This Is the One Kitchen Spot You Probably Haven’t Thought to Put Wallpaper

published May 3, 2024
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Kitchen with marble backsplash, lamp, and red vintage rug
Credit: Jean Ross

There’s only so much style you can bring to a rental kitchen. While other rooms tend to have more creative flexibility, kitchens must meet so many different requirements — storage, food prep, and appliances, to name a few — that functionality often has to come before aesthetics.

Paint is always an option, as is adding wall art. But another decorating feature that’s worth considering in the kitchen has probably already made appearances in other areas of your home: wallpaper. Just as wallpaper can make powder rooms more inviting, bedrooms more cohesive, and dining rooms more sophisticated, choosing to install it in your kitchen can help make a strong impression, too. 

Rather than applying wallpaper everywhere, though, there’s a creative placement idea that’s been cropping up, and you may not have thought of it before: right above your backsplash and behind any open shelving. Shoe designer Jessie Randall of Loeffler Randall implemented this styling trick in her own Bridgehampton, New York, home, and so did Texas-based interior designer Rebecca Gibbs (pictured below)

Not only is this project fairly budget-friendly, since you’re only wallpapering a small sliver of space, but it also lets you experiment with more pattern play in the kitchen — especially if you have a marbled or colorful tiled backsplash. Plus, if you’re renting and can’t paint, you can still add more personality and curate blank walls on top of your backsplash with removable peel-and-stick panels.

It’s key to choose a wallpaper print that complements the shades present in your kitchen, though. Blue cabinetry, as one example, would do well with matching coastal, nature-inspired colors. But I’d also suggest gravitating toward the opposite side of the color wheel for designs made with oranges and reds — a high contrast would be unexpectedly cool. For white cabinets, pay attention to the wallpaper’s background shade, and for anything neutral, it’s usually worth it to go bold. 

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Botanical motifs in all of their forms — subtle and timeless, bright and energizing, clean and busy — are also a safe bet, particularly if you want patterns. But strong geometric shapes may create too much confusion, since various lines and angles make up a kitchen, and anything food related might feel too on the nose (except for citrus, which just seems to work).

Given that this wallpaper will be installed above a backsplash, don’t worry too much about its upkeep, although regular ventilation is always a good thing. You may want to caulk the gap between your backsplash and wallpaper once it’s dried to create a seamless finish. 

Oh, and one last style tip: If you choose to install wallpaper behind open shelving, ensure that items on display also coordinate with the pattern. Extra credit goes to anyone who picks out a floral wallpaper and then has those same flowers in a vase up front!