Material World: Grasscloth

When we moved into my stepfather’s ranch house in 1983, I remember being fascinated with the wall of groovy gold-smoked mirror and cedar shingles in the foyer.  At least, until my mom ripped it out a week later in favor of burgundy ducks-and-hearts wallpaper. The grasscloth that lined both the living and dining rooms proved to be a bigger makeover challenge:  unable to strip it without serious damage, Mom painted over it, leaving behind a topographical map of bumps, knots, and seams.  She still gets worked up about the ‘evils’ of woven wallpaper.

Hate to tell ya, Ma, but grasscloth is having a major moment in the spotlight.  Its subtle, natural texture lends itself well to a variety of decorative styles, both traditional and modern.  I would argue that not only did it survive the wallpaper holocaust of the 2000’s, but that it contributed to the recent resurgence of wallpaper in general.  After all, a neutral texture is generally easier to live with and has more longevity than many patterns, like, say, ducks and hearts (sorry Mom).  

The thing is, grasscloth now is going bold. Last week at the High Point Furniture Market and Traditional Home Showhouse, grasscloth was featured on countless walls, ceilings, and even furniture, and it’s not settling for ‘subtle’ anymore.

Charlotte Designer Lisa Mende’s eclectic breakfast room for the Junior League Showhouse was enrobed in a gorgeous indigo blue grasscloth, upstaged only by the zig-zag pattern overhead. Meanwhile, back at the A.Hoke showroom in Charlotte, more luxe options from Phillip-Jeffries include dozens of printed and textured grasscloth papers with patterns that resemble rivets, metallic woodgrain, toile, and ikats in a variety of decidedly un-neutral color combinations. Thibaut offers up dozens of colors and grasscloth-like textures in a scrubbable vinyl that will survive high traffic and splash zones.

Grasscloth is cropping up on case goods and accessories too, but use caution:  surfaces that get a lot of friction or moisture can fray, stain, or separate.  Make sure you find quality pieces and protect tops with glass if necessary.  Bungalow 5 owner Luca Rensi assured me that his grasscloth-covered drawers hold up to daily use in his own home– he stashes socks and undergarments in his bedside chest, but uses a coaster for drinks. 

Now that you loveitwantitneedit, the question is:  what’s it gonna cost ya?  Wallcoverings may be priced and sold by the roll or by the yard, so pay attention when comparison shopping. Prices for grasscloth typically range anywhere from $80/roll for basics to $150/yard + for specialty patterns, plus installation, depending on the vendor and style.

When considering a grasscloth for your home, keep the following in mind:  

  • Be aware there will be variations, slubs, and visible seams between drops. These are not imperfections, but part of the natural beauty of the material.  
  • Avoid high-humidity areas, splash zones, and high traffic areas where the grasscloth will likely be damaged or stained.
  • Maintenance is required. Prevent dirt build-up by gently dusting or running a soft vacuum wand over the cloth, but never scrub or soak.  
  • Need a change? Grasscloth can be painted over, but as my mom knows all too well, you’ll never get rid of that texture.

I can’t wait to tell Mom about the smoked mirror trend next…

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