A few years ago, interior designer Louise Heggie was having a tough time getting clients to even consider using wallpaper in their homes.
The W word conjured images of floral print from a grandmother’s bathroom — a vintage aesthetic Heggie happens to like, too — rather than the modern wall art she says it is now.
“It can be difficult to sell imagination,” Heggie admits.
It’s not much of a problem today for the founder and principal of LHDT.
Clients are now asking to see wallpaper samples as they seek alternatives to the typical painted statement wall. It’s a change Heggie credits to Maria Raco.
Raco, the owner of NewWall, brought this modern wall art to Toronto and is Heggie’s main source for all things wallpaper.
Beyond hooking up Louise Heggie Design Therapy with material, Raco has also supplied it to A-listers, including NBA All-Star LeBron James, pop songstress Christina Aguilera, and, at one point, Ivanka Trump.
“I remember one of my first orders out of the US, I had a cheque signed by Ivanka Trump,” Raco laughs.
While the local entrepreneur is building a boutique wallpaper empire with showrooms from coast to coast in Canada and the US, she tells Toronto Storeys that she didn’t think wallpaper would take her this far.
Raco did figure she was on to something a decade ago during a year spent in Italy though.
At the time, Raco was going to trade shows trying to find inspiration for a business all her own. She had a background in importing and exporting for fashion brands Miss Sixty, Energy, Kenneth Cole, and Kangol. So she decided she wanted to branch out on her own.
“I was at these trade shows and I was seeing wallpaper. But every time I’d come to Toronto I wouldn’t see any wallpaper,” she explains.
“Wallpaper was not back on the scene yet.”
Here was her chance to carve out a niche back in Canada, she figured. Then in 2009 Raco founded NewWall as a high-end wallpaper importer, launching newwall.com shortly after.
Today, she also has a small warehouse in Mississauga and runs NewWall House (363 Adelaide St. E.), her flagship showroom spanning all four floors of a redbrick heritage building in downtown Toronto’s Design District. Inside NewWall House, the company’s constantly growing inventory, which includes about 5,000 different wallpapers from 14 brands, is on full display, alongside decor and antique furniture.
As in the world of high-end fashion, companies produce new collections every season. There’s even some crossover between the two industries.
Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani produces his own line of wallpaper.
“He has spectacular taste, so you can imagine his wallpapers,” says Raco.
It was from the Armani collection that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James picked out something for his own place. (Editor’s note: King James may want to consider other options from the Armani collection for one of these potential palatial homes in Toronto.)
More recently, The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers did so, too. Christina Aguilera preferred a different style from Calico, a bespoke-wallpaper creator from Brooklyn.
Prices at NewWall House range from $120 to $600 for a roll. This would typically measure 11 yards long, but could also be purchased in a variety of widths, including 20 inches to double that.
“It really depends on the company,” Raco notes.
Some aren’t sold in rolls at all. There’s a line of embossed vinyl wallpaper made to look and feel like snake, alligator and ostrich skins. It retails for $120 per 62-inch-wide yard.
NewWall also offers custom designs and full wallpaper murals.
And costs can really add up.
Some of NewWall’s commercial clients have purchased thousands of yards of the faux animal skin. In her own recently listed brick-and-beam loft in the city’s West End, Raco has put up $20,000 worth of wallpaper.
A white-and-gold marble print from Calico greets guests in the entryway. And in the kitchen there’s an imported print from Helsinki-based designer Marimekko.
With material ordered from NewWall, Heggie is wrapping up a $5,000 wallpaper-mural project for a client in the Junction.
“The paper is basically mimicking the profile of essentially an outdoor scene,” she says.
It’s about 15 feet tall and 24 feet long. It costs $1,000 to install.
“When you do a mural that big, you’re not doing a repeat of a pattern any longer. You’re doing something that’s original, and it’s original to the wall. There’s a marriage of space, of surface, and of artwork,” says Heggie.
“And the two really blend together at that point.”
On wallpaper’s increasing appeal, Raco echoes Heggie.
“It becomes the art in the room,” she says.
“This is going back a few years now: I think people started realizing by putting in wallpaper, it changes the landscape of the room so drastically, and for the better.”
That’s a different approach than what she saw during her endeavour’s early days.
“People were just using paint all the time. Yes, it’s colour. But the wow factor is very limiting with paint, and I think that’s where wallpaper came in.”