Peek Inside the Patterned Victorian Home of a Wallpaper Maker

Wallpaper entrepreneur Elizabeth Rees updated a 19th-century Victorian in her hometown with lots of paint and, yes, a few sheets of wallpaper.

"People always assume that my house must be covered in wallpaper," says Elizabeth Rees, founder of Chasing Paper. "But I've tried to be restrained." True to her word, Elizabeth has used her company's signature removable wallpapers sparingly and strategically in her 1870s home.

Elizabeth Rees with family on sofa in home
Jay Wilde

She and husband Brian Leadley moved back to their hometown of Milwaukee three years ago after more than a decade in New York City, where Elizabeth started Chasing Paper as something of a happy accident. Looking for a temporary but impactful way to decorate her rental apartment, she tapped her family's 94-year-old printing company to create removable wallpaper from designs she collaborated on with artists and illustrators. Friends asked where they could buy the paper, and Elizabeth's experiment grew to become one of the company’s biggest customers. Moving home felt like the natural next step.

blonde Cream City brick Brooklyn brownstone exterior
Jay Wilde

homeowner Elizabeth Rees

I wanted modern touches juxtaposed against the old features of the home.

— homeowner Elizabeth Rees

Located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in town, their blond Cream City brick home has a layout typical of the Brooklyn brownstones Elizabeth had long admired. "Every person who owned this home took incredible care of it," she says. But the couple didn't want to live in a time capsule. "I wanted modern touches juxtaposed against the old features of the home," Elizabeth says. Enter the geometric paper that counters the Victorian moldings of the original entryway. In the living room, Rees embraced the times with a TV over the ornate fireplace. But she balanced it by adding period-appropriate built-in shelves. And in the kitchen, a "terrazzo" papered backsplash is an of-the-moment flourish the couple can replace as their style evolves—or when Elizabeth's company rolls out a new design.

modern living room with teal-blue walls and black window trim
Jay Wilde

Elizabeth worried that her first-choice paint, Farrow & Ball's Oval Room Blue, would be too bold. So she hedged and picked a lighter paint. But, she says, "It looked like a baby's room." For round two, she went with her gut. "As soon as we got one wall done, I knew it was the right choice." Painting the new built-in shelves the same rich blue helps them blend seamlessly so they look like they've been there forever.

arched entryway with wallpaper and black doors
Jay Wilde

Chasing Paper's Porto Tile pattern in the original entryway is visible from multiple vantage points and helps set the home's blue, white, and black palette.

rustic dining table in room with lavender-gray walls
Jay Wilde

For the walls, they chose a gray with a hint of lavender to play off the blue living room and the red undertone of the floors. (It's Whirlpool by Benjamin Moore.) "I bought a lot of samples to get that color right," Elizabeth says. The overhead light is one of many modern chandeliers the couple installed. They saved the original fixtures though. "We wanted to make sure they stay with the home."

blue geometric wallpaper in modern bathroom
Jay Wilde

The original floor tiles were keepers. The 1970s wallpaper, however, was decidedly less timeless. "It was really hard to remove, which gave me some newfound excitement for my own product," she says. The blue Starburst Tile pattern ties the room to the rest of the home.

small black and white kitchen corner with retro tile
Jay Wilde

The compact kitchen had an efficient layout and quality cabinets but was too dark. So Elizabeth hired pros to putty, sand, and paint the cabinetry and attach simple black hardware. The wallpaper backsplash and a new overhead light fixture are trendy touches that can easily be updated later. "[The makeover] cost about $3,500, but the transformation was like night and day," she says.

laundry room with blue geometric wallpaper and shelf
Jay Wilde

Blue reappears in a pattern meant to mimic cement tile (Italian Tile, Chasing Paper). Throughout the home, Elizabeth relies on blue as the star of the tight palette. The color continuity is a smart designers' tactic to create a high-end look.

blush modern nursery with wallpaper and daybed
Jay Wilde

In the nursery, Elizabeth papered all four walls in Spotted, one of her quiet neutral patterns that, along with woven and carved pieces, lends the space texture. "You notice it, but it's not hit-you-over-the-head," she says. The daybed doubles as a spot for overnight guests and tired parents. (The couple is expecting another baby this year.)

Elizabeth Rees in blue room with wallpaper swatches
Jay Wilde

Peel-and-stick papers are a low-committal way to add zip. Elizabeth Rees says to only apply to smooth surfaces. Skip textured walls, matte paint finishes, and walls painted in the previous four weeks. Go slow. Start at the top of the wall. Peel the back off the top of the panel, press it to the wall, then peel off small sections as you work your way down. When you reach a tricky spot like a window, use a ruler and a crafts knife to cut clean lines. Smooth paper with a flat object like a ruler. Prick any remaining bubbles with a pin to release the air.

Updated by
Jennifer Berno DeCleene
Jennifer DeCleene headshot

Jennifer DeCleene is a photo stylist, interior decorator, and design writer with over two decades of editorial experience. She contributes to national shelter and lifestyle magazines including Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living, and Country Living.

After a decade spent working as a magazine editor, including stints at O, The Oprah Magazine, Cottage Living, Southern Living, and most recently as the Home & Style Director at HGTV Magazine, Jennifer leveraged her editorial experience into an independent creative venture. She styles photo shoots for a wide range of brands, both editorial and commercial, and produces written content for design-focused clients. As a decorator for discerning homeowners, Jennifer is known for her friendly, detail-oriented approach, and her dedication to crafting spaces uniquely suited to each client's needs and tastes. Jennifer graduated from New York University with a degree in English and American Literature.

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