A house isn’t a home until it’s decorated with personalized touches that scream, “Welcome to your oasis, oh weary one! How about kicking back and relaxing for a while, hmm?” Ah, what a relief it is. The comfy couch, the impossibly ginormous flat-screen television, the plush area rug and the expertly coordinated palette of decorator tones that cradle us in psyche-soothing snuggles. Draw in a deep, cleansing breath and out of the blue, that sublime moment of relaxation is harshly intercepted with the nasal-assaulting scent of, well, chemicals. Crummy, colorless and potentially carcinogenic chemicals. Oh, they’re there all right, but precisely where? Look at your walls, your floors and the couch-potato recliner that makes you positively giddy after a long day of work. Check, check and check. Don’t forget your other accent pieces (especially if they’re made with compressed particleboard) or the various electronic doodads dotting your relaxation zone. Anything made with plastic has a particularly sordid chemical past. Oh, and about that wallpaper. Of the 11 major brands that nonprofit eco-org Ecology Center analyzed for potential chemical toxins — all told, a whopping 2,312 samples — it determined that almost all of them were covered with chlorine-based coatings, half of them contained a minimum of at least one hazardous compound (such as bromine, arsenic, mercury, lead, phthalates or tin) and all vinyl wallpapers contained cadmium, which is carcinogenic in humans even at minimal exposure levels. Here’s what you can do to achieve peace of mind. First, use plain old superstar white vinegar to remove your old and likely harmful wall coverings in a ratio of 1/3 cup to every quart of warm water, applying it via sponge, old cloth or spray bottle to your walls. Allow the mixture to work its magic for roughly 10 minutes before pulling out the old scraper. Once you’ve successfully restored your walls to their au naturel status, gear up for a new green upgrade by taking a little time to ponder the remarkable eco-friendly wallpaper options cited below:
- Amy Butler: Offering 36 design and color combinations, these incredibly modern papers are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council and printed with brilliant yet planet-friendly water-based inks.
- Angela Adams: The transition into wall coverings for this highly successful Maine-based designer of various fashion and home accessories was natural, and her eco-commitment even more so with Greenguard-certified, low-VOC, 100% post-consumer paper printed with water-based inks, no heavy metals and absolutely zero PVC!
- Graham & Brown: The six unique designs in this eco-collection echo the minimum “green wall covering criteria” of using sustainable forest stock and printing designs with VOC-free, water-based inks, but the company takes its environmental commitment a bit further by packaging each roll in a fully compostable protective sleeve.
- Jaime Salam: Bucking the snoozeville single-roll trend, this artist has created wildly textural, 3-D 12 x 12 panels (called Paperforms) out of 100% pre- and post-paper-based consumer waste.
- Louise Body: This highly reputed London designer made a splash several years ago with her water-buffalo “Holy Cow” pattern (using responsibly managed paper pulp, nontoxic solvents and water-based inks), but all 14 of her slightly left-of-center scenes transcend “here today, gone tomorrow” trends while managing to stay au-courant. Bonus points are in order for the brand that recycles all edge-trimming waste.
- Mod Green Pod: Nontoxic inks grace this collection of bold, fanciful hand-printed wallpaper, all of which are vinyl-free, obtained from FSC-certified sources and glazed with a water-based finish that can be easily spot cleaned if necessary.
- Madison and Grow: Botanically inspired graphics are applied by hand onto clay-coated, chlorine- and VOC-free paper that is obtained from responsibly managed forests overlooked by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Canadian Standards Association, the FSC and/or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification.
Naturally unusual options
- Burlap: It turns out that vegetable fibers from the agave or jute plant make texturally appealing wallpaper. Who knew?
- Cork: Obtained from Portugal’s sustainably managed Montados forests (which are allowed to regenerate for close to 10 years between each cork harvest), the resulting bark is pressed into diverse wall tiles with an impressive range of color combinations.
- Igusa straw: Sourced from Japan, this chemical-free, zero-emission wallpaper naturally purifies household air while also possessing antibacterial and anti-mold properties.
- Recycled newspaper: Utilizing a paper-backed looming technique that employs strips of old newspaper bound with nylon thread, the resulting wall covering, created by Lori Weitzner, offers color, texture and distinctive eco-style (plus it’s sealed with a water-based varnish for longevity and durability).
- Stone: When paper is coated with pulverized magnetic minerals from genuine rocks, the result is glimmering, shimmering and distinctively natural beauty.