Knowing that design ideas can be found anywhere, we enlisted industry mavens Jennifer Rossignuolo and Rose Tejeda-Navarre of the West Town showroom Urban Source to be our spies. Sure enough, they spotted two unusual wall finishes-one at a neighborhood lounge and the other at a downtown restaurant-that had their minds spinning with possibilities.
Glass Bead Wall
by Näss Fresco Finishes, 847-639-1484; frescoplaster.com
Where they saw it: Minibar (3341 N. Halsted St.), where an eye-catching curved wall behind the bar is covered in sparkling gold glass beads
What it's made of: Clear glass beads (the small and medium sizes are made from recycled windshield glass) troweled onto a base of tinted wet plaster. Choose from standard tints, or any custom color.
Why it's cool: This field-applied finish, originally developed for commercial interiors, is suitable for accent areas on any vertical surface. Its sparkly appearance is deceiving; the durable finish withstands nicks and scratches. Best of all: no seams.
How to use at home: The finish would be a luminous focal point in a foyer, a dramatic alternative to wallpaper in a powder room, or a great textural backdrop for art in a display niche.
Having it installed: An installer prepares the wall surface by priming it white or off-white. A tinted fresco plaster base, made bumpy with marble chips, is then applied to the wall and allowed to dry overnight. The following day, the glass beads are hand troweled onto the plaster, where they get stuck in the bumpy base. Näss also offers this finish on modular panels, in custom sizes.
Take note: Must be installed by a professional installer from Näss Fresco Finishes; 50-square-foot minimum per installation
Cost: $18 per square foot, installed
Lead Time: Two weeks
Art Diffusion, available at Urban Source, 1432 W. Chicago Ave.,312-455-0505
Where they saw it: Brazzaz (539 N. Dearborn St.), where it is used as a shimmering room divider
What it's made of: Heavily carved wood or fiberboard panels that you can apply to any vertical surface. Leave them unfinished or prime and paint them (the panels at Brazzaz were painted with a dramatic metallic finish). Choose from 30 patterns; panels come in four-by-eight-foot and four-by-ten-foot sheets, about three-quarters of an inch thick. Patterns can be hung horizontally or vertically on the panels and matched at the seams for an unbroken appearance on a large wall.
Why it's cool: It's so versatile. It can be used for furniture as well as for architectural applications. If you are handy, you can install the panels yourself by cleating them to your wall. There's no need to sand or otherwise prepare the wall first.
How to use at home: This finish would be great in a foyer or as an accent wall in a living room or bedroom. Used as an accent wall, the panels could be painted to match adjacent walls for a subtle yet dramatic effect. Other possibilities include cladding the front of a kitchen island or bar, using carved panels as doors on cabinets, or transforming a ho-hum fireplace into a showpiece.
Having it installed: Panels can be glued or screwed to walls or hung with cleats or z-clips. For best results, a millwork contractor should install the panels, especially if you're trying to match the pattern. Panels can be painted ahead of time or on site.
Take note: Crisp 90-degree corners on both furniture and architectural applications are possible, but tricky-careful detailing is imperative. Consult with a designer or architect.
Cost: $25 per square foot unfinished; $49 per square foot with shop-painted finish. Installation is extra.
Lead Time: Four to six weeks
Photography: Matthew Gilson