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If These Walls Could Talk . . .

Thu, 04/20/2023 - 13:15
Above, Heather Dunn is a former faux-finish painter who has established herself as the go-to expert on wallpaper hanging in East Hampton. Below, a bedroom she wallpapered for a Mill Hill Lane client features a chair upholstered to match the pattern. 
Durell Godfrey and Christine Sampson Photos

Wallpaper as an interior design element is making a comeback, but where it’s going is a far cry from the retro mushrooms, flowers, and geometric patterns you grew up seeing in your grandmother’s house.

Instead, what’s in style is newer, sophisticated patterns and textures, bolder scales, feature walls, and even mural-like wallpaper that portrays a scene. The New York Times confirmed this in a February lifestyle report, saying that “wallpaper has made its way back into homes in recent years as consumers continue to eschew minimalist aesthetics in favor of maximalist decor.”

Locally, the expert on this is Heather Dunn of East Hampton, also known as @hamptonswallpaperchick on Instagram. An artist who previously spent 25 years as a faux-finish painter and even did some time as an exterior house painter, Ms. Dunn preaches the wallpaper gospel, which will (usually) cost clients less than custom paint finishes even though it can be trickier to pull off. “When I started to get into it, I thought it was going to be easier on a lot of levels,” she said. “That’s not a thing.”

In the sunny living room of a Mill Hill Lane client’s house, Ms. Dunn, in primer-speckled overalls and pink sneakers, said she now finds wallpaper more enjoyable. “It’s cleaner, quieter,” she said. “I can anticipate certain things. It can be so much fun to put up.”

She takes a visitor into a bathroom where a fresh application of the famous Martinique banana-leaf print covers the walls, just as it does at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s a myth that wallpaper will universally overwhelm a small room, but it’s true that metallics will show everything. And stripes — maybe don’t do stripes.

“You have to be very choosy,” Ms. Dunn said. “I can walk into a room and see if it’s off by an inch.”

Originally an English and political science major in college, thinking she’d one day run for office, she ultimately trained in decorative painting at The Finishing School in Port Washington, which is no longer in operation. “Once I realized I was an artist, I threw caution to the wind and ran with it,” she said.

When she needs to learn something new or boost her knowledge, Ms. Dunn often finds herself looking to European sources of information and advice. “I think British dudes on Facebook know anything and everything about wallpaper,” she said.

She has also learned a thing or two about wallpaper and brand-new construction — specifically that they do not mix well — so she’ll advise clients against this interior design choice until later in the process. “Houses need hot and cold water. Warm water can be really important,” she said. “The sod has to be down. If there’s no grass, then there’s dirt everywhere. People need to understand that this is absolutely the last thing that gets done.”

Another thing she’s learned is to not only view a paper sample prior to hanging it, but also to touch it. It just helps. “How do you explain that?” she said. “There’s something amazing about it.”

Ms. Dunn is the kind of person whom the professional interior designers will call for help. That was the case when Cami Weinstein, who specializes in classic English and French, French modern, and transitional modern design, opened her studio in East Hampton Village.

“She’s superfun and supertalented. She’s great to collaborate with,” Ms. Weinstein said. “In wallpaper, if something doesn’t line up, she can use her faux painting skills to address and correct it.”

For Ms. Dunn, there is nothing standard about the art of wallpaper. She occasionally designs her own custom paper. She once plastered an entire room in pages from antique issues of The Saturday Evening Post.

“Each job is different, and it’s really satisfying,” she said. “I love where I work. I feel very privileged to be able to do this.”

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