Wallpaper That Works for Coastal Homes

Homeowners often assume that wallpaper is incompatible with the humid, salty air that surrounds coastal homes. In some ways, this is true. The wet, windy climates of coastal regions can damage wallpaper, furniture, rugs and more. According to this resource from UK-based organization Heritage House, seaside climates can even erode masonry. However, wallpaper can work with the right materials and techniques – even in beach houses exposed to hot summer sun, salty air and high humidity. If you prep the walls first, avoid delicate fibers and hang wallpaper in well-ventilated spaces, you can make wallpaper work in your coastal home. Read on to learn our top tips for hanging wallpaper in your coastal home.

7 Tips for Hanging Wallpaper in Your Coastal Home

#1 Hang Wallpaper in Well-Ventilated Spaces

First on our list of tips for wallpaper in coastal homes is to hang whichever wallpaper you choose in a well-ventilated space. Areas of your home that get wet and stay damp could cause wallpaper to curl, bubble or grow mold.

In her article “Removing Mold Behind Wallpaper” for SF Gate, Danielle Smyth explains. Smyth writes that "mold is typically caused by moisture combined with a lack of ventilation." According to Smyth, this means "rooms that experience a lot of moisture, such as bathrooms and kitchens, can develop mold under the wallpaper."

In general "a moist, dark environment without airflow" is the wrong environment for wallpaper. Wallpaper made from paper and natural fibers like grasscloth is especially susceptible to mold. As such, homeowners should keep wallpaper away from basements, full bathrooms and other spaces that attract and lock-in moisture. Powder rooms, airy living rooms and bedrooms are usually best.

To combat mold growth, homeowners might opt to hang wallpaper in a bright, sunny room instead. While sunlight can help dry out a humid space, UV rays can also damage delicate wallpaper. Avoid hanging dark or delicate wallpaper in spaces exposed to lots of natural light like your sunroom, kitchen or breakfast nook.

#2 Consider Alternatives Like Tile, Wainscoting and Artwork

Wallpaper can be an inexpensive decorating option. In a coastal home, however, you might be forced to replace wallpaper repeatedly because of degradation caused by repeated exposure to moisture. Instead of wallpaper, coastal homeowners might consider alternatives like tile, wainscoting, large-scale artwork and bold paint.

Texturing the walls in your home is another option -- and one of our favorites. As Hannah Martin notes in a recent article for Architectural Digest, "plaster walls...are having a moment." Quoting bi-coastal designer Amy Morgenstern, Martin writes that "'a space can go from ordinary to extraordinary once plaster is applied.'"

Interior designer Vanessa Alexandra agrees, noting that plaster walls "'have dapple, they have light, they have shadow.'" In minimalist coastal homes, plaster walls provide much-needed texture and warmth.

#3 Use Wallpaper as an Accent

An easy way to hang wallpaper without worrying about damage from humidity, salt air or sunlight is to use it as an accent. We recommend mounting wallpaper in an alcove, on a feature wall or behind the shelves of your bookcase, pantry or china cabinet. Even if the wallpaper does degrade over time, you can replace it easily and inexpensively.

#4 Avoid Dark Colors That Might Fade Quickly

Our next tip is to avoid dark colors that might fade when exposed to direct natural light. In her article “Considering Grasscloth? Here’s What to Know” for Northshore Magazine, Karen Egly-Thompson explains. Depending on the fiber and finish, Egly-Thompson writes that "dyed dark colors...can fade in sunlight."

Natural fibers like grasscloth and silk are especially prone to fading. To prevent delicate wallpaper from losing its original color, either stay away from sunny spaces or ensure window treatments are adequate.

If you are still unsure how wallpaper might fare in your home, consider ordering samples and hanging them throughout the house. To test the light-fastness of your wallpaper, hang samples with dark colors in a sunny room for a few months.

#5 Don't Use Vintage or Historic Wallpapers

Most vintage, antique and historic wallpapers were made from uncoated paper and painted with natural pigments. These wallpapers could fade when exposed to direct sunlight or crack, peel or tear when exposed to fluctuations in relative humidity. Because of this, designers often warn against using historic wallpapers in coastal homes.

If you do want to use historic wallpapers, read through this guide written by Mary Ellen Polson for Old House Online. If your home is historic and features vintage or antique wallpapers, make sure to follow any and all rules set by your local government.

Most local and state governments in the US regulate the ways in which homeowners can renovate or remodel their historic properties. Take care when handling older wallpapers as they are often delicate and some might contain toxic materials. Speak with an architectural conservator or other expert before proceeding.

#6 Avoid Delicate Natural Fibers Like Grasscloth

In her article “Everything You Need To Know About the Wallpaper Revival” for Southern Living, Kelsey Mulvey acknowledges natural fibers are making a comeback. However, wallpapers made from jute, grasscloth and other natural fibers are "'some of the most intimidating, costly and time-consuming'" to apply and maintain.

To keep your wallpaper in good condition for years to come, consider using synthetic materials like vinyl. Vinyl wallpaper is usually a better fit for coastal homes than natural materials like silk and grasscloth.

#7 Always Check for Mold and Moisture First

Perhaps even more important than choosing the right wallpaper is choosing the right wall for that wallpaper. Homeowners should choose walls that are smooth and dry. Walls should also be free of mold and mildew. For best results, homeowners should clean and seal their walls before applying wallpaper. In her article “Bathroom Wallpaper: How to Install It and More Dos and Don’ts” for Architectural Digest, Jessica Cherner explains.

Quoting Roxana Eslamieh from Manuka Textiles, Cherner writes that "'clean and primed walls are essential to any successful wallpaper installation.'" According to Exlamieh, they are "'even more important for a bathroom install [or other humid space].'" To prep your walls before application, Eslamieh recommends scrubbing "any splatters or imperfections" and scraping away "any loose paint." Be sure to patch holes, seal walls and prime the application area before hanging your wallpaper.

Homeowners might also choose to seal the wallpaper itself. In an article for The Spruce, Lee Wallender encourages homeowners to "treat the wallpaper's surface with flat or satin decorator's varnish." Decorator's varnish "protects and seals without changing the look of the paper."

By following the seven tips outlined above, you can make wallpaper work in your coastal home!