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History of Wallpaper

10 Nov 2020
History of Wallpaper

Curious about where wallpaper got its start? Read about the history of wallpaper and how it continues to evolve today with this brief timeline.

The history of wallpaper is a long and interesting one. The practice originated in China but quickly spread throughout the world as trade expanded. Let’s take a look at how wallpaper got its start and how it continues to develop and evolve today.

Origins Of Wallpaper

While the origins of wallpaper are often debated, the first known use of wallpaper was most likely in China in 200 B.C.E. At the time, rice paper would be glued to walls then painted or decorated. This practice evolved as cheaper versions of paper were invented and became more popular, allowing for easier painting methods on wallpaper.

The practice of adding wallpaper to rooms spread to Europe during the Renaissance. While the elite could afford ornate tapestries to adorn their walls, not everyone was able to participate. To bring color and life into their rooms, less wealthy members of the elite turned to wallpaper. These versions of wallpaper would often feature the same designs that could be found on tapestries. Similar to today, these types of wallpaper would often be pasted to the walls.

England and France became the dominant European producers of wallpaper throughout the 1500s and 1600s, but during the Protectorate in England, wallpaper was banned by Oliver Cromwell as a “frivolous item.” This would continue until his death and the Restoration of Charles II.

During The 18th Century

England continued to be the leading manufacturer of wallpaper in Europe throughout the 1700s, exporting large quantities of the good throughout the continent. By 1785, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf invented the machine capable of printing colored tints on sheets of wallpaper and revolutionizing the designs. Also, Louis-Nicolas Robert created a machine capable of producing continuous lengths of paper. The combination of these two inventions allowed for the creation of new and varied types of wallpaper.

During the latter part of the 18th century, China began exporting high-quality wallpaper. This wallpaper was completely hand-painted, making it very expensive and a popular choice for palaces and extravagant homes.

Through The 19th Century

Wallpaper continued to be a popular decorative choice for homes throughout Europe and America. As its popularity grew throughout the world, wallpaper manufacturing firms were established to ease the design and production and allow access to more people than ever before. The demand for scenic wallpaper increased during this time, leading to the creation of enormous panoramas. One of the most popular examples is the Voyages of Captain Cook, the largest panoramic wallpaper, which can still be found at the Ham House in Peabody, Massachusetts.

During the 20th Century

Wallpaper kept its popularity throughout the 1930s but would see its popularity fluctuate from the '30s until the end of the 20th century. Andy Warhol was one notable wallpaper designer in the 20th century who brought a renewed interest in the medium. During this period, plain painted walls began to grow in popularity.

Wallpaper Today

Wallpaper has continued to evolve, providing new benefits to homes. Specially designed wallpaper was invented that was capable of enhancing the lighting and mood in rooms with its reflective surface. Wallpapers that can block Wi-Fi signals and prevent people outside of the home from accessing your network were developed as a security feature for the tech conscious. New printing techniques allow for more intricate designs in wallpaper, from classic Japanese art styles to photographs of National Parks and city skylines.

In the past, using wallpaper was seen as a decade's long commitment. With the creation of contact paper and peel and stick wallpaper, it is now possible to swap out wallpaper designs as frequently as one wants. This can make using wallpaper seem like a less daunting task while providing consumers with a greater level of freedom in customizing their spaces. Previously, renters would never consider adding wallpapers to their apartments or homes, but peel and stick wallpaper makes it easy to customize a property you are renting without fearing that you will lose your deposit.

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