Fix-It Guide: Décor

Give a Drab Room New Life with a Lively Wallpaper Mural

It's all about the patterns, people.

By Kelly Clarke March 26, 2019 Published in the April 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

The BULGE was just ugly. Awkwardly jutting into the living room, the poorly placed coat closet was right in the line of sight each time visitors walked through the heart of this Council Crest home. In late 2017, the owners were ready for a remodel: eager to ditch the room’s hodgepodge of aging furniture and upgrade to a more harmonious space that matched the home’s jaw-dropping hilltop vista of Portland’s east side.

But when the homeowners enlisted Style Guide Interior Design’s Midori Karasawa to transform the shabby chamber, she made a surprising choice. She didn’t hide the bump—she flaunted it, wrapping the closet in sophisticated, watercolor-inspired mural wallpaper from a collective of Minneapolis artists and using it as the focal point of a refreshed, grown-up living room. “It was an unusual spot for wallpaper,” Karasawa explains, “but a perfect space for art.”

Fond of dramatic, emotion-tugging design statements and inspired by the homeowners’ love of jewel-toned blues and greens, Karasawa, a former Nike product marketing ace who launched her own design firm in 2017, built the room’s elegant-yet-lived-in personality around that organic, eye-catching swath of wallpaper. That’s an easy design recipe the Tokyo native says any homeowner can succeed with—even without a pro’s help.

“Wallpaper brings colors, graphics, and patterns that revitalize a space immediately,” she says, noting that the custom-made $12-per-square-foot Area Environments paper was spendy but worth it. “It defines the color scheme for the room, [creating the blueprint for] a cohesive design.”

The rest of the space’s elements, from luxe teal swivel chairs to curvy CB2 plexiglass coffee tables, were built around that wall art. Today, whether the owners are entertaining friends or sprawled out on their new Perch couch admiring that stellar view, the room is a hit—bumps and all.

Here are Karasawa’s insider tips for tying any room together.

Wrap it up. When she needs proper paper, Karasawa heads to the Westmoreland showroom of wallpaper supplier Manolo Walls, a hub for innovative wallcoverings, local modernist patterners MakeLike and Juju to House of Hackney’s floral fabric dreamscapes. “Owner Nelli Pavlenko can immediately find the [paper] I’m after or look for something similar in a different price range,” says Karasawa. “She’s one of my best resources in town.” Plus, staff will order samples and save you the pain of calculating the square footage and rolls needed for your project.

Go custom. Swiping through furniture online is great, but Karasawa says it all comes down to touch and feel. Once she has a style in mind, her next stop is Perch Furniture, a local go-to for sturdy, gorgeous custom pieces. She had the Council Crest home’s distinctive swivel chairs and the velvet midcentury-style sofa hand-built to order for less than $5,000 total. “Perch has hundreds of fabric swatches, colors, everything—and the price is really reasonable,” she says. “It’s crazy.”

Color blast. The home’s owners were so enamored of their new living room’s color scheme that it spilled over into their formerly blah, all-white kitchen. Karasawa replaced a snoozy white marble backsplash with green- and blue-hued, Context pillowed tiles from Portland’s Ann Sacks (see photo, opposite page)—a minor change that yielded a major mood boost.

Pro Tip. Hire a wallpaper installer to hang mural-style papers, which often come in multiple pieces with tricky seams that must match perfectly. Pair your bold wallpaper with clean, white walls for a light, bright contrast.

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