[A version of this article appeared in print in the July 2016 issue of Rug News andDesign Magazine.]

Visiting a wallcovering producer whose main machine is from 1899 is not much different than visiting a hand knotted rug manufacturer. Both entail small production runs, highly skilled craftspeople, a large design studio, and constraints on design, size, and colors.

Except for the actual application of the colors to the paper, it is hard to see much difference between York Wallcoverings and any hand made rug maker.

Of course, there is a question: Why are we looking at wallpaper instead of rugs?


York Wallcovering
Top is standard, bottom is current match. Which one does not match?

The first answer is simple: We are looking at design and color in a room. There are four walls and one floor. Each room has a dimension and a purpose. Put all the rooms together, and you have a house.

The second answer is practical: Wallpaper, when used, has to coordinate with the rug. That not only gets us into color and design, but also into scale.

I know that, traditionally, furniture stores sell rugs that fit in front of a sofa as an accent piece/accessory in the same way runners go up stairs or down halls.

Beyond accent pieces/accessories/5×8’s and under:

  • Most central medallion Oriental rugs are proportionally equal—and pretty much look the same, even when colors change.
  • Most repeat pattern Orientals are set in a frame that is roughly proportional to central medallion Orientals. The scale remains the same, even as the repeat size changes.
  • Most modern designs come in two formats: no border, or a border ground relationship that looks like a Persian format.

The biggest change is that what we now see is an asymmetrical ground, with no border, or inside a Persian scaled border.

Wallpaper does not follow this convention, and that is where the fun begins.

Neat ladies and hairdos from the 19th century, printed on the flex-o-graphic machine.
Neat ladies and hairdos from the 19th century, printed on the flex-o-graphic machine.

If wallpaper is coming back, it will affect choices for the floor. We believe that the advent of digital printing will accelerate experimentation in wallcoverings.

Currently, most rooms are painted. And in a New York City rental apartment, they are painted white. Somebody told me that white was selected and required because it was hygienic.

Most rooms that are painted use one color for the wall, and one color for the trim—giving you either a dark wall and light trim, or a light wall and dark trim. Whichever way you go, choosing a rug for the room means coordinating with two colors.

Hand knotted rugs generally are 12-13 colors or less, and machine made rugs are now 5-12 colors (frames) unless sideways woven. Sideways woven rugs have been around, but with new technology, they will be the new rage. They have 8-12 colors, but offer the opportunity to vary individual rows with different textures, yarns and colors, giving a much richer look with similar output speed as straight woven rugs.

York Wallcovering
Dye master holding sample of paper and buckets of paint for printing.

The design at the top of this article was produced on an English machine from 1899 that prints in 12 colors, although only 11 were used in this design. The print itself has texture. The buckets contain the paint/ink, and the dye-master is holding a sample of the wallpaper. This whole process is no different than mixing colors for a handmade rug.


Fine wallpaper is priced as a single roll but sold as a double roll. Historically, lots of things are sold by the piece, and not by the length. For example, Harris Tweed is priced by the unit, and not the length. Hand knotted rugs are bought by the knots when they are made, are sold at wholesale by the square foot, and at retail by the unit size. Labor is piece-priced by knots, a rug sold at total cost to manufacture, and at retail the rug is priced at the accumulation of costs to include the rug in the design experience.

For wallpaper in most standard room ceiling heights, a double roll means three strips of the same length.

Splitting 54 inch paper into 27 inch paper.
Splitting 54 inch paper into 27 inch paper.

Measuring and hanging wallpaper is generally more expensive than buying the wallpaper. The more expensive the wallpaper, the more you will need an expert to first measure the room, then determine the visual center of the wall, and then figure out the starting point. The starting point will almost never be a corner of the room.

With a 27 inch repeat, most of the time you will get a 3 repeat placement for full drop, or a 3-2-3 pattern for a half drop. Full and half drop are the most common pattern styles.

Calculating waste for each panel with a 27 inch repeat:

  • 3 times 27 inches is 81 inches.
  • 4 times 27 inches is 108 inches.
  • An 8 foot ceiling is 96 inches.
  • A 9 foot ceiling is 108 inches.
  • A baseboard can be 4-8 inches.

After you subtract the baseboard from the height of the room, you can figure your waste.

If a full drop is 27 inches vertical by 27 inches horizontal (paper width), dealing with apertures such as windows and doors gets interesting. The distance between windows becomes an important design feature.

Two widths of 27 inch paper is 54 inches. More or less than 54 inches incurs waste for the whole roll or, if the pattern is centered between the windows, two rolls.

Coming up to a door or a window means some waste on each side, floor to ceiling, and blank space over the window or door. Windows and door bucks tend to be just wider than a modern 30 inch appliance, which is wider than 27 inches and narrower than 54 inches.

Last but not least, you have to find out if your rectangular room is perfectly square (it never is) and whether you will start from the bottom or the top (almost always).

At this point, you and/or your client has decided to hire a professional.

Trim as displayed in the factory retail shop.
Trim as displayed in the factory retail shop.

Professionals who hang 1-3 inch repeats are generally uncomfortable hanging 20-27 inch repeats. Professionals who can do large repeats cost money. The larger the repeat, the more it costs to hang. The larger the room, the more it requires a large repeat to look large.

Trim covers a lot of mistakes at the top and bottom of a room.

The pictures selected to illustrate this article were taken at York Wallcoverings.

The most important part of the entire process is the gear shown in the picture below. This gear coordinates the registration of the rollers to print the paper. The gears on this issue’s back cover coordinate different sized repeats.

The small green single gear in the centerof this picture drives the registry for each different repeat.
The small green single gear in the center of this picture drives the registry for each different repeat.

The size of the room, the size of the repeat, the color effect of wallpaper in the daylight and nightlight of the room, all impact the color, design and placement of the rug. In a two color room, a one color rug works, or a bold multi-colored rug overcomes the barrenness of the walls.

The furniture itself may become just another accessory. The scatter under the table in front of the couch may be just another accessory—and probably bought online.

The design experience is putting all the pieces together in one coherent whole that relates one room to another within the house. It is at this point that a rug ceases to be a product, but part of the overall design experience. Wallcoverings on four walls have to work with the rug on the fifth wall, or vice versa.