Keep on the Grass
Growing up in the 1970s, my friends and I would while away the summer by either swimming, bike riding, playing tennis, or outfitting our Barbie Dolls. Wallpaper was all the rage then and flipping through wallpaper sample books spread across our parents’ dining room tables proved tobe another favorite pastime. The endless variety of colors, patterns and textures showcased on the pages tickled our fancies and stirred our imaginations. At age ten I was thunderstruck by the exotic look and feel of grasscloth. And I remember wishing that one day my own home would be adorned with these unique wallcoverings crafted from natural woven fibers.
Fast forward 40 years and my wish is finally coming true. The first time I saw the foyer and stair hall at the 1811 Federal home that we are restoring in Newport, Rhode Island, I time traveled back to my childhood and envisioned grasscloth as the perfect solution for rescuing the tired and neglected walls.
Fashion is cyclic and every few decades trends have a way of becoming wildly popular again. This holds true for grasscloth wallcoverings, which are experiencing a revival. However, the vibrant colors and sophisticated patterns found in the marketplace today are certainly much bolder than our parent’s staid varieties. Made from bamboo, jute, sea grass, and rush, grasscloth is an environmentally-friendly way to imbue your home with a bit of the outdoors.
Before you consider installing grasscloth in your home, it is important to know the following items:
- Grasscloth should not be installed in rooms exposed to excessive moisture such as kitchens, bathrooms or laundry rooms.
- Formal living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and foyers are better suited for grasscloth.
- Unlike standard wallpaper that is sold in 21 inch widths, grasscloth is typically sold in 36 inch widths. Measure carefully to ensure you order the correct amount.
- No two rolls of grasscloth are exactly alike. Each roll has subtle variations that add character to the space.
- Grasscloth can be pricey. The costs range from $50 – $300 per roll depending on manufacturer.
- If there is any grasscloth left over after installation, you can use the extra wallcovering to line the back of bookcases.
- Faux grasscloth wallpaper is less expensive than authentic grasscloth. However, synthetic materials are counter-intuitive to the natural properties that make grasscloth so appealing.
- To help minimize costs, consider installing grasscloth above a chair rail and paint the wall below the chair rail.
Hire a Professional Installer
Selecting the perfect grasscloth wallcovering for your decor and finding a professional installer requires some research. Surfing the internet is not the best option. For my project, I visited a local paint and wallcovering store and asked the owner to recommend an installer who specializes in grasscloth. Then I called the installer and asked him to meet me at our house. He inspected the spaces, suggested a grasscloth manufacturer that was within my budget, measured the walls, and provided specific instructions on how our contractor should prep the space. Because our walls were covered with layers of wallpaper and paint that had built up over 200 years, the installer requested fresh plastered drywall treated with a wallcovering primer and sealer. Otherwise all of the imperfections in the wall would bleed through the grasscloth. He assured me that proper wall preparation would protect our investment.
To help better understand the intricacies of grasscloth, I reached out to three leading manufacturers and asked them to share some tips and popular designs. Their insights are very helpful and their grasscloth patterns are inspiring.
Philip Jeffries, Ltd
Phillip Jeffries Ltd. is headquartered in Fairfield, New Jersey and maintains a worldwide network of to-the-trade showrooms and sales representatives. Now in its third decade, Phillip Jeffries has emerged as the industry leader in hand crafted wallcoverings. Phillip Jeffries manufacturers and imports unique and fine quality textured wallcoverings. When the company was founded in 1976 by Chairman Eric Bershad, they offered ten grasscloths. Today, Phillip Jeffries Ltd. stocks more than 1,100 natural wallcoverings including Grasscloth, Japanese Paper Weaves, Gold Leaf, Hemps, Silks, Linens, Granite, and Raffia as well as many unique hand crafted specialties.
When asked to explain why there is a resurgence in grasscloth’s popularity, Philip Bershad, President of Phillip Jeffries says, “Natural grasscloth wallcoverings are so versatile – as they can add either a quiet sophistication or a bold and dramatic statement to the walls. We see designers and their clients embracing natural textures in the design of their space, from the walls, to the floors and even the ceiling.”
He adds, “The metallic trend continues to be important in natural grasscloth. Our collections Glam Grass and Grass Roots both incorporate this trend by mixing our organic weaves with a tease of metallic for a unique effect. Phillip Jeffries recommends using a professional wallcovering installer for all installations. We also advise to read our hanging instructions prior to hanging the material – rule of thumb is to prep and prime the walls prior to installing.”
Brewster Home Fashions
Based in Randolf, Massachusetts, Brewster Home Fashions is a fifth generation family business that originated in 1935 as a US regional distributor of wallpaper. The company has flourished into a worldwide resource for wallpapers and home décor products, and one of the largest producers and distributors of wallcovering today.
If you are looking for sustainable design materials for your home, Brewster Home Fashions spokesperson Breck Rice says, “Authentic grasscloth is an eco-chic choice for walls. These fine wallpapers are woven from exotic sea grasses like bamboo, hemp, jute and sisal, on a high quality paper backing. They are vinyl free, making them a sophisticated and environmentally friendly choice.”
Breck echoes the sentiment about treating walls before installing grasscloth. She says, “Grasscloth should be installed carefully on properly prepared walls. It should not be hung in damp areas where it may be exposed to moisture because it is a natural, absorbent product that could be water damaged. It should be installed with a clear non-staining paste, cautiously applied to avoid getting any on the front. It must be booked for several minutes prior to installation to allow the paper to expand and contract before applying to the wall to avoid any seam issues. Because it is an organic product, there is no way to match the pattern at the seams, and there will be nuanced color differences. This adds to the intrigue and exotic beauty of the product. To care for your grasscloth, wipe gently with a dry or slightly damp cloth, or vacuum to remove dust.”
In 2004, Lori Weitzner established Weitzner Limited in New York. Her Manhattan studio offers innovative wall coverings and textiles to a worldwide market. In 2012 she launched her own Vernissage textile collection under the Weitzner brand, which she maintains as her commitment to creating exceptional design that is in line with the human spirit.
Weitzner’s products grace celebrity homes including those of Julianne Moore, Will Ferrell, and Beyoncé. Her designs often appear as costumes and sets for motion picture films such as “Gangs of New York” and “Mission Impossible.” Her designs also enhance numerous public spaces — most notably the Four Seasons Hotels and Google Headquarters in New York.
Lori’s work is housed in the permanent collections the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Montreal, the Victoria Albert Museum in London, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. She is the recipient of multiple design awards, including a nomination for the Chrysler Innovation Award, and she travels the globe lecturing on engaging the senses in design.
The company website describes their approach to wallpaper by stating, “The Weitzner studio endeavors to capture the wonders of the natural world through unexpected materials, fresh colors, and innovative constructions. Beginning with extensive paintings, drawings, and color studies, we translated our designs into qualities that convey more than just a leaf or a flower, but a sense of soul. Greater than the sum of its parts, Nature Redefined is a pursuit of harmony and balance, of the elements that define a space and inspire beauty and peace.”
Lori’s dynamic collection of grasscloth wallcoverings include patterned grasscloths and lattice weave grasscloths layered on solid colors. The collection also features wallcoverings fashioned from paper yarn and vinyl that closely resembles grasscloth.
Therefore, if you have not thought about installing wallpaper in your home, perhaps William Morris’ design philosophy will persuade you to consider grasscloth. He said, “Whatever you have in your rooms think first of the walls for they are that which makes your house a home.”
To see the grasscloth wallcovering we selected for our 1811 Federal home in Newport, RI visit www.homesofthebrave.wordpress.com