Wallpaper’s having a major moment in home design – and for good reason
Not only can it add a fresh look to any room at any price point, but there are also colors, patterns and textures to suit every space and every taste – whether you paper every wall from floor to ceiling or choose one feature wall to showcase.
As current a trend as wallpaper may be, it’s never gone out of style. In fact, it’s a time-honored tradition with a rich history that stretches back centuries. The Chinese hung decorative rice paper on their walls for a thousand years, and European merchants and everyday people began to decorate with paper tapestries around 500 years ago.
In this project, HomeAdvisor delves into the history and technique of wallpaper design over the last 500 years.
Here’s a preview of the interactive vertical slideshow the team created, showcasing 12 stunning European wallpaper designs, stretching back to Germany in the 1530s.
Which style do you think would most suit your own home?
Wallpaper Techniques & Designs Through the Ages
Wallpaper became popular in Europe in Renaissance times, partly due to the arrival of woodblock printing techniques from China. Wealthy Europeans had decorated their walls with tapestries, but wallpaper was a more affordable option.
In fact, a lot of early wallpaper mimicked the look of more expensive materials, which is one reason it gained the stigma of being ‘cheap,’ although wealthy people liked it, too. As you can see from our examples, early wallpaper was produced in large square tiles rather than as a continuous roll.
A Guild of Paperhangers was established in France in 1599, indicating how common the art and fashion had become. These wallpaper makers began to develop or adopt new techniques to hasten production or create more beautiful effects, depending on the clientele.
Flock wallpaper was made by embossing paper with powdered wool, giving the false impression of silk. Paper makers began gluing sheets together to make rolls, too, so the repeated design could be bigger – giving a sense of extravagance.
It was only in the 1700s that wallpaper gained popularity in America. Wealthy colonists in more settled areas imported it from Europe, and mass manufacturing wallpaper started in the early 1800s.
Meanwhile, in Britain, the popularity of wallpaper led the government to begin taxing the industry. Makers concentrated on the top end of the market to maximize profits. Imported Chinese wallpaper became the ultimate upholstering luxury. Chinese paper was painted (not printed) with scenes of birds, plants, and daily life, rather than a repeating pattern.
These designs are from the decade in which Dickens published Hard Times. The industrial revolution brought with it the first wallpaper printing machine. Paper was printed in long rolls (rather than separate pieces stuck together). Cheaper, less luxurious-looking paper was possible, so that all but the poorest could now wallpaper their rooms.
The famous William Morris, poster boy (pun intended) of the Arts & Crafts Movement, breathed beauty into regular homes by designing nature-inspired papers with pre-industrial techniques. Meanwhile, ‘design reformers’ like A. W. N. Pugin took the more Gradgrindly opinion that wallpaper should be ornamental and not imitate the three-dimensional world of plants and horses.
Early 20th-century designers and homeowners were spoilt for inspiration*thanks to birth of mass media and the boom in artistic tendencies such as cubism or jazz age design. Reams of wallpaper were printed and pasted in a vast variety of styles, especially at the cheaper end of the market. Wallpaper became more durable and less liable to fade.
But as the design vocabulary of wallpaper expanded, modernists sought to quieten the noise with simplicity and form-follows-function. Le Corbusier demanded, in 1925, that “Every citizen is required to replace his hangings, his damasks, his wall-papers, his stencils, with a plain coat of white Ripolin.” Still, the 20th-century rooms most you remember were boldly and stylishly wallpapered.
Wallpaper hit a low point as a popular DIY option around the 1980s. But in recent decades, wallpaper has come back as a chic choice for homemakers who want to create an impression.
Wallpaper remains a pleasurable way to bring great design into your home – especially since fine artists and fashion designers have taken to the fray. Like vinyl records or real photographic film, wallpaper is a way to savor your surroundings.
Check out the latest wallpaper design trend below
Shop these trendy wallpapers at Takealot
Convenient and easy to set up with everything you need included, expanding rods are a simple DIY solution for any window.
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