Some say wallpaper serves no other purpose than to provide ornament, as if it were nothing more than the bright blue eyeshadow on interior decorating's face. It's fun and livens things up, but if overdone it causes quite an unflattering reaction from its beholders. Whoa! Someone turn down the volume before I go blind!

The powerful, almost magical effect wallpaper has on a room—transforming it from a boring "white wall" asylum to a beautiful Springtime garden or a groovy 1960s playroom—is the reason why, in these times of uncertainty and instability, we should be laying aside our paint brushes and hanging up paper instead. There is no greater way to find comfort and security than by stepping back into the warm surrounding arms of vintage wallpaper.

As nostalgia maintains its inspirational hold over fashion and home décor designers, it makes sense that vintage wallpaper would become a part of the retro revival. "Wallpaper styles have always followed the trends in other areas of design, such as architecture, furniture, fashion." says Greg Herringshaw, Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. As the overseer of the largest wallpaper collection in the United States—a collection started in 1900 and now containing over 10,000 examples—Mr. Herringshaw knows wallpaper and its evolution from handcrafted labor of love to convenient sticky contact paper. (For further information about the museum and tours, click here:

Wallpaper as we know it today owes a lot of credit to Domino paper, a decorative paper used for end papers and for lining drawers, shelves, and trunks, popular in 17th and 18th Century France. Since most of the public couldn't afford to decorate or insulate their homes with tapestries or wallhangings, the precursors to wallpaper, it became popular to paste up these sheets of paper on walls with animal glue or wheat-starch paste. However, the process to make this type of wallpaper was still expensive and labor-intensive.

Before the innovations of machines that allowed wallpaper printing on rolls of paper (around 1840) and the invention of wood pulp paper (1850s), craftsmen hand printed individual sheets made of cotton fiber fabric using the wood block method. Yes, the same printing technique taught to you by your kindergarten teacher created panels made of rags that adorned the walls of palaces. (Not surprisingly, some of these older wallpapers are in better condition today than later-made ones because of the stronger cotton material.)

Frenchman Jean-Michel Papillon is credited with inventing block designs that formed continuous patterns in 1675. In order to prefectly repeat the patterns, the printing technique had to be almost scientific. Blocks had to be meticulously lined up to the margins so the colors wouldn't be smudged or unintentionally overlap each other. Because you couldn't print in shades (early wallpaper had a flat, non-depth appearance), only solid blocks of colors could be used, and only one color per block. Colors were typically vibrant secondary and tiertiary colors (not your primary blue, yellow, and red). With this method, more colors meant more blocks. It also required extraordinary amounts of patience as each color of paint would have to dry before the next one could be applied. And, finally, the finished sheets were glued together, matching the pattern at the top of one sheet to the bottom of another, and forming jointed panels to be pasted up on the wall.

Europeans were not the only ones creating decorative paper for hanging in the home. On the other side of the world, dating back to the 1600s, the Chinese were using a handmade method with rice paper and ink. This method is still used today and gives the Chinese art of decorative wallcovering a very unique and specific look. Colonial America was also joining the wallpaper fad, following the patterns of Europe and also creating designs that fit with the patriotic zeal of the new country.

As far as European designs went, floral patterns and stripes were standards from the beginning. In 1680, flocking, a velvety texture made by gluing finely powdered wool, cloth, or other material onto the paper, became a perennial favorite. Irisé, a rainbow effect in the ground color, was the craze from 1820 to 1835. Both design styles gave paper that very desired expensive appearance.

When the Rococo Revival was going strong in Europe from the 1820s to the 1870s, you saw wallpaper with C-scrolls, cartouches, and lattice designs. The Arts and Crafts period in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries featured linear floral patterns and densely layered designs like those created by William Morris. [For more on William Morris, go to]

The 20th Century brought about divine innovations. Pre-pasted paper made wallpaper hanging a lot less messy. The 1950s brought the invention of vinyl fabric and contact paper. Now you could wipe off the grime on your walls without wiping away the color and ruining the design. The mid-to-late century designs reflect every aspect of society:  railroad cars, Star Wars, martini glasses, space, psychedelic daisies, the range of patterns is endless (and ghastly out of control in some cases). The latter part of the century saw digital printing's quest to speed up the process even more. But, according to Mr. Herringshaw, the beginning of the 21st Century is finding designers more inclined to look to the past for inspiration, using handmade design techniques for a "unique, more authentic look" to wallpaper. Which reminds me, they're not calling wallpaper wallpaper anymore. It's now wallcovering since it isn't just made of paper. Progress.

With so many colors, patterns, and textures to choose from today, and with affordable to not-so-affordable prices, vintage wallpaper is calling forth a whole new creativity in wall decoration. No longer needed to keep the cold out and the warm in, vintage wallpaper can be used at the whimsy of the hanger. Stick up bright colorful stripes in a closet. Add luxurious flocked paper to one wall of a room. Adorn a kitchen cupboard with floral lattices. Whatever way you choose to use it, vintage wallpaper will change the way you feel about a room. And, if you want a Whoa! reaction, I'm sure someone out there has the right wallpaper for you.

Wallpaper Help and Our Suggestions On Where to Buy Help

I will not lie to you, wallpaper is not lickety-split easy to hang, but there is advice to be found on the Internet. Here are a couple sites to help you figure out the intricacies of hanging wallpaper. You might want to ask a friend or two for help your first time. With authentic antique wallpaper, best to let the professionals hang it up as too much moisture will turn your wallpaper into nothing better than a messy soaked paper towel.  The Web site for the National Guild of Professional Paper Hangers, go here if you don't want to chance it. You'll be able to find someone in your neighborhood who can do the hanging for you. This page on Martha Stewart's company Web site has great tips for matching patterns. There's even a "good thing": using your leftover vintage wallpaper to make glass coasters.   Not only does this site have a large selection of wallpaper, including "vintage reproduction" styles that include William Morris and Christopher Dresser, but it also has simple and thorough instructions on the whole process—from stripping off the old to hanging up the new.

