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The return of wallpaper

Graphics | March 1, 2007 | By:

There is an old adage that says, “What goes around comes around.” The history of wallpaper is a perfect example of a design tool that has seen its popularity come and go. Once dismissed as something better suited to grandma’s parlor, wallpaper is being reconsidered.

The first recorded use of wallpaper is in 200 b.c. when Chinese peasants glued rice paper to their walls to keep the cold from their homes. Wealthy landowners commissioned wallpapers in the form of opulent tapestries, frescos paintings, as well as hand-painted papers that adorned the walls of palaces and castles.

In the 20th century, wallpaper in the United States often emulated European style landscapes: arabesque patterns and large flower patterns as well as replication of art nouveau classics. The roaring ‘20s marked the height of the wallpaper era. American households purchased a record-setting 400 million rolls of printed-paper.

Today, store designers, interior designers architects, and art curators are introducing an alternative presentation of a wall covering that replaces the cookie cutter boundaries in the “keeping up with the Jones” mentality.

Ron Keyson of the Wallpaper LAB New York, NY, collaborates with contemporary artists to make limited edition wall coverings. “I want toradicalize the design world by introducing content into a medium normally devoid of meaning. An artist has the power to define their space with short-run, permanent, disposable, or replaceable medias at scales that gratify their artistic expression.” His work has received attention from the New York Times.

Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman, principals of workshop/APD New York, NY, are creating living space utilizing fabric coverings. The versatility of fabric inspired the team to create a 50-foot linear interior.Stephen R. Thimme, a member of the project team explains, “The fabric interior of the loft living space is meant to deliver different levels of privacy and visual feel. There are sections where the fabric is entirely translucent, then your eyes wonder a few feet and view fabric and walls layered and still further the visual effects of fabric and milk glass layers.” Thimmes continues, “You are looking at an immense screen with elements that are moveable such as doors, elements that call your eyes further by the fabric’s translucency, and elements that have no moveable parts.”

Centuries after Chinese artisans used rice paper to decorate their castles, leading edge American interior designers are presenting unique applications to their customers. Wallpaper is back.

Susanne Jansson is VP of research & development at Better Mousetrap in Long Island City, N.Y.

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