorating approach I was trying to move away from - I looked for a textured wallpaper. I had something very specific in mind, and that was a subtle, refined textured paper in a neutral shade that sat quietly alongside the concrete/stony island panels and the matte white cabinet doors and Silestone worktops. And it would have to be in a scrubbable vinyl to stand up to the messy nature of the kitchen. My quest to find it proved fruitless after ordering countless samples from my favourite design shops and many new ones I stumbled upon. I gave up but I didn't want to compromise on the look I was going for; I knew it would work if only I could find it. So I decided to leave it for the time.
Then something happened. All of the luck I was missing during the cursed kitchen reno was found when I heard from the people at thebestwallpaperplace.com. Now, usually I find that any business that has 'best' or 'quality' in the name is usually the opposite, but this was not a misnomer. An initial browse of the site revealed an impressive range of high quality wallcoverings catering to all styles of decor. And most importantly, they had my wallpaper. The one I had no real-life reference for that I created in my mind as a solution to my decorating conundrum. In a range of neutral colours. And it was a scrubbable vinyl. I couldn't believe it. It's by Arte and the style is called Creste from their Galena collection. I got right on ordering samples and couldn't wait to see for myself that it was not too good to be true.
Choosing the Right Shade and Undertone
I underestimated just how tricky finding the right match for the kitchen would be. The wallpaper had to bring together all of the shades and textures of the kitchen in one harmonious sweep. A sample is the size of a very small area of your wall, so it's tough to visualise how it will look covering the entire wall and if it will complement, not clash against, the space. The worry was that the wrong choice would dominate the space rather than quietly bring the elements of the room together. Never assume it will all work out! Test and be sure first. To confirm or rule out compatibility, I placed the sample next to each finish. It was immediately obvious that I had made a mistake in identifying the temperature of the floor and doors. One thinks of concrete as cool, right? Well, concrete can be deceptively warm due to its taupey tones - it's the feel of stone and concrete and not the necessarily the colour that makes it read as cool - and if you make the mistake of pairing a warm concrete with cool tones like blue or lilac it can look very off and greatly diminish the impact of that gorgeous door or worktop you took great pains to commit to. I made the opposite mistake in the extension. I thought my floor was cool and so I matched it with a cool (and very expensive) wall paint. It was liveable, but my error was obvious. (I later corrected this by re-painting the whole room in the colour I chose for the open side of the kitchen that was painted, not papered.)
So, now I knew that my wallpaper needed to be warm. But not too warm. And with what undertones? Not creamy, I knew that yellowy tones would yuck up the effect of the concrete and the purity of the white doors. Not blue. Or lilac. Or green. Or pink. Those undertones appear as subtle in the paint can; it's not until you make a mistake on the actual wall that it becomes heartbreakingly evident. So what I needed was a colour that was as clean and neutral as possible. ut what colour? I'll get to that in a moment.
Experience has taught me that matching neutrals is one of the hardest things to do, thanks to the undertone issues I described above. It's more complicated than putting a 'beige' with a 'white' for example, in that there is no such thing as those colours (in absolute terms). Another thing I learned when testing the samples next to the concrete doors, is that in some cases the last thing you want is an exact pairing of tones. What looked like a match made in heaven, this warm, stony grey piece of wallpaper in my hand, in fact made the concrete look muddy, bringing out the brown in the taupes and rendering all of those lovely patches of light grey highlights virtually invisible. With all of my samples now ruled out - silver grey, warm medium grey, light cool grey, and ivory, there was one left to try. It was simply called 'White' and I hadn't ordered it because, well, I thought it would be too white. Too stark or chalky. I ordered what was my last chance at perfect walls and crossed my fingers. It arrived and I tested it against the surfaces. It passed. It didn't change their qualities. It didn't stand out. It just sat quietly next to them. And that was exactly what I wanted.
Light or Dark?
Before you start finding the right undertones you first need to determine what kind of effect you want your wallpaper to have on the room, and the greatest impact comes from your choice to go light or dark. Or somewhere in between. I was tempted by the thought of a deeply saturated, charcoal grey, contrasting strikingly with the matte white doors and worktops. But I wasn't sure if it would make the space feel endless, or create the opposite effect and make it feel closed in. Then I remembered my rationale for going with the neutral colour scheme of the kitchen fittings: I live in England. On the shortest winter days the run rises around 8am and it's dark by 3:30pm. Many days we're wading through the gloom. We need to take a cue from the Swedes and brig in as much brightness as we can get. Light it is. Seeing a photo of a dramatically styled interior that gets your heart racing can make you think you want that in your own home. And maybe it would work. But your criteria needs to consider what actually living with it will be like. How you will feel when you walk into the room at 7am in your pre-coffee haze? And what effect it will have on your mood in the evenings when you want to wind down?
Now that we're living with these gloriously light, textured walls, I know that it was absolutely the right choice. I love standing in the extension - we made the space semi-open plan during the reno, removing the door and windows that previously served as the back door - and looking at what I see as a pure and harmonious minimalist space (when I'm not hurricaning a mess on the island while making dinner). The effect is a challenge to capture in photos, but trust me, the texture and the tone is so lovely in person, and I've had lots of compliments followed by a hand running over its subtle vertical ridges. And although it is indeed a super durable, scrubbable surface, somehow I've never had to wash it. It's been a year and it hasn't dulled or gotten dingy or discoloured despite being right next to where I cook. It really is the best wallpaper!