Just as no home is truly cool these days without a turntable and a growing 12-inch record collection, so vinyl is making a big comeback on our walls and floors, too.
That once-reviled surface material for kitchens and bathrooms — seen as Seventies, tacky, plasticky, wipe-clean and brash — is at last being appreciated for its appealingly tactile and surprisingly subtle qualities.
Now available in countless finishes, patterns and colours to suit every room, vinyl is on a roll.
Technology has turned vinyl coverings into high-quality, finely finished products that are often digitally printed and embossed to create sophisticated, 3D trompe l’oeil surfaces — anything from realistic “wooden” floors to walls covered in stunning swathes of delicate natural-looking feathers.
And of course, vinyl is far lower-maintenance than the natural materials it simulates.
“Vinyl wallpapers are brilliantly washable, light-resistant and extremely durable so, from a practical viewpoint, have a lot going for them,” says Magdalen Jebb, creative director at Lewis & Wood, which makes distinctly classical-looking vinyl wallpapers, including one called Alhambra in a muted Arts & Crafts style.
Vinyl has also suffered from being considered un-eco, the term “vinyl” being shorthand for PVC, which can emit phthalates, though this is now less common. These chemicals have been widely studied for harmful health effects.
“Customers should check the vinyl they buy is phthalate-free,” advises Mark Findlay, founder of flooring firm Harvey Maria, which recently commissioned designer Neisha Crosland to create a range resembling ceramic tiles in colours such as geranium red and mimosa yellow.
Whereas vinyl was once printed with oil-based inks that also generated harmful emissions, manufacturers now increasingly use environmentally friendly, water-based ink.
About 10 years ago, vinyl wallpaper was backed with paper but it now comes with a stronger, non-woven fabric backing. And while vinyl might not be biodegradable, it is recyclable.
Swedish flooring brand Bolon backs its products with recycled materials. It has created a new collection woven with delicate lace and weave patterns, working with cutting-edge design duo Doshi Levien. Bolon By You is being shown at the Salone del Mobile furniture and design fair in Milan this week.
Quick-Step’s Livyn collection includes lookalike wood and concrete flooring that’s sound-absorbent and warm underfoot. Zimmer+Rohde’s Feather wallpaper is embossed with very realistic 3D tawny plumage.
The Bubblegum & Liquorice collection by Avenue Floors includes Sagres, a geometric pattern reminiscent of the style of Seventies interior designer David Hicks, along with Artesia, a swirly pattern that bring to mind the Fifties paintings of Jackson Pollock.
Wall & Deco’s wallpapers featuring oversize banana and palm-tree motifs nod to the current trend for all things tropical.
More flamboyant still are design duo Brennan and Burch’s digitally printed papers, available in extra-wide widths for creating funky feature walls. “People are surprised that they are in vinyl as they look like fabric,” says co-founder Lisa Brennan.