Wallpaper wows

Good advice from William Morris, a leading designer of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Paint and/or wallpaper can make a statement by setting a mood or providing an accent as in the trend to do one wall in a contrasting color or with paper.

Courtesy Thames & Hudson.

But wallpaper itself hasn’t always been so well thought of, according to “The Art of Wallpaper — Color, Draw, Create” ($19.95), a recent collaboration between the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and publisher Thames & Hudson. In 1760, French writer Mme. de Genlis denounced the shift from tapestries to newfangled papers as wall coverings, especially the taste for English wallpapers:

“In the old days…the house was furnished with tapestries made to last as long as the building; the trees (people) planted were their children’s heritage; they were sacred woodlands. Today forests are felled and children are left with debts, paper on their walls, and new houses that fall to pieces.” (You can only wonder what she would make of America’s disposable culture.)

 In the 250-plus years since Mme. de Genlis penned those withering words, wallpaper has gone in and out of fashion. Since it was first mass-produced in the mid-19th century, it was designed “to look like something else — tapestry, velvet, chintz, silk drapery, linen, wood, masonry or a mural” — as the book’s historical overview notes. A century later, the floral chintz country look that had been in vogue began to give way to bolder contemporary designs, thanks to Lucienne Day and John Line’s Palladio and Modus designs.

With the return of retro chic in the 1990s, wallpaper has been added to the mix of wall décor. (We ourselves use it to complementary effect in closets and to give our pink, black and white master bath a retro feminine yet wintry feel.)

Or you can rework traditional designs, as in “the gritty urban environments…” of Glasgow-based studio Timorous Beasties.

“The Art of Wallpaper” not only tours you through 320 years of wallpaper design as culled from the V&A’s collection. It enables you to make your own based on pointers in the book.

For more, visit thamesandhudsonusa.com and vam.ac.uk.

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