12 Unusual Wall Covering Options

Going Beyond Paint and Wallpaper 

Veneer Stone on House Interior Walls

Most walls in the home get the usual covering treatment: interior paint in a flat, eggshell, or semi-gloss sheen. And there’s nothing wrong with that since you can’t go wrong with a nice coat of good-quality interior paint. And if not paint, then wallpaper is the covering of choice in most other walls. And that’s a fine choice as well because wallpaper is a great way to introduce pattern and texture into wall surfaces. 

But what if you’re interested in wall covering ideas besides the obvious? Read further for some inventive ways to cover a wall. But a word of advice: the more unusual and complex the wallcovering, the more restraint you need when using them.  Some are so highly textured and detailed that covering your entire house with them (or even an entire room) will produce visual overload. So, for some of these coverings, consider installing them on a single accent wall rather than all four walls.

Colorful Wainscoting 

Fluted Doorframe in Corridor

Wainscotting is any wall covering that extends only part way up the wall. Traditionally, a wainscot rises to a level about one-third of the total height of the wall—about 32 inches on an 8-foot (96-inch) wall. The top of the wainscot is often bounded by a chair rail molding. It is also possible, though, to make very high wainscoting, a common treatment in dining rooms or dens. 

Wainscotting is often made from wood beadboard painted white, but it can be made from many different materials, such as stained and finished hardwood paneling or a section of complementary wallpaper. Sometimes the effect is achieved simply by separating sections of the wall with a chair rail molding and using a different paint color on the bottom section.

Luckily, traditional beadboard wainscoting is readily available and inexpensive. It’s as close as your local lumberyard or home improvement store.

Wainscot can be found in two main forms:

  • Tongue-and-groove plywood beadboard paneling in 4 x 8-foot sizes requiring cutting and priming
  • MDF panels 32 to 48 inches high  made just for wainscot; these panels have tongue-and-groove texturing and are primed for paint

Tile Wainscoting 

Tile Wainscot

Although wainscoting is usually made from wood, it doesn’t have to be. Tile is especially popular for wainscotting, especially in bathrooms and kitchens, thanks to its waterproof nature and easy cleanup. But go ahead and be innovative by using tile wainscoting in any room where the look is appropriate. And don’t limit yourself to just standard ceramic tile—porcelain and glass tiles offer some unique options for wainscoting. 

Big box home improvement centers offer a limited selection of tiles at good prices, but for a better selection and better design advice, visit a local specialty tile store. The advisors at tile stores may be able to help you with the perfect tile selection for wainscoting.

Floor-to-Ceiling Tile 

Tiles on a Wall

Why limit tile for just wainscoting?  Continue the all the way to to the ceiling to make your walls pop with excitement. Common in bathrooms and some kitchens, full tile walls can be suitable for other spaces, as well. 

But using tile this way requires some careful planning and restraint. A tile with bright colors and pronounced patterns can create too much visual interest and might be best suited for a single accent wall to avoid overwhelming a room. The hard surfaces can also make a room echo with sound—another reason to limit their use to a single wall in the room.

Metal Ceiling Tiles 

Faux Copper Ceiling Tiles

The metal and faux ceiling tiles that are now in vogue can also be used for walls. These retro tiles are already seen in kitchen backsplashes, but what about full wall installation?

Plenty of homeowners have discovered that metal ceiling tiles make great wall coverings. Whether real metal or faux metal—high-quality polystyrene foam that looks convincingly like metal— these tiles can be easily applied to a wall with mastic adhesive.

Leather or Faux-Leather Panels 

Leather Wall Covering

It takes a particular room style to make the look work, but leather or faux-leather panels can be used to cover a portion of a wall. Most appropriate for the walls behind a bed, couch, or easy chair, the look is super-swanky, opulent, and retro. 

The most cost-effective panels are faux, not real, leather. Where physical contact is likely, such as behind a sofa or chair, choose real leather. But where all you need is the look of leather, faux panels look smashing.

These panels are easy to install, too—they adhere right onto the wall with hot glue or construction adhesive.

Manufactured Stone Veneer 

Veneer Stone Wall

Manufactured stone veneer is not genuine stone, but it’s not “faux” stone, either. Composed fo Portland cement, aggregates, and iron oxides, manufactured stone veneer is nearly as hefty and durable as real natural stone, but is considerably less expensive. And the uniformity of the product makes for an easier installation than natural stone.

Manufactured stone has been used for exterior veneers for many years, but clever homeowners and designers are also using it for interior walls in large spaces where the impact is best felt. The three major veneer stone manufacturers are El Dorado, Cultured Stone, and Coronado Stone.

Faux Stone Veneer 

faux stone veneer

For homeowners seeking the look of stone veneer but want to do the installation themselves, there is faux stone veneer. While this material may fool people from a distance, make no mistake—at close inspection, the material looks fake. These polystyrene panels are about 2 x 4 feet in size are super light at only 5 to 6 pounds per panel. They can be installed very quickly with glue, but are fragile and can be dented quite easily. They are appropriate only for areas where physical contact is unlikely, and where they won’t be closely inspected. 

Wood Wall Paneling 

Horizontal Wood Wall Paneling

The days of fake wood paneling made from thin sheets of masonite covered with a plastic film layer are blessedly over. Today’s wood paneling is usually the real thing, panels made of genuine wood, such as ebony, teak, Macassar, rosewood, or oak. And rather than the huge 4 x 8-foot sheets used in years past, today’s wood paneling comes in small sizes that make it possible to mount them with the grain running horizontally—the current favorite style.

Bamboo Mosaic Tile 

Wall Covering Ideas - Bamboo Mosaic Tile

For something entirely new, try mosaic tiles made from bamboo. Bamboo mosaic tile is the perfect wall covering if you are looking for something modish, modern, and fresh. This material from Modwalls is sustainable, as bamboo regrows quickly.

This is a covering that works best in bone-dry areas. In other words, keep it away from the outdoors, and avoid installing it in bathrooms, even if it’s not adjacent to the shower or tub.

Cork Mosaic Tile 

Cork Mosaic Tile

Another new innovation is cork mosaic tile— tiny round tiles made of genuine cork. These one-inch diameter cork rounds and bound together on mesh mats for easy installation.

Be forewarned that cork mosaics make for an expensive wall. At almost $19 per square foot, an 8 x 10-foot wall will cost slightly over $1500 to cover. This means that for most people cork tiles will be best suited for wall sections or for backsplashes. The maker of CorkDotz Modwalls says that this material is water-resistant if properly sealed.

This product is a green environmentally-correct choice since the tiles are made from recycled cork bottle stoppers.

Stainless Steel High-Pressure Laminate 

Brushed Stainless Steel High Pressure Laminate

High-pressure laminates (HPL) are not the dusty, droopy, and largely ignored stuff you find on the racks at Lowe’s or Home Depot. HPLs are the Rolls Royce of laminates, with phenolic backings of the type used in laboratory table and commercial wall coverings. Yes, the price is commensurate with quality, but these wall coverings—sandwiched under high heat and pressure—are durable, hygienic, and tough.

For walls that no one is likely to forget, consider stainless steel HPL sheets. They are composed of a thin layer of steel atop the laminate surface, so installation doesn’t require metalworking skill. 

Shown is NuMetal, from Advanced Technology, Inc., of Greensboro, North Carolina. ATI will ship up to five free samples from four of their design-related product lines.

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