This "Unexpected Wallpaper" Trend Is the Most Exciting Way to Use Wallpaper — And It's Budget-Friendly, Too

Wave goodbye to traditional wallpaper treatments and welcome these bold ideas into your home if you want your space to make a real statement

A living room with a landscape wallpaper
(Image credit: Bobbi Beck)

In the world of interiors, the 'unexpected' is rarely a bad thing. Designs tend to stick to the status quo all too often, leading to predictable spaces that fail to make a statement. That's why, in 2024, leader designers are embracing the unexpected, be it bright color choices, brave patterns, or - in this case - bold wallpaper.

The trending color theory 'unexpected red' is the idea that peppering a room with vibrant shades of crimson can seriously elevate your space. We've seen how successful the idea can be, and as far as color trends go, it's a simple one. It all boils down to catching the eye - using seemingly random, unexpected details to make a big design statement. And color isn't the only way forward.

Increasingly, we're seeing more wallpaper ideas cropping up in our homes, lots of them harnessing this idea of the 'unexpected'. 'Mainly, it can allow you to add more personality to a room than you might have originally thought,' explains James Mellan-Matulewicz of wallpaper brand, Bobbi Beck. 'When you’re working outside of what are the "usual" constraints, this can open up your creativity and expand your design possibilities. If you embrace the unexpected, your limits are instantly set much higher.'

'Whether it’s scale, texture, pattern, metallic, wrapping a room or jewel-boxing an entire space, it provides an opportunity to add another layer, tell a story and add a backdrop to the room,' adds Jill Steinberg, co-founder of Fine & Dandy Co. 'We love being surprised and seeing things used in unconventional ways. It’s easy to do with wallpaper, as it allows you to create another world or place you want to be in. It’s an immersive experience that can transport you to wherever you want to be.'

Here, we take a look a seven ways designers are bringing unexpected wallpaper ideas into the home that are so impactful you won't be able to look away.

What is unexpected wallpaper?

Just like the unexpected red theory, unexpected wallpaper brings a small dose of shock factor to your space. We're not talking traditional wallcoverings that go from floor to ceiling. Instead, we're talking innovative and impactful ways of bringing pattern and color to your room where you least expect it.

'“Unexpected wallpaper” adds depth and dimension to a room and creates a more immersive environment,' explains Lindsay Gerber of San Francisco-based design firm, Lindsay Gerber Interiors. 'Using wallpaper on the ceiling or dynamic wallpaper in a small powder room gives moments of intrigue to otherwise overlooked spaces. I look at wallpaper as the anchoring layer to a room, the piece that ties the space together and creates a cohesive and charming design.' Take a look at the ideas below for inspiration on how to inject a dose of the unexpected into your space.

1. Wallpapered ceilings

A dining room with green walls and wallpapered ceiling

(Image credit: Joel Klassen)

Wallpapering the ceiling is by no means a new wallpaper trend, but it's one of the more 'livable' ways to bring an unexpected idea into your home. This design idea works best when the walls are a neutral shade or, at the very least, painted the same color. Upon entering a room, your guests' eyes will instantly be drawn upwards, and a patterned ceiling can work wonders at heightening a space, too.

'When you think of wallpaper you don’t traditionally think to look up, but installing wallpaper on the fifth wall is becoming increasingly common,' says James of Bobbi Beck. 'When done correctly, it can add a real surprise element to the decor in a room, and makes use of a space that is often under-utilized.'

'Creating a dramatic ceiling that feels like a hand-painted sky helps create another point of interest, especially for rooms where you want to create some drama or focus on the ceiling,' adds Jill Steinberg Co-Founder of Fine & Dandy Co.

2. Inside Cabinets and Drawers, or Behind Shelves 

A bookcase wallpapered inside with a landscape motif, against a wall with purple wallpaper

(Image credit: Sally Smallwood)

For a real element of surprise when it's least expected, try a hidden wallpaper idea by covering the inside of cabinets or drawers, or papering the back of a book shelf. Even if you chosen wallpaper isn't on show the majority of the time, you'll be treated to a glimpse of wonder whenever you go to retrieve something from you cabinet or take a book from your shelf. The same idea can be applied to nooks and alcoves, too, and works especially well when the wallpaper can't be seen from the view of the doorway.

Jill notes that this is a fantastic application idea for renters who cannot install wallcovering or paint their walls, and she has another trick up her sleeve, too. 'A folding screen is a fantastic way to add some pattern and color to a room,' she says. 'Whether it’s dividing a space or perhaps acting as a headboard, it’s an easy DIY project that can move with you.'

3. Wallpapered panels

A room with three wall papered wall panels with a black and white flower motif

(Image credit: Lindsay Gerber)

Wall paneling is enjoying a real moment right now. Although typically used as subtle, classic detail, there are plenty of ways to highlight paneling, and wallpaper is one of them. Lindsay’s project pictured above offers a clever example of unexpected wallpaper by using the panels as framed art in lieu of a traditional wall covering.

'For so long, wallpaper has been the same pattern repeated from top to bottom, but now we are seeing designs breaking away from uniformity,' she says. 'I was drawn to the de Gournay "Anemones in Light" paper because of the organic use of florals. The higher concentration of blooms at the top of the paper draws the eye up, and the negative space at the bottom balances out the furniture in the room.'

