Although wallpaper today is widely used in all types of interiors, this was not always the case. The history of wallpaper is not only the history of wall coverings, but also one of ornamental patterns, design, technological advances, and domestic taste. Traces and fragments of wallpaper date back from the 16th century in England. Then, wallpaper’s humble beginnings consisted of black and white woodblock prints on sheets of paper. By the mid-17th century, these same sheets of paper were joined together to form rolls. The more colors used, the more elaborate the process and, hence, the more expensive. The story of wallpaper is one of taste and styles falling in and out of favor over time. Wall coverings imitated expensive fabrics and panoramic scenes like daily life in exotic places. These rolls of decorative motifs were even banned at one point in Britain, deemed too vain and frivolous by the powers that be.
Originally used to embellish the inside of cupboards and smaller rooms, by the beginning of the 20th century, wallpaper was everywhere – hallways, kitchens, bedrooms, and the grandest of reception rooms. Wallpaper is used to animate and decorate, but also for the sheer beauty of the material and imaginative storytelling. With such exquisite wall coverings, care must be taken to preserve and conserve their condition. One should always refer back to the makers for specific instructions and how to dust and treat any possible wear and tear, which may occur over time. As a rule of thumb, wipe the surfaces with a dry, soft, lint-free cloth in the direction of the seams, which is typically up and down and not side to side. Abrasive cleaners should never be used and it is possible to vacuum surfaces with a soft brush attachment. Properly cared for, wallpaper will last decades.
Below, discover the wallpaper brands to know.
Founded in 1960, it’s known for its expertise in wall treatments, trompe l’oeil, and coverings, including stamped and gilded leather panels, decorative painting, and eglomise. CEO Laurent Gosseaume explains, “Our gilded leathers are manufactured from goat or sheep skins using vegetable tanning. The skins are hot embossed using engraved metal plates, hand-painted, then aged, distressed, and waxed. All our skins are unique and differences, irregularities, and the patina make them more beautiful and more exclusive.” Among its new releases are Paris 1925 and Les Grands Classiques.
Also in Venice, Rubelli was founded in 1889 and is still family run. The name is emblematic of expertise, craft, and quality, and is visible on the international scene and in high-end residences and commercial projects. Italian-made with a vast array of collections, brocades, damasks, silks, prints, and a range of wall coverings complementing its fabrics, some options also offer sound-proofing – the latest development in wallpaper technology. A recent collection called Walls of Venice is rich in texture, while Déjeuner sur l’herbe is an animated and elegant toile de jouy.
Frustrated with the lack of skilled craftsmen to restore some of his antique wallpaper, Claud Cecil Gurney founded de Gournay in 1986. The British company, known for dreamy hand-painted wallpaper, has collections inspired by historic imagery from landscapes, gardens, and exotic scenography. De Gournay has also most recently worked with French designer Vincent Darré, who created the new interior of its Paris space. This collaboration produced three new wallpaper designs: Trellis, Chinese Landscape, and Metaphysic. Darré shares, “Wallpaper is like a dress which embellishes a space. It transforms and opens a vision in an unexpected way. The imagination is at the helm and the beginning of a story for the decoration.”
Zuber & Cie
One brand thriving today is Zuber & Cie, a company closely aligned with the history of wallpaper itself. Based in Alsace, France, and founded in 1797, it is the oldest surviving wallpaper manufacturer in the world. With more than 130,000 archival references and 150,000 woodblocks (which are listed as historic monuments), it continues to produce using traditional techniques along with some modern technology. Renowned for its iconic scenic creations, it holds the record for the highest price ever paid for wallpaper for The Wars of Independence, a set of 32 panels, which sold for US$44,000 in 2006. Always introducing new products, Zuber & Cie launched four wallpaper designs at the start of the year, with two from its 18th century archives in blue and green called Florentin and Magyar.
Iksel Decorative Arts
Dimonah Iksel hails from a family of Iraqi-Hungarian jewelers, while Mehmet Iksel was born in Istanbul. The two founders were the first to transform hand-painted material into digital images, to then be custom colored. Iksel’s range of offerings also includes hand-painted surfaces, gilding, and custom printing of all of the designs in its image bank. The brand is a favorite with decorators who love the possibility of selecting custom colors to complement any decor. Among its new releases is Livia’s Garden, which was inspired by the fresco created for the wife of Roman Emperor Augustus and is available in four colorways representing sunrise, day, sunset, and evening.
Gracie wallpaper was founded in 1898 in New York City and carries on today, run by the Gracie family. It’s known for its exquisite hand-painted wallpapers, all unique, with poetic designs inspired by 18th century export wallpaper. Speaking about the Georgian Tea Trade design in its collection, company president Mike Gracie shares, “Hand-painted Chinese scenic wallpapers date back to the 1770s – we had one in our inventory dating to about 1780. We loved this design so much that an authentic reproduction is now part of our line.” A favorite among everyone including beauty scion Aerin Lauder, who selected the same delicate and feminine Gracie wallpaper for her dressing room that her grandmother, Estée Lauder, had in her house. US interior designer Michael Smith selected a Gracie wallpaper for the White House when he decorated it for the Obamas. It has just released three new designs in vibrant colors and featuring gold leaf.
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Vogue Living Arabia