Silver-tinged sparrows and pheasants among frosty-white foliage on a background suspended between turquoise and pale grey; vibrant toucans, butterflies and blossoms contrasted with a pale pink base; an entire tropical scenescape sees a giraffe looming in the middle of a jungle, a herd of zebras lingering nearby; schools of brilliantly-shining fish gleam, their scales picked out in sequins, glass beads and crystals.
Gorgeous reams of hand-crafted artistry, the sheets of hand-painted wallpaper lie in rolls on the tables of interior design store Tatum Company in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. In their abundance, they occasionally unroll onto the floor, falling in a luxurious wallpaper waterfall.
This is, in the end, what wallpaper brings to a room, says Tatum’s owner and designer, Gerardine Loggere. “It is that feeling of luxury it adds,” she says. “One panel alone can even be framed as a work of art.
“And wallpaper is definitely growing in popularity here in Malaysia, perhaps as a result of Pinterest and social media – people have access to more ideas. We get about 30 clients a month asking for wallpaper.”
Destined to span entire rooms or feature walls, the scrolls of hand-crafted wallpaper on display this evening are from family-run British design company De Gournay; product manager Samantha Heard has flown them in for a presentation to a roomful of designers at Tatum Company.
“I think the days of the flat, plain painted wall are over for those interested in design,” she says. Interior design often has a symbiotic relationship with fashion runways, and she’s seeing floral patterns and Chinoiserie in favour on both.
At De Gournay’s heart lies a wealth of such Chinoiserie designs, from which the British company grew in 1986. Company founder Claud Cecil Gurney visited China and fell under the spell of the artisans’ pen-and-ink-on-silk works, in which the hand-made wallpaper has their roots.
Hand-painted wallpaper can be traced to artisans in China as far back as the 1700s, slowly crossing the seas to become popular in European drawing rooms, and later American.
Its processes are still the classic, labour-intensive ones – each panel can take up to 100 hours to paint, explaining a starting price of RM2,200 per panel.
However, De Gournay’s stable has grown far beyond Chinoiserie – and standard paper. Silk, rice paper, silver and gold leaf can also form bases, most designs come in various colourways (combinations of hues) to aid customisation, and accents include gold and silver, beads and crystals and even intricate embroidery.
“Art Deco-style papers are also very popular, as are the textural sort of designs that mimic tooled leather, or antique-y medieval patterns,” says Heard. “And the embroidery technique is also seeing a lot of interest.”
“Early Views of India” incorporates a narrative-rich scenescape in which there is always another story to imagine.
“The Japanese and Korean collection seems to appeal to those looking for more modern interiors,” says Heard.
Namban, one of De Gournay’s newest, Japanese-inspired wallpapers brings together every imaginable shade of gold and then some, in a 3D-effect abstract design dotted with elegantly flying cranes, evoking both the art of Imperial Japan and the splendour of the Roaring Twenties.
“The company is more than 30 years old, has been taken over by the next generation (the founder’s daughters Hannah and Rachel Gurney are both directors) and they’re working with many cool designers,” she says.
A collaboration with fashion maven Kate Moss resulted in a moodily luminous “Anemones in Light”, with aluminium leaf replacing the more usual silver or gold to create light shards. “This comes in two types, both daylight and dusk versions,” says Heard.
Luxury aside, it’s the room for customisation that draws designers to well-crafted wallpaper. In that spirit: another collab with luxury shoe designer Aquazzura also resulted in a five-piece capsule collection featuring De Gournay’s “Amazonia” design, tropical jungle motifs splayed across a pale, pastel pink background.
Wallpaper is an easy way to change the look and feel of a room quickly, and Loggere’s basic rule of thumb is: “For smaller rooms, it is very nice to use a more involved, intense, brightly-patterned wallpaper. For larger rooms, consider plain colours and small patterns.”
“But it does not need to be confined to walls alone – think of using it on cabinet doors, on room dividers, etc,” says Loggere.
Design aesthetics aside, people wanting to install wallpaper in hot, humid countries are often concerned that the weather conditions will adversely affect the wallpaper itself.
Loggere feels that this shouldn’t be an issue as long as proper installation techniques are followed – these include allowing the adhesives to cure fully.
Heard adds that silver and gold leaf can tarnish in the humidity: “This is why De Gournay is developing new types of both, which are tarnish-resistant,” she says. Every De Gournay wallpaper can also be ordered with a special protective coating to resist dirt and water.
Heard feels that the wallpaper renaissance that has swept the design industry is here to stay, driven in large part by people wanting to put their own personalised stamp on their space.
And, sometimes, that is quite literal – “People like to add their dogs into our landscape wallpapers sometimes,” she says. “And we’ve even had an order that added human faces to the monkeys in a wallpaper!”
De Gournay wallpaper is available at the Tatum Company, Kuala Lumpur. For more information and opening hours, go to tatumcompany.com.