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04/07/2023   POSTED BY

A Short History of Wallpaper

It was William Morris who said that no pattern should be without some sort of meaning – and that’s how we feel about wallpaper. Dating as far back as the Qin dynasty in China, adding paper to walls has always been about art, creativity and a form of personal expression.

So personal in fact, that there are designs that can make our hearts sing or our stomachs turn. And it was Oscar Wilde who quipped when referring to the décor in his cheap Parisian hotel room, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” In other words, one’s choice in wallpaper really does matter.

It’s a good thing that there is such a huge variety of designs to choose from when it comes to wall murals, because what brings joy to you may not work in another’s home. With such an ability to evoke emotions – whether it’s to calm, soothe and relax, or to excite and inspire – there’s just so much more to wallpaper than meets the eye. But where did this interior story begin? And how did wallpaper become such an important aspect in home design?

Here’s a short history of wallpaper, as told with some of the most timeless styles in our collection…

Ancient China

oriental wallpaper in stylish living room

Mural in Image: Beach Scenery

Our short history of wallpaper begins with the Qin dynasty, where the use of rice paper on walls was invented. Its primary purpose, however, was to insulate homes rather than provide decoration. By the 12th Century, linen fibres were being used to enable intricate painting.

Wall coverings were used to patch up cracked and damaged walls at low cost, and were much thriftier than commissioning frescoes. Restored murals from this period show scenic stories and delicate landscapes, often finished with male and female figures depicting everyday life in China.

Our ‘Beach Scenery’ mural is a modern version of what ancient Chinese wallpaper would have looked like. And despite being inspired by designs that are thousands of years old, this wallpaper still looks great in modern spaces. We think it works best in clean, minimalist homes – but it’s truly versatile, giving you plenty of options when it comes to mixing and matching interior concepts.

16th Century Damask

historic wallpaper

Mural In Photo: Sage Green Damask

We know that the craze of wall coverings entered into Europe through China’s Silk Road, but the earliest surviving fragment of wallpaper in Europe wasn’t until 1509. This artefact in question shows a small section of a mural designed by Hugo Goes of York and features a block print damask design, which became extremely common in Italy and Spain.

Today, damask patterns are still embraced across all areas of interior design, with wallpaper being a quick and easy way of incorporating the look of this ornate fabric into the home without the hefty price tag.

Damask patterned wallpaper can also be a much more affordable option than damask fabrics and upholstery, and offers a modern twist to a traditional trend.

Our collection of damask wallpaper comes in a range of colours to suit your home, whether you love dark hues and bold contrasts, or soft herbaceous greens that align with your botanical design scheme.

The influence of Jean-Baptiste Réveillon

historic jean baptiste wallpaper

Image Source: Pinterest 

We simply cannot create a short history of wallpaper without mentioning the French. The very first machine printed murals came about in the late 18th Century – and France led the way in this industry. Among the best in class was visual artist, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, and he became one of the most revered wallpaper manufacturers in Europe.

Parisian panel designs were typical of Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, with lots of murals depicting beautiful, intricate and feminine imagery, often referencing nature. Gorgeous flowers, magnificent swans and elegant birds were common elements, and these opulent-looking designs were adored by the upper classes.

 The Chinoiserie Craze

oriental branches wallpaper

Mural in Photo: Oriental Branches

Around the time of the French Revolution, there was an increase in wallpaper being exported from China to Europe. Rice paper murals adorned with oriental flowers, gardens and landscapes filled the homes of the rich. Very quickly, the trend of chinoiserie interiors became a hit, not just with the aristocracy, but in homes of the middle classes.

This unique style quickly became copied by European wallpaper producers, and oriental murals would soon become commonplace in the Western world. To this day, chinoiserie remains a much-loved trend, with appreciation for oriental wallpaper designs inspired by Japan as well as China.

For anyone who loves botanical décor, there’s no better way of bringing the outside in than with our favourite oriental garden wallpapers. Not only does adding the colour green to your home create a sense of calm and relaxation, but the scenic mural often tells a story, giving you the perfect focal point in a living room or dining room.

The William Morris Era

william morris floral wallpaper

Mural In Photo: Honeysuckle

The popularity of wallpaper had its highs and lows in the time of William Morris. Surrounded by controversy due to using large amounts of arsenic in their dyes, Morris & Co was caught up in a public relations nightmare as deaths were linked to their products. Despite never accepting blame, they did end up making their wall covers arsenic-free.

After that, modernism became a popular concept in homes, with bare walls gaining preference over wallpapered walls. For a long time, wall coverings were seen as ‘old’ and ‘outdated’, including those of Morris & Co.

But today, wallpaper is undergoing a huge comeback – and the part that William Morris played has created a big market for maximalism across Europe and the rest of the world. He brought some of the most interesting wallpaper designs to the masses – and many of these have stood the test of time! In fact, a lot of his designs are still being printed today…

This ‘Honeysuckle’ wallpaper by is one of the most sought after in our William Morris collection, and it is ideal for the transitional home where old meets new. A truly timeless piece, we promise it will be a talking point for interior design fans.

 

We hope you have enjoyed our short history of wallpaper. This is by no means an exhaustive timeline of events, but it touches on some of our favourite periods throughout time. If you have a favourite wallpaper style from any of these periods, let us know in the comments below…

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