Interior Design Glossary: Upholstered Walls
Our Austin Interior Designers Define, Review the History, and Explain the Benefits of Upholstered Walls
As of late, one of the biggest home trends is comfort. To that I say, comfort should always be at the forefront of any interior design plan—no matter the trend du jour! As homeowners reject the idea of bare-bones modern in favor of warmth and comfort, interior designers like me are jumping at the chance to revisit old school design practices, like upholstered walls. Upholstered walls have been around for centuries. However, they have never felt so relevant as they do today. As we spend more time in our abodes, we look to upholstered walls to bring in texture, warmth, and, most importantly, quiet. In this Interior Design Glossary entry, my team of Austin interior designers and I review the history and explain the benefits of upholstered walls. Let’s see how we can add maximalist comfort to your home!
What are Upholstered Walls?
Upholstered walls are decorative wall coverings where fabrics and battings are used to clad the walls, creating a cozy, textured, and serene feel. The process of upholstering walls is highly specialized and dates back centuries. Professionals often spend years perfecting the art of wall upholstery. (Do not attempt to DIY upholstered walls, as you will probably end up with a saggy, wrinkled mess of a wall.)
There are two main methods used to upholster walls: tacking and adhesive. Usually, the tacking method result is what we think of when we picture upholstered walls. In this process, the walls are framed with tacking strips, a layer of puffy batting is added, and the fabric is stretched over the walls and tacked into the strips. It is similar to how you would upholster a chair. Because of the batting layer, the tacking method yields a plush finish—adding a cozy feel and deadening acoustics. In the adhesive method, the fabric is pasted to the wall, similarly to how wallpaper is installed. This process forgoes the use of batting, requires less preparation, and is less expensive to execute. While the adhesive upholstery method adds texture and color, it does not help with sound deadening.
A Brief History of Upholstered Walls
The application of upholstered walls dates back to the Middle Ages when royal nobility sought out a way to keep drafty stone castles warm during the winter. While adding rugs was effective, lining the walls with fabric worked even better with the added benefit of showcasing wealth and taste. Medieval wall upholsterers became so valued that a trade guild was developed. The Worshipful Company of Upholders (upholders being an early name for upholsterers) became one of the world’s first design trade guilds under the reign of Edward IV in 1465. They held the responsibility of enforcing the best practices, which are still used in the upholstery trade today.
From the Middle Ages, wall upholstery only continued to gain popularity and evolve. Fabric-lined walls can be seen in Victorian Era mansions, 1920s Craftsman bungalows, and some of the most expensive urban hotel rooms in today’s top cities. Few interior design features blend practicality, cozy comforts, and opulent luxury as seamlessly as upholstered walls.
Benefits of Upholstered Walls
My team of Austin interior designers and I love to upholster walls in bedrooms, studies, and dining rooms. Here are three of the main benefits upholstered walls have in your home.
Create a Cozy Feel
Do you want your home to feel like a warm hug? Then upholster your walls! Wall upholstery adds a cozy quality to any space. At the most practical level, it further insulates your room and provides sound deadening acoustics, making wall upholstery perfect for home offices and quiet reading rooms. On the luxurious side, upholstered walls feel soft to the touch, making any lounge or dining room more inviting.
Upholstered walls create textural variation in ways that plain sheetrock just can’t. While the look and feel of the fabric are important, weight also becomes a consideration when upholstering walls. For fabric-lined walls, choose a material that is durable and inviting but not too heavy. The heavier the fabric, the higher the chance of sagging. Popular wall upholstery fabrics include silk, linen, boucle, velvet, and chintz. In some cases, you may want to use the same fabric on a bedroom wall, draperies, and headboard. Make sure the chosen material is suitable for all applications and feels cozy, of course!
We have all been in rooms with horrible acoustics, and the noise of those spaces dramatically affects the quality of our time spent in them. Echoing footsteps can make a great room feel cavernous and cold. City apartments facing the street never seem to quiet down. Restaurants with only hard surfaces sound more like a school lunchroom than a culinary escape. Upholstered walls can deaden sound, eliminating echoes and street noise for a more relaxing and quiet space.
Upholstered Walls vs. Wallpaper
At first glance, upholstered walls look similar to many wallpaper options, especially in photos. While these two wallcoverings add color and texture, upholstered walls have the added dimension of padding, creating a fuller feel and making for a quieter space. Upholstered and wallpapered rooms may look similar, but the feelings and tonal qualities inside them will be quite different.
Of course, choosing between upholstered walls and wallpaper will depend on the use of the space, budget, and taste. Wallpaper is easier to install, making it less expensive than wall upholstery. While upholstered walls may make a bedroom feel warm and cozy, they may not be practical for application in a bathroom.
Why are Upholstered Walls Trending Again?
While the upholstered walls trend of the 2020s appears new to some, I’d argue that textile wallcoverings have never gone out of style. Throughout interior design history, upholstered walls have been viewed as a luxury, from the estates of kings to celebrity mansions. However, with new engineered performance fabrics, upholstered walls are becoming easier and less expensive to install and maintain, making them an accessible upgrade for many homeowners looking to renovate. Who wouldn’t want to make their home feel cozier?
Are Upholstered Walls Right for Your Home?
While upholstered walls exude maximalism, old-world elegance, and over-the-top luxury, they can fit all homes with the proper treatment. With endless fabric choices, upholstered walls can easily blend with any decor scheme, from traditional to contemporary. So if you are looking to create a cozier bedroom or a quieter office, upholstered walls may be the design solution for you.
Before installing wall upholstery, consult with an interior designer on fabric choices and maintenance. Not all fabrics will work for upholstered walls, and some may be more expensive to install. For example, sheer fabrics reveal the batting layer, heavy materials can sag, and patterned fabrics like stripes are more time-consuming to align and install. While different fabrics require different maintenance, most upholstered walls will require gentle vacuuming and occasional spot cleaning.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.