Inspiring Papers

The use of hand-blocked papers for walls and ceilings seems to be a growing trend. There are so many beautiful papers that have served as great inspiration for me while painting lovely murals.  Two of my favorites are Gracie and de Gournay.

Established in 1898 by Charles Gracie in New York City, Gracie is still a family run company with Charles’s great grandson Mike serving as president.   The company originated as a maker of custom lamps from unusual accessories and as a provider of custom carving and gilding for New York’s carriage trade.


Tory Burch’s foyer from Elle Décor

During the 1930s, a textile trader and friend brought home a beautiful roll of hand-painted paper that he had discovered in Beijing. Mr. Gracie was immediately enthusiastic and quickly established a relationship with the studio that had produced the wallpaper.

The same Chinese family has managed Gracie’s studio in the East for fifty years. Hand-painted wallpapers are Gracie’s signature product line and demonstrate how true artistry has been handed down from generation to generation.

The metallic lines of the old Hollywood era are now resurging in popularity, making their way into today’s design. I just love this Gracie version of the trend.

These papers are beautiful and versatile, working in a multitude of different design schemes, but they’re also quite expensive. In 1996, an average panel cost $550; the average room needs 15 panels. This does not include the expense of installing and hanging, which is rather costly for handmade papers.

In this dining room, designed by Trish Dodson, paper was originally slated. But after choosing a drapery fabric that she and the client adored, it proved difficult to find the right color way and price point in a paper, so Trish called me.

The drapery fabric was gorgeous and looked just amazing in the room.  I suggested we do a tone-on-tone, Gracie-inspired design that would add interest to the room without overpowering the soft fabrics and rug.


I think the finished room is spectacular! Notice the way the covered chairs are done – I really like the added band. So sad I missed the shot of the monogrammed host and hostess chairs!!


With murals, the more detail required, the more time it takes to complete so the more the painting will cost. A glaze can be added on top or underneath the mural to add variation to the wall finish.

De Gournay, headquartered in London, is another stunning paper collection. Since it was founded in 1986, De Gournay’s exquisite wallpapers have been hand-painted in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. They have since been a favorite of the rich and famous.

Gwyneth Paltrow mentions her de Gournay dining room paper in a recent Elle Décor article as one of the things she can’t live without!

De Gournay also adorns the walls of Sharon and Ozzie Osbourne’s home, featured in Architectural Digest.

The company specializes in creating wallpapers inspired by 18th century Chinoiserie. This style was a true marriage of East and West: designers would create their own interpretations of Chinese compositions for décor in stately homes, palaces and castles across Europe.

Source: de Gournay website

De Gournay does extensive research on the Chinoiserie style, modifying and often simplifying original designs from the 1700s to suit current tastes and contemporary styles.

The process is so fascinating: they hand-paint details on in a traditional block print style. This is reminiscent to the 18th century method in which large wooden blocks were carved and then stamped onto papers. By painting in such a way, the colors don’t blend, losing some of the realistic details, but create a finished product that is rather authentic. De Gournay’s painters are in both China and the Philippines. And the panels (typically 8 feet by 3 feet) are not as expensive as Gracie’s: $350 to start.

 Here is another rendition of a Segreto paper-inspired mural.  Homeowner Stacy(which you will get to see her whole house next week) already had the beautiful cabinet, sconces and mirror, and wanted to complement these pieces with a very soft, subtle effect rather than a bold design. In this instance, we started with a plaster backdrop and added soft hints of color and a worn look to the bird and foliage design.


Typically, this cabinet in my office is stacked full of design and reference books, but for this picture, staged for an ad, it looks especially beautiful with some pillows, fabric, and fancy gilded books. After doing a similar treatment in a client’s elevator, I decided to remove shelves full of samples that were here before, and add this beautiful gold leaf Chinoiserie-inspired design. We gold leafed and then hand-painted this scene on top. I love working with paint rather than papers because you can create a one-of-a-kind custom look – I picked the specific birds, flowers and colors unique to my space. We’ve also done this type of treatment as an accent wall behind the sink in a powder room.

 You can tell I love this style!!! This is the back entry into my house. The design of this room, leading into my offices, is over 10 years old but I still adore it. Formerly the garage, this space has low ceilings so we wrapped the vertically oriented design onto the ceiling to add height. Because this design is loosely spaced, the cost was fairly low.

I hope you enjoyed some of my inspiration—the hand-blocked papers are simply beautiful, but murals are great alternatives for a look that’s less expensive and more customizable.  I have a huge favor to ask all my blog friends.  If you haven’t liked Segreto Finishes I would be so appreciative if you scroll up towards the top on the right side and push like! Thanks so much and have a wonderful week!!

Xo  Leslie


Nantucket Charm
Olympus Marble


  1. What an interesting and lovely post, Leslie! I especially love Stacy's powder room!
    A happy Sunday to you!


  2. As we can see and feel what's old is new again but with a twist as iin the ebb and flow in interior design. I love the space that a hand painted mural allows in as much as I love paper there is a perfect place for both. We are heading towards more of a purpose for own home interiors and getting away from throw-away-designs and I am thrilled with this idea.

    While studying for my art history degree the walls in art are the best sources for absorbing the moods the artist conveyed to us and it is the same way our homes. Wall height, colors, light, sunlight and shadows all work together to "tell us something" and "clue us in" to our personal story and sometimes it's a relative theme is tied to our past. It's all good because we make that way.

    Can you tell how much I adore research, history, art, design and the people who are so generous to share that with us both today and from years gone by. Without a story or a history lesson we loose the magic contained within as it gets lost in traslation. Like the blink of butterfly wings, and the sweet pose of birds on a branch, if it weren't preserved in an art we would not "see" it.

  3. Leslie,
    I just love the handpainted wall papers! They add such a personal touch to a room! And looks gorgeous in combination with wainscotting ! Nice post my friend!
    Have a wonderful week!!

  4. Leslie I have always loved de Gournay and Gracie papers, now love your inspired murals even more!

    So gorgeous!

    Art by Karena

  5. Lovely images. Your right, they never go out of style. They are very beautiful.

  6. I found this post fascinating. Thank you for sharing all that absorbing informtion. I would choose a hand painted mural over wallpaper anyday – especially if it was done by Segreto!! x Sharon

  7. Lovely post Leslie. The papers are beautiful but your murals and hand finished walls will last the test of time. I much prefer the latter. Thanks for the beautiful post

  8. Very amazing creation. I admire your talent and I also love those paintings.

  9. Hi Leslie!
    I love hearing the history of these papers, you do an amazing job with that dining room Trisha Dodson did. It turned out gorgeous Loved the "window seat with the bird too!Maryanne xo