For many of us, the word evokes prim florals draping grandma's boudoir or a parade of dancing vegetables across the kitchen wall.
But today's papers are worlds removed - sophisticated, color-smart sheets of art that may banish any memories of bad taste or boredom.
The Associated Press
A photo provided by Trove shows wallpaper featuring fluttering birds.
At this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, there was buzz around the booth of Trove Wallcoverings. Jee Levin's photoprinted papers featured moths, birds, blossoms and other natural forms in ethereal, muted tones. They were almost like stop-action films; in fact, Levin's ''Indi'' design, a flurry of swallows startled into flight, seems inspired by Hitchcock's ''The Birds.''
Levin's papers may have subtle colorways, but there is nothing shy about them. She has the sense that these days, even minimalists want more than white or one-toned walls.
''The wall's an equally important element of a space. It's a vast canvas, with infinite possibilities. Many of our customers use our papers as an alternative to framed artwork,'' she says.
Given Campbell is another of the new breed of wallpaper designers. The young New Yorker designs and sells some of the most assured and striking graphics on the market, as well as some of the most charming. Her ''London'' series depicts some of that city's signage and iconic images, but she also has some fun with bubbles, ripples and elephants.
Elizabeth Solomon's ''March Hare'' has an Edwardian children's book feel, ideal for a young one's room, and Stephanie Gale's ''Metropole'' and ''Tribeca'' series have a modernized art deco sensibility.
Campbell is excited about what she feels is a renaissance in wallcoverings: ''There's never been such a rebound of any category in this market in recent memory.''
She views the trend toward bolder patterns on the walls as a counterbalance to mid-century modern design, which dominates today's interior design trends.
''The designs create the perfect tension in a room; they generate excitement and conversation,'' Campbell said.
Over at Bunny Maxwell's online shop, the mantra is ''Live Loud and Decorate.'' Bunny, aka Courtney Bush, has stocked her e-shelves with girly silk chandelier shades and retro-inspired kitchenware, but she also sells intriguing wallpapers from Canadian designer Judit Gueth and Swede Lisa Bengtsson.
Gueth illustrates peacocks, lilies, koi and rococo flourishes, while Bengtsson creates a fashionista's dream collection of shoes printed in graphic black and white, as well as a paper called ''Family Portrait'' that depicts a series of picture frames. Affix the paper, then place photographs or artwork within the frames to create a personal statement.
The French firm Elitis pushes the envelope even further with a collection featuring crocodile-printed ''leather'' and vinyls that mimic color-saturated glass mosaic tile, as well as photoscanned pebbles and densely woven straw.