General, Wallpaper History

Historic Wallpapers :: Adelphi Paper Hangers

For anyone truly interested in wallpaper history, you should know about Adlephi Paper Hangers, the premiere wallpaper house dedicated to historically accurate patterns and production.  Emphasