Here's an interesting email that I just received this weekend:
Subject: Grass Cloth Wallpaper in the Kitchen
I'm toying with the idea of putting grass cloth wallpaper in my kitchen (but not behind any counter space or the stove) and was wondering your thoughts about this idea. A kitchen designer we meet with suggested against it because it would retain smells from food prep. This will be in my kitchen that is not heavily used...maybe one meal every other week. Would you recommend grass cloth wallpaper in the kitchen? People put fabric curtains up and sometimes have fabric covered furniture in the kitchen and would seem to be the same.
This is a great question, Amanda. As our kitchens become ever more integrated with surrounding living areas and/or decor, it's time to think about this question! I've been a strong advocate for some years of using soft fabrics, wall coverings that we love, as well as artwork, in the kitchen.
These decorative elements sometimes come with a "price to pay" for their inclusion in the kitchen. In my own kitchen, I have a sofa as well as good artwork, so I have lived with this issue.
Here's the answer you are NOT looking for, unfortunately. I cannot advise you specifically, as I am unaware of two things:
a. the proximity of the wallcovering to the main part of your kitchen. Even though you mention that it is not a backsplash treatment, it could well be surrounding your cabinetry, oven, and cooktop areas, and
b. whether you have adequate ventilation in the kitchen
In the end, it's really about the type of ventilation that you have in your kitchen. I'm referring to a hood or a downdraft (a poor cousin.) If your cooking ventilation is planned properly, cooking odors, fumes, and toxins are a minor issue at worst, but it depends on the proximity of the soft coverings to the cooktop or oven. "Prep" as you note, is a non issue. Cooking and moisture will affect the soft coverings. Cooking a meal once every other week makes this entire problem even more of a non issue, especially if you have adequate venting.
It IS important to understand that your fabrics in and around the kitchen, over time, may be somewhat affected by cooking odors, etc. Soft coverings in a kitchen, whether on the walls or on furniture, will also experience more wear than they would in other rooms...people leaning against or brushing against walls, frequent use of fabrics on chairs and pillows and increased general use of soft coverings.
Thinking flexibly about the durability of your soft coverings is the way to go. You may want to put "clean the fabrics" on your schedule for once a year. I happen to use and like Stanley Steemer but it's best to check with a professional fabric cleaner for more expensive fabrics and furnishings. Cleaning grasscloth is not easy or even recommended in most cases outside of using a vacuum for surface dust.
That said, you may need to reevaluate the overall durability of your grasscloth, say, 5 years down the road. Keep expectations for soft coverings flexible, again, as the durability will depend on use and ventilation issues. Small image from the book "Kitchens" by Chris Madden.