Chances are you’re quite bored of your home by now. Oh sure, you know how lucky you are, if you have a warm and comfortable place to live when so many don’t. But a person could live in a full-on palace and still, at this point in a generation-defining global pandemic, think, “If I have to spend one more day looking at this cornicing and those enormous wall sconces, I will genuinely hurl myself off the balcony.” So allow me to share the greatest tip of all time for making your home more fun: get some wallpaper.
People are very wary of wallpaper, especially the patterned type. I didn’t fully understand this until my partner and I were house-hunting half a decade ago, after we found out I was expecting twins. Off we went to look at family houses and, while the prices were horrific, the houses were, to my mind, even worse. That’s not fair: they were perfectly fine, but there was something about them that sent me spiralling into a low-grade depression. I tried to explain it to the increasingly exasperated estate agents: maybe they were dark? Or they just had a bad vibe? Were the ceilings too low? At last, I understood: every house I looked at was painted all white or – worse! – some weird Farrow & Ball-esque muted grey. Literally, every single one, and I assume the people who lived in them thought they looked chic and safely neutral. To me they brought back memories of teenage years spent in a psychiatric unit.
“Safely neutral”: has there ever been a more depressing template for a home? “Safely neutral” is timidity, the decorating equivalent of a fear of letting yourself have fun in case people laugh at you, or a refusal to state an opinion in case you get it wrong. How so many people can bear to live like that is beyond my comprehension. I know not everyone is a maximalist, but I find it bewildering that people won’t commit to patterned wallpaper because they worry they’ll get tired of it, yet paint their home in the most boring shades possible. Be your fearless self! Make your stamp! If not on the world, then at least on your walls.
By the time we moved into our (entirely white, God help me) house, I was a month away from giving birth to two surprisingly big boys. I could no longer walk, but this in no way broke my stride when it came to sorting out the wallpaper. This was a home I hoped to live in for the next two decades, so I went all out and spent so much on wallpaper that we couldn’t really afford furniture for a while.
But our walls were fabulous. I filled the downstairs loo with zebras, copying the bathroom of a fancy Manhattan restaurant I once did an interview in (I can’t remember who I interviewed, but I sure as hell remember the bathroom). I covered my cupboard of a study with a wildly oversized palm print wallpaper, in the hope of making it feel like a bungalow at the Beverly Hills hotel. It doesn’t: it looks more like a scene from Little Shop Of Horrors, but I’m good with that, too. I got flamingos for my bedroom, and preppy green and white stripes for the hall, for a (in my head, at least) CZ Guest photographed by Slim Aarons vibe. When chinoiserie wallpaper proved too expensive, I found a brilliant woman on Instagram who painted a copy right on to the plaster, turning the sitting room into a scene straight out of Tintin’s The Blue Lotus.
Whatever spare cash I have goes on wallpaper, and I am currently saving for a toile de jouy for the kitchen and a monkey print for the twins’ room (before they get big enough to stop me). I have spent on my walls what other people spend on a car. But since I don’t drive, and have always worked from home, spending 90% of my time inside my house even before lockdown, I consider it the best money I ever spent. My wallpapers, which I think of as art in surround sound, give me so much joy every time I look at them, which is every day, all day. During lockdown, it has been especially cheering to bunker down in my mad floral jungle of a sitting room when outside all is grey and unrelenting gloom.
I used to think of my wallpapers as my own private pleasure, because only the chosen few entered my patterned palace. Now, thanks to Zoom, everyone I interview sees them, and every conversation begins with a question about my walls, them sitting against their boring white background and carefully curated bookshelf, me against my insane plant print. At first there’s shock – “Er, wow. You don’t see much wallpaper these days!” I know – and then, eventually, envy, as there should be. I haven’t travelled anywhere for almost a year, but every time I walk into a room I travel to a new land. Honestly, it’s better than Netflix. Get some wallpaper.
• Hadley Freeman and Tim Dowling will be in conversation on 25 February at 8pm. Find details and £5 tickets for their live streamed event at membership.theguardian.com.