Home Porfolio, tel. 617-965-0565  

"To help consumers create the homes of their dreams." If you don't know what your taste is in wallpaper or even how to begin decorating your home, check out web-based Home Portfolio. It's an incredibly helpful place to figure out what your interior decorating likes and dislikes are. You will know in the blink of an eye if you think you could live with a particular geometric pattern on your wall or if it will send you into spasms. Site extras include the ability to save the styles you like in your own portfolio for future reference and a finder to help hunt down where a particular designer's wallpaper may be sold. Retro and hip wallpaper designers include melinamade and David Goldberg (I hear Madonna is a fan).

Secondhand Rose, 138 Duane Street New York City, tel. 212-393-9002

She's been featured on Martha Stewart Living and HGTV, recently graced the pages of Japanese publication Magnet, adorned the walls of fashion shoots and movie sets, and hung in New York City's Tenement Museum. She's Secondhand Rose, aka Suzanne Lipschutz, and her sidekick, 25,000 rolls of vintage wallpaper! Suzanne is owner of THE mecca for vintage wallpaper, Secondhand Rose, a storefront in New York City's Tribeca district. With rolls dating back to the 19th Century, this store has a seemingly limitless supply of designs ranging from the Asian motifs of Chinoiserie to the groovy visual illusions of the 1960s' Op-Art movement. Manager and wallpaper master, Martin Dinowitz, along with Suzanne, has been collecting wallpaper for 40 years, with sources coming from every direction including yard sales, estate auctions, flea markets and attics. Martin will help you sort through the 20 volumes of wallpaper samples and help you figure out what suits your pleasure. Or, go to their Web site and look through the online patterns, but keep in mind the Web site has only a tiny portion of the store's full stock.

With authentic antique and vintage wallpaper like this, expect the prices to run high. They range from $70 to $1,200 per roll (that's if you're looking for original Frank Lloyd Wright). Some of the older paper looks pretty fragile and you'll probably want a professional to hang it making it a more costly endeavor, but you are paying for the real deal here. And, wouldn't you love to tell your neighbors your wallpaper comes from the same source that has wallpaper in the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum's permanent collection?

Adelphi Paper Hangings,

The craft of wallpaper making is not lost. In fact, it's being brilliantly celebrated at Adelphi Paper Hangings. Based in Virginia, the artisans at Adelphi make wallpaper the old school way. All wallpaper is handcrafted using the original methods: wood blocks, cotton fiber material, sheets glued together, distempered dyes, antique designs, etc., and sold at affordable prices for "a reasonable profit." One nice reality check is the addition of a glue that allows binding in the dye, making it less vulnerable to moisture's destructive effects. This site is also a great place to receive a free course on art history.


Melina Copass is making quite a name for herself in the fabric design industry. Her wallpaper stock is mainly her own creations, "not reproductions of actual old wallpaper or fabrics but 50s-60s icons and patterns taken from various mediums (a plate, a cup, a car, old ads, old drawings, etc.) and recreated by hand onto my fabric and wallpaper by me." She recently added to her collection authentic vintage 1970s OpArt "dead stock" wallpaper from Belgium worth consideration if you're wanting to make a really keen statement. With glassware also available, is definitely a site to check out for a whimsical period style throughout your home.

Hannah Treasures, tel. 866-755-3173 (toll free)

If your home decorating dream takes inspiration from the popular floral patterns of the 20s through the 60s, then Hannah's Treasures is bound to have wallpaper for you. Owner Marilyn Krehbiel sells her vintage wallpaper—with styles described as "Victorian" and "Cottage Chic"—at prices ranging between $60 and $125 per roll. Of course, quantities are limited so you will want to call to find out availability. The children's prints are simply adorable. Samples are available.

Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers, tel. 707-746-1900

Beautiful "historic" wallpaper is what the designers of Bradbury & Bradbury produce in their massive studio near San Francisco, California. Dividing their wallpaper up into three different design periods—Victorian, Arts & Crafts, and Neo-Classical—using handmade methods that include silk screen printing, and coordinating walls with ceiling patterns, you will be hanging paper masterpieces all over the place. The Arts & Crafts movement is particularly interesting with its landscape and pendant friezes. Going against the annabelle policy of DIY and cheap, cheap, cheap, Bradbury & Bradbury will set you back a pretty penny (prices are unlisted on the Web site if that's any indication of cost). To order a catalog of the 600 pattern/color choices, call the number above or order online. An in-house design service is also available.


Go to the search function. Type in the words "Vintage Wallpaper." Wait. And viola! Here's where you can find truly affordable wallpaper. You may not be getting actual vintage wallpaper (even though it says the word "vintage," it may be reproductions of popular wallpaper designs from the past). The selection is huge with usually over 200 items to bid on. Some of the designs are garish and downright frightful (whoever wants cupids or carpentry tools adorning their walls, good luck!), but you might be able to find a bargain treasure among the ruins. As always with eBay, bidder beware.


Features: Travel: Finding Harmony | Collecting: Reverend Jen and the Troll Museum | Decorating: Vintage Wallpaper | Photo Gallery: Vintage Fashion | Home: Vintage Kitchen | Manners: Interview With Etiquette Expert Letitia Baldrige | Lifestyle: Where Did You Get That?

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