It would be fair to say that most of us take wallpaper completely for granted, but here at Rushton & Company, we like to take a bit of a geeky interest in the origins of our work – so this week we’re going to share a brief history of wallpaper with you…
Wallpaper – the early years
Wallpaper has been around in some form or another for a very long time. As early as 200BC, the Chinese were gluing rice paper to their walls, but it wasn’t until the 10th century that Arabs started using linen fibres to create stronger and thinner papers that allowed for greater printing experimentation.
Production methods barely changed until fairly recently, with printing blocks being the recognised method of transferring patterns to paper – a method still used today on premium products. However, this all changed with the introduction of the paper roll designed by Louis Robert in France in 1798. Up until this point, wallpaper was made by pasting together up to 12 handmade pieces of paper – a laborious and expensive task – but when Fourdrinier came along in 1807 and patented a machine designed to create rolls of any length, the entire landscape changed.
Thus began the heyday of wallpaper…
The 19th century
During the 19th century, wallpaper became the standard choice for interior decoration, but it was not without its problems. The use of lead and arsenic (yes, you read that right!) in many of the dyes raised some pretty obvious health concerns, causing manufacturers to think again and invest in better quality dyes.
The 19th century also saw the birth of the dado rail – a feature designed to create interest and juxtaposition in interior design. This idea remained popular into the late-Victorian period where it was expanded to include friezes and statement walls, or even complementary patterns on the same wall.
The 20th century
Modernism in the mid to late 30s largely put paid to wallpaper, where it was shunned in favour of clean and minimal painting – but until then, the 20th century was awash with cubist and futurist Art Deco wallpaper designs for the masses. The more well-to-do members of society embraced Art Deco too, but reverted back to silk and fabric printed papers for a more traditional (and expensive) look.
The 40s through to the 70s brought us papers that fitted the times perfectly: flowery and cheerful designs to brighten war-time houses for the 40s; futuristic and zany designs for the atomic age of the 50s; psychedelic designs for the swinging 60s, and garish designs that took the experimentation of the 60s into the 70s.
The 80s were largely the age of woodchip – the design that saw wallpaper fall dramatically out of fashion. It wasn’t until very recently that wallpaper made a comeback, but with retro designs and some beautiful modern papers being produced to a very high standard again, we’re seeing much more call for our wallpapering services.
We hoped you enjoyed reading our quick guide to the history of wallpaper – if you’re not sure what type of wallpaper is best suited for your home, take a look at our blog which explains the different wallpapers on the market today, and their application.