In the baby girl’s nursery, the beautiful gray and steely blue de Gournay wallpaper complements the soft tones of the furniture and décor perfectly. 'The framed panels add dimension to the space without overwhelming the room with pattern,' Lindsay adds.

A living room with faux panels created with wallpaper

(Image credit: Fine & Dandy Co)

'Framing murals with panel molding is an easy and effective way to elevate your space without a big commitment,' adds Jill. 'It’s also a small enough project that the average DIY-er can usually take it on without hiring an installer.'

Of course, you don't have to interpret this idea entirely literally. You could harness the illusory effects of wallpaper with a dimensional idea like the one pictured above, where wallpaper is used to give the appearance of panelling for a dramatic effect.

4. 'Landscape' style wallcoverings

A living room with a landscape wallpaper

(Image credit: Bobbi Beck)

'What I love about wallpaper is that it has instant impact - sometimes it is that "thing" that is missing to truly elevate a room,' says interior designer Sarah Storms. 'Wall murals are hugely trending in 2024 and are not going away anytime soon.' Capable of transporting you to fantasy worlds or scenic vistas, these dramatic wall coverings always bring an element of the unexpected into a space, and they're an easy way to make an impactful design statement with minimal effort.

'These wallpapers create the illusion of expanding space and can bring the beauty of the outdoors into interior environments, fostering a sense of connection with nature,' adds James. 'When done correctly, they can create the feeling that there is actually no wall there at all, and achieve something that most people wouldn’t think is possible with wallpaper.'

5. Whimsical wallpaper art

A living room with black walls and a pelican bird wallcovering

(Image credit: Bobbi Beck)

Decorating with living room wall art is one of the best ways to bring personality and character into your home, so why not take it a step further with an artistic wallpaper idea? No one expects to walk into a living room to be greeted by a giant pelican, and you'll find a hard job finding anyone else with the same idea gracing their walls! With this bold design idea, the opportunities are quite literally endless.

'People are used to seeing these kinds of images at painting size, but scaling them up can add a real surprise wow-factor,' says James. You don't have to plaster a pelican on your walls, either, to make the same impact. For a touch of whimsy, try going for a classic artwork interpreted as a motif.

'Paintings such as "Almond Blossom" by Van Gogh, "Painting with Green Center" by Kandinsky, and "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Hokusai make for great statement pieces, as does almost anything from "The Birds of America" book by John James Audubon,' notes James. We also love this 'Wild Wild Woods' wallpaper by Divine Savages, reminiscent of a Japanese oil painting.

Wallpaper can be especially effective when it mirrors surrounding features, too. 'In a NYC apartment I brought in the colors of the brick buildings and cityscape to create a sense of the living space and include the view to inform the wallpaper choices,' notes James Yarosh of James Yarosh Associates. 'A Hermes mosaic wallpaper of tiny boxes echoed the grid of windows outside and a Gucci wallpaper of tall herons balanced the opposite wall of windows of city life with endless building projects and cranes to imagine the marriages of the cacophony of sounds outside to become silent bird song within.'

6. Playing with scale

A bedroom with blue walls and a botanical wallpaper accent wall

(Image credit: Angela Roy Photography)

Interior designer Gray Walker says that creating an unexpected effect with wallpaper can be as simple as playing with scale and adding detailed designs to unlikely spaces within the home. 'Unexpected wallpaper adds drama to any space,' she says, 'but clients who want high drama will opt for dining room walls to be their showstopper'. On the other, she notes that clients who prefer a more subtle effect choose a powder room or laundry room instead.

'In my own home I have enormous butterflies hand painted throughout my foyer.,' adds Gray. 'When guests are greeted by design concepts they least expect it sort of stops them in their tracks and brings a smile to their face. Creating rooms that people don’t forget starts with amazing wall coverings in grand scale.'

Designer Nureed Saeed agrees that an unexpected wallpaper creates drama and a wow factor in the right space. 'It can add big personality to a tiny space or it can help accentuate the architecture of space that may otherwise be overlooked, drawing your attention to the details,' she says. 'Done the right way wallpaper elevates a space by adding a touch of art.'

7. Wallpaper borders 

A bedroom with dark panelled walls and an art deco style wallpaper border running along it

(Image credit: Fine & Dandy Co)

Another more subtle way to harness the unexpected through wallpaper is by using borders. Strips of wallpaper wrapped around the perimeter of a room for a panel effect (seen above) - or framing woodwork and trim - is a sure-fire way to catch the eye, and it adds just enough detail to a room without feeling overpowering.

'Borders are also trending but not in the way you think,' says Sarah. 'How can you layer your wallpaper to accentuate the doorway or ceiling or window? Is it a complementary pattern? Or a ribbon trim? These luxury approaches to wallpaper are really going viral for their high style.'

'Wallpaper borders have been used for many years to elevate the simplest of rooms, adding detail and delight in an easy, affordable way,' adds Susie Atkinson, wallpaper border designer and owner of Studio Atkinson. 'If you still want to play around with your interiors, but don’t want to commit to decorating a room top-to-toe in wallpaper, then borders are an impactful and hassle-free way of adding a visual accent to your space.'

Now that you're equipped with a wealth of new wallpaper ideas, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to bringing a hint of the expected into your home. Try one of these ideas and you're bound to notice far more awe-struck expressions among your guests!

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.