IT’S WHIPLASH SEASON. As I write this, the icy wind blows, snow showers, and we shiver our timbers, whatever that means. This weekend, they say, it will touch 70 degrees in Washington DC, the air conjuring a whiff of spring, warm and moist with what feels like the last linger of cold air—though frozen tundra season will return, in hours or days.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to spend the winter in a garden that you don’t have to water, prune or fertilize? To sit surrounded by greenery, in a space lushly tropical or in the hush of a forest or a field of poppies with Oz hovering emerald in the background? Not wallpaper, as we’re used to, but a panorama, an encompassing scene. The perfect garden of your fantasy.
You could hire an artist to paint the walls. Time was, impoverished artists roamed the country painting murals—it was cheaper than paper. My grandfather had a fine one of a farmstead painted in the kitchen. It might have been Poland or Kansas or maybe the Bronx—that was 100 years ago or so. The artist was likely paid with room and board.
Today a mural could run into the stratosphere—though you might find a starving artist at an art school. There was, until recently, a delightful French restaurant in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, La Fourchette, with a wonderful mural of a dining room on the wall that was painted in bits and daubs over a decade in exchange for meals.
Then there are glorious wallpaper murals. Flipping through the January issue of Veranda magazine, there’s a dining room covered in a paper depicting the Napoleonic campaigns in Egypt, or so the caption says. It’s a lush landscape of palm trees and hills with a stone balcony overlooking a pool, no bloody bodies or dead horses in sight. Another home, another mural, this one by artist Florence Girette, of the Tuileries Garden in Paris, as if viewed through a driving rainstorm.
These papers wrap the room, with the occasional doorway or windows punctuating the space. But a single wall would be smashing, like a window on another world.
Bird editor Nancy McKeon, who recently moved back to her New York hometown from Washington, has embellished her apartment foyer with a style of paper known as chinoiserie, depictions of Chinese gardens or townscapes. Hers is a delicate scene of flowering trees and fluttering birds that embraces the room above the wainscoting. As real chinoiserie, like the splendid hand-painted papers from Gracie Studio or de Gournay can easily top $20,000, she found a digital version for about 10% of that from Tempaper, one of a number of companies that offer such classic styles. “It’s removable, like a high-end Contact paper,” she says.) It may be frankly faux, but it will still make you feel like Jean Harlow—just add a gin fizz and negligee.
John Brown has a gaspingly lovely paper in his eponymous jewel box of a home-furnishings store, J. Brown & Co. Home, on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The paper, which he specially commissioned from some woman in Italy, I think—I didn’t write down her name—is $4,000 for a 9-by-16-foot panel. The price I did write down. It perfectly frames the silver and flowers and exquisite china on offer. (By the way, while this is an intimidating place to browse, particularly when carrying a bulging shopping bag, Brown is delighted if you buy a candle. His front window and sidewalk floral displays are beyond fabulous and alone worth a detour—and all of his fantastic Christmas ornaments are now on sale).
That is all far beyond the reach of me, as I appear to have misplaced my mural-painting talent and never possessed such a generous wallet.
What I do have are photos. Wonderful photos of places I’ve been—and would like to return to, some that I’m sorry I ever left.
There’s the street where we briefly lived in Havana, a place with bare electrical wires tangled across the shower and a balcony overlooking the Caribbean, which sprayed over the seawall a block away, sometimes flooding the street. There are the gardens of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, outside Rome, where fountains burble and water tumbles into dazzling pools surrounded by magnificent trees and topiary. There’s a café in a garden in Paris, where I wouldn’t mind lingering over an eternal café and croissant . . .
You get the picture?
Throwing a dart at the Internet I find Photowall, which is one of several companies that will create murals from your photographs. For around $400 they can enlarge a photo to 15 x 8 feet, the size of my dining-room wall.
Select a high-resolution photo, upload it to their website, give them dimensions and they’ll ship in a couple of days, wallpaper paste included. The reviews for their papers are excellent.
If you haven’t been anywhere, or don’t trust your photographic talent, you can select from stock murals of jungles and gardens from numerous sources besides Photowall. Now all you need is someone to hang the paper.*
Happy New Year!
*WARNING: DO NOT HANG WALLPAPER WITH YOUR SPOUSE IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN MARRIED.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” likes to surround herself with plant life even if it’s only on paper. (Fewer plants to water.)