Wall Space: Where Is It And Why Can’t I Find Any?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Wall space is a good thing.   
– Martha Stewart, maybe.

Do you buy artwork without knowing where you will put it? Are you in the dark as to why there’s no room for even one more thing upon your walls, even though your house is a reasonable size? Yes? Well, fear not. Read on for some advice about wall space, self control, a new perspective and a few laughs as well.

The word "space" encompasses a multitude of meanings and dimensions. There’s outer, inner, gimme, lost in, negative, wasted and wall, just to name a few. For the moment, let’s concentrate on wall space and not worry about the other kinds. Decorating a home can be both rewarding and expensive. Whether you live in one room or romp through one hundred, one of the biggest obstacles a homeowner faces is how to utilize wall space effectively. Adding to the problem is the fact that there are so many potential mistakes to choose from. Paintings, murals, faux finishes, photographs, wallpaper, (a million sub-categories there alone) and shelving of varying materials, types and sizes abound. Which is best when and when is best which? As the owner of a rather large house, even I am amazed that I am running out of wall space. How can this be? It’s almost like being overdrawn and still having checks!

According to my artist friends, artwork is the last thing most people buy. Still, it is more important than one might imagine. (It’s certainly right up there with houseplants and aluminum foil.) Art defines the theme of any room it is placed in. A painting or mural can make or break any other color scheme, depending on how large and, shall we say, colorful the rendition is. Everyone, of course, has different tastes and the right to their own two cents about their own four-cent abode. (The people I am referring to often wear plaids with stripes and polka dots whenever they feel like it.) The ugly, iridescent truth is that many homes would look a lot better if the wall space was either re-designed or utilized differently.

Obviously, you can’t alter the structure or number of walls in your home, but you can control the selection of shapes, colors and sizes of the things that will adorn them. Proportion is just as important and colors and shapes. (In this case, fit follows function.) A large painting might overwhelm (or whelm, as Mel Brooks used to say) a small room, whereas a tiny painting in a large room might not even be noticed. If the room in question is small, consider utilizing wall space for maximum impact. Wall art takes up little space, but has as much visual weight as a large piece of furniture. Just as you would limit how much you can spend before you go out shopping (major assumption here, I know), you should also decide which colors and shapes work and which do not within your particular surroundings. Don’t buy artwork that might be okay and figure you will find a place for it when you get home. It has to strike you like a 2 by 4 upside your head as to where it will live in your home. (Cheer up. There’s always the garage until you run out of space there as well.)

I once knew a wealthy couple who had a beautifully furnished home on Central Park West in New York City. One weekend they were either both drunk or abducted by alien decorators without any taste. I say this because when they returned they placed an orange and magenta monstrosity in their living room next to a small but original Monet landscape that had been in the family for 100 years. (Worth God knows how much. The wife claimed it was a gift from the great Impressionist master himself to her great-great-grandfather who once befriended him.) A cubist nightmare that looked like something one might encounter under the covers after too many Martinis next to a Monet! Seems to almost merit some jail time, doesn’t it?

So how does one go about decorating walls in the best of taste? Well, for one thing, forget about matching the color of the flamingos on your lawn with those in your home. Study the colors you have chosen for your walls and ceilings. Get a color chart from a paint store. (They’re free, but just in case, wear a mask while you are in the store.) Find the colors you already have on the chart and then find which others might complement them. This will help eliminate some obvious no-nos. (Maybe not. Consider orange and magenta. That might work somewhere, even though I can’t imagine where). The important thing is to discover which colors work well with your own particular scheme.

Walls can be painted, textured, covered, faux finished or wallpapered. They can also be neutral or the color focus of the room. When choosing wallpaper, you must first consider the square footage of the wall area of the room in question (excluding doors, windows and cabinets). Find out how many square feet each roll of your paper will cover and divide the room area by the number of square feet on a roll. Don’t forget to buy extra rolls for mistakes! And don’t pass go, don’t collect $200 and do not, under any circumstances leave the store without checking the lot numbers on the rolls you buy. I made this mistake once and my faux-tin ceiling had squares where there should have been circles and lines where there should have been space. (And a headache where once there was peace.)

Some of the different types of wallpaper include: natural fabrics, flocked, grass, metallic, fabric-backed vinyl and paper-backed vinyl. With natural fabrics, the genuine cloth can be expensive and hard to clean. They are also difficult to install, a fact I assure you will not go away. Flocked material is beautiful but can also be very costly. It has a velvety feel and the semblance of depth to it. Grass is both expensive and very difficult to clean. It can be natural or man-made on a paper backing. It is very useful when dealing with surfaces that are not very smooth. Metallic wallpaper tears easily and requires a perfectly smooth wall for imperfections not to show. Fabric-backed vinyl is practical for kitchens and bathrooms. It is not usually pre-pasted, but it is easy to clean if you can surmount that obstacle. It is also easy to remove. Vinyl-coated paper is delicate and not practical for areas that are likely to get wet. It is covered with a vinyl film and is usually pre-pasted. Paper-backed vinyl is very practical because it is usually pre-pasted and very easy to clean. It is also strong and does not tear easily.

As far as covering the walls yourself to save some money, a few words to the wise are necessary. I once read about this poor woman in the local newspaper who wanted to re-decortate her apartment and decided to save some money by hanging the wallpaper herself. She had purchased wallpaper that was not pre-pasted and the paste in powder form, which must be mixed by hand and is of course, less expensive than the liquid form. She got so embroiled with the glue that she actually had to call 911 to get her arms unstuck from her overalls and the glue out of her hair and mouth. She was so embarrassed that the paper did not mention her name. Some of my neighbors wanted to know if she was a relative of mine. I wasn’t insulted. She could have been.

Bookshelves and wall storage units (metal or wood) seem to be a little safer. Bookshelves of double depth permit books to be stacked one behind the other and can assuage a collector who cannot even find a place to sit down in his or her apartment. Shelves can bridge windows or large arches as well as the walls above doors and windows. By utilizing double depth and double sets of shelves, one can quarter the physical amount of wall space required. Everything will be fine until the day the collector needs a book that is behind seventy-five others. When that happens, it will probably better to move.

Wall units are versatile and can be made with drawers, shelves, dividers or just left open. They are great for utilizing wall space in an office, den, laundry room or bedroom. Units can be combined and stacked for endless possibilities. Well-painted galvanized metal shelves are easy to clean and will not rust. The nuts and bolts used as fasteners should also be galvanized. Whether one purchases metal shelving at a relatively inexpensive supply house that caters to commercial firms or at a too often overpriced furniture boutique is a question of choice.

In the end, personal choice based on life style will win out. Whether ‘tis nobler to hang photographs, paintings or murals or take arms against a sea of troubles and wall paper, it is only you who can prevent forest fires. Have a good time, but whatever you do, don’t call on me to help you. I know my limits. By the way, do you happen to know anyone in the market for some faux tin paper with circles and squares that almost match?

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2003