The history of wallpaper
These days wall coverings and interior decorating industry trends change as rapidly and dramatically as the fashion industry. Interior design is as important as fashion – you portray your inner world in your housing, with various decorations you can tell the world what are your preferences, desires, and what is your personality, just like with apparel.
Though home renovation projects are not as inexpensive as buying a new piece of pants or a fancy scarf – a lot of work, planning, and expenses are to be taken care of, when redecorating your housing. That is why many people don’t participate in the newest interior design trends and just get by with the old stuff they have in their housing.
But recently this has changed – thanks to the novel peel & stick wallpaper, anyone can easily jump into the newest trends. What’s so special about this wallpaper is that you can just stick it to the wall like you would stick a sticker – you don’t need special glue or a team of wallpaper-gluing specialists. You can apply the wallpaper on your wall just by yourself in one nice evening. This advantage of the peel & stick wallpaper allows people to follow different color, pattern, or style trends. As easy as the wallpaper can be applied, it can be taken off of the wall, thus you can change the wallpaper every year, season or day, it is completely up to your decision and determination!
It all sounds very wonderful, even futuristic, and unrealistic, and it makes us think –but how did we get here? Just yesterday we had to fight through this whole messy process of wallpaper applying, but now we can just take the wallpaper and stick it with one touch of a hand. How did the basic wallpaper evolve into that? If that’s what wallpaper is now – a sticker, what was it at the beginning? What are the origins of wallpaper? Well, that’s exactly what we will tell you in this article – the history of wallpaper.
A brief history of wallpaper
The origins of wallpaper
It is believed that the first wallpaper ever was made in China way before the common era. China was the place where paper was invented, and later on, people started to apply it on the walls. Though beforehand, they hand-painted it with beautiful designs that included birds, flowers and nature landscapes. The Chinese brought the beauty of nature indoors, and after hundreds of years, other cultures drew their inspiration from them and decided to integrate this beauty in their interior designs too. That’s how wallpaper made its way to Europe around the 16th century.
The first wallpaper in Europe
Wallpaper was most popular in Renaissance Europe, where France and England became the leaders of wallpaper manufacturing. High quality wallpaper straight from China was regularly brought to the wealthy men of Europe - only they were able to afford it, since this kind of wallpaper was entirely hand-painted and thus extremely expensive (it is worth mentioning, that the manufacturers of Europe tried to imitate it by printing a design outline and then hand-painting the wallpaper). Earliest prints in Europe were simple, small, multi-purpose pieces of paper (sometimes called dominoes), that were used to line boxes, books, insides of cupboards and, of course, to decorate the walls. Initially, domino wallpapers depicted political or devotional images, but later included geometric shape designs. Those became more fashionable around the 18th century, when people started to join the various design pieces together, forming proper wallpaper patterns. Though the whole wallpaper applying process was not the same as today – instead of pasting the paper on the wall, paper sheets were hung loosely on the wall. This practice continued well into the 18th century, until paste was invented and pasting methods applied.
Wallpaper printing methods
Wallpaper gained huge approval because of its visual appeal and the demand for it rose. The production process had to evolve in order to fulfill the high demand. For efficient manufacturing, people turned from hand-painting to stencils and block printing (a method, where hand-carved printing blocks are covered with paint and then pressed onto the paper to reveal a colored pattern. Polychrome patterns required the use of several blocks – one for every color). These methods guaranteed the fastest results, and were used until the introduction of machine printing. The block printing technique was improved with time and it meant that by the mid-18th century, patterns could be printed in various colors and styles - the polychrome patterns had become quite popular.The wallpaper industry grew in success. The most popular designs included floral patterns, especially those with roses and carnations, as well as architectural and landscape scenes.
Turning point for wallpaper
With the Industrial Revolution, many things evolved, including wallpaper industry. In the 19th century, a wallpaper business called “Potter&Co” introduced a machine that printed wallpaper in four colors, and could print out 400 rolls a day. They did it by adapting the methods used in the printing of calico – the paper was passed over the surface of a large cylindrical drum and had a pattern placed on by a number of rollers that were arranged around its base. Later, eight color printing method was introduced, and then even twenty colors. The 19th century was very influential for the wallpaper industry. Various wallpapers were produced more easily do to the mechanical machine involvement. Artists used wallpaper for their colorful and sophisticated designs. Wallpaper had reached its peak point.
The downfall of wallpaper
With technology advancement and easy mass production, the market was flooded with cheaper wallpaper. It became extremely popular, since working-class people were able to afford it – the great, patterned decoration element that could brighten up dark, plain rooms. During that time, almost every middle-class housing had wallpapers. But with mass production, the quality significantly dropped and the wallpaper industry faced a decline in the early 20th century – people turned back to the paint industry. To solve this problem, the wallpaper industry yet again had to evolve.
Wallpaper in the 20th century
In the early 20th century, wallpaper struggled against modernism and its characteristic features – minimalism, monochromatic color palette, clean lines. But even though this new trend pushed out the rich, colorful designs, wallpaper was still used here and there because of its advantages. Wallpaper was great for smoothing uneven walls, and simpler designs helped to visually expand modest living spaces. In the 1960s and ‘70s, maximalism was back, and so was wallpaper. Though it had its grand return, the trend quickly burned out and, again, wallpapers popularity dwindled. The fact that wallpaper was not durable, could be easily damaged by water, torn and scraped, did not help the wallpaper's popularity either. With time people learned to solve these problems, but, still, it was not a top choice in the Modern Era.
21st century - the boom of innovative wallpapers
It feels like the 21st century, with the help of clever minds and new technologies, has brought wallpaper back to light. There are various unbelievable types of wallpaper available nowadays. A company called “Meystyle” even invented LED-incorporated wallpaper – this kind of wallpaper creates an even more comforting and welcoming atmosphere in the room and the lights in the paper look like fireflies. A German wallpaper company created layers of concrete, marble, and slate on rolled paper. And speaking of wonderful wallpaper innovations, heat sensitive wallpapers have been created too! For example, there are heat sensitive wallpapers with flower designs, which start to “bloom” once heat is near the paper. Such wallpaper works wonders if there is a radiator against the wall.
Peel & stick wallpaper – the new alternative for traditional wallpapers
As already mentioned above, a great new alternative to the traditional wallpaper has been created in recent years – self-adhesive wallpaper. Essentially, it is an “updated” version of wallpaper which abolishes the issues that are associated with the conventional wallpaper (for example complicated applying process, the need for special tools and glue, as well as the permanent results, which many people fear from). As the name itself explains, all you have to do is peel off the protective layer from the backside and stick the wallpaper to a smooth surface. Just like a sticker! And the best part is, that you don’t need to buy a special glue and the wallpaper can be removed from the wall without damaging it or leaving small pieces of paper on it. A very innovative wallpaper, wouldn’t you agree? Peel and stick wallpaper can be applied on any smooth surface. On the wardrobe, table, stair risers, even the ceiling! Removable wallpaper lets people experiment with their taste and change the interior even according to seasons or festivities. Aren’t wallpapers these days amazing?
There is no doubt that wallpaper has had its highs and lows. But without the lows, wallpaper would not have had the chance to evolve, adapt to different needs, trends and tastes. Without that, we wouldn’t have the amazing LED wallpapers, self-adhesive, heat-sensitive wallpapers. Now, when there are so many options available, when you can get wallpaper for any room, purpose, in any color, with any design, it has the best chance to stay afloat in the market.
There are so many people in this world and each and every one has their own taste. Interior decors, supplies, wallpapers – everything is available at our fingertips these days, all you need is internet connection and money, of course. Everyone can find something that suits their taste! It is not like we have one market for the whole city with limited options, which people get tired of after a while. No, the options today are limitless and that’s why wallpaper will not disappear anytime soon.
The work of interior designers will keep wallpaper around, as well as the many artists we have these days. This world is built around consumption, so a product with such rich history, practical qualities, and potential will not be just thrown away. And even if the Grim Reaper does come for wallpaper once again, what we can learn and have learned from history, is that it will definitely come back once more – improved and with new designs to offer. So, let’s give wallpaper a chance, because who knows what wallpaper will offer us in the future. Perhaps something interactive, or maybe we will turn back to the past and focus more on the traditional designs? Only time will tell.