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Paint or Wallpaper or Possibly Both?

Oxfordshire design guru Amanda Hanley on choosing well and making brave decorative choices with confidence

Amanda Hanley by Design showrooms will also loan out her books so you can check your favourites in the actual room

Without a doubt wallpaper patterns can make a serious decorative statement, whether it’s applied on a small or large scale, so it is no surprise that sometimes we can be a little hesitant to take the plunge.

Design guru Amanda Hanley gives us her tips to choosing well and making brave choices with confidence.

With these handy tips, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t put the paintbrush away years ago.

Try not to be influenced by what is likely to date, and go with what you love. Wallpaper can be a powerful influence with bold patterns and bold colour combinations creating the major impact offset by plainer complementary main fabrics in the scheme. 


Try not to be influenced by what is likely to date, and go with what you love. Wallpaper can be a powerful influence with bold patterns and bold colour combinations creating the major impact offset by plainer complementary main fabrics in the scheme. Or, wallpaper can be a subtle influence chosen for its interesting texture, its gentle repetitive pattern or its muted shades that enhance an otherwise strong palette of main fabrics. Explore both options in your mind and use your decision as a benchmark for when looking through wallpaper books and fabric collections. If you can, before you make your choice, order large wallpaper samples of your choices to see at least one repeat of the design. Amanda Hanley by Design showrooms will also loan out her books so you can check your favourites in the actual room.


Choosing wallpaper with a bold, largescale print is a great way to add a touch of excitement to the entrance of your home. Hallways can often benefit from natural light which will illuminate darker colours if you want a dash of extra drama. Consider a feature wall as opposed to decorating the whole hallways for a lighter touch.


Wallpapers are an opportunity to introduce people to the personality of the house. Use bold, contrasting wall coverings to invigorate.


There are so many beautiful collections that would suit a feature wall. Make sure that the way you use the paper works as a complete scheme. With a subtle feature wallpaper you will want to use the background colour of the paper to guide your paint choice for the other walls. For papers with a stronger background colour, it’s important to keep the effect going around the room with a sophisticated plain wallpaper in a complementary colour on the remaining walls. This has a wonderful cocooning effect that cuts down on noise. It also manages to create a far richer quality than paint – a wonderful effect particularly suited to bedrooms.

Or paint to perfection

With so many nuances and graduating shades, paint offers the chance to find the perfect palette for your home to set the desired mood, but there is an art to getting it right.

Painting a room can seem an easier option to wallpapering, however, there are a few pitfalls to negotiate when considering this for your home. Firstly the colour can be tricky to get right, as it behaves in different ways in changing lights, appearing rather unlike the swatch on the test card you though was perfect. Pairing it with other tones, both in furniture and woodwork is also a skill, even finding a beautiful cream can be a minefield. Here are tips on injecting colour, finding perfect neutrals, pairing shades and options for woodwork to bring your home to life with a lick of paint.

Colour Feature

Although people really like colour, we’re all a little timid about experimenting with it, using it in select ways on one wall or in small rooms. When you paint a wall you have to remember it’s not like a cushion – the colour reflects on itself and magnifies. As you’re dealing with large areas it also has more impact and the light reflects from one wall to another deepening the colour. To know what a colour is really like, paint the inside of a box.

Perfect Pairings

Pairing two colours together has become a sophisticated trend. In most rooms a muted tone complemented by a vibrant colour will work, but in smaller spaces opt for neutral shades from the same palette for a timeless look. For an interesting feature wall pick out an accent colour from a piece of artwork.

Cream of the Crop

Neutrals are famously hard to choose but getting it right is crucial as there are so many nuances, especially with whites and creams – some warm, some cold, some pinkish, brown or silvery.

Testing testing

Test colour on as large an area as possible. Often colours will be brighter and lighter, or darker and duller than you expect. It is also important to see it in situ with other colours in the room, such as soft furnishings. Any colour change can initially be uncomfortable, so live with it for a while to make an objective judgement.

Seamless Woodwork

Painting woodwork the same as the walls gives a great unbroken effect – a softer look. It’s great how it actually seems to accentuate the elaborate mouldings – in a very sophisticated way and visually opens up space. For a little variation it looks particularly good to use a matt emulsion for the walls and a satin for the woodwork.


First decide if you want the space to be cool and fresh or warm and cosy, and try not to confuse yourself with too much choice. Think about whether you want to introduce colour in a big way for walls or floor, or as splashes of colour, fur cushions, throws or lampshades. Try to work to a scheme that will be complementary to adjoining rooms and any large existing features in the room, such as a wooden floor or black marble fireplace. Vivid colour is best used in small amounts, which also gives you the opportunity to change your taste for colour over time.

How do you choose paint colours wisely?

Rule No 1: Don’t choose your paint colour until you have formulated the colour scheme and, in particular, your fabric choices. There are thousands of paint colours to choose from so it will never be a problem finding a match for a fabric, but it can be difficult the other way around. Colour works with itself and with light, so any colour you choose will appear different on each of the walls of your room. Here in the northern hemisphere, north-facing rooms make colours look cold and south-facing rooms are filled with sun so colours can appear lighter. Once you have chosen several possible colours, it’s so important to check the tone with your chosen colour scheme in natural daylight.

This ensures that it will be a correct match no matter how it is affected by light or dark in the actual room. Little dabs of paint on the wall will not achieve a satisfactory result, instead paint up a large sample on a piece of board (at least A3), using two coats and leaving each coat to dry well. You will find any colour you trial in this way will look darker than the small swatch you used to make your choice because you are looking at a greater expanse of the colour. And don’t try to be clever with a strong colour unless you really love it.



Amanda Hanley

01993 822 385 | M 07976 353 996 | amanda@amandahanley.co.uk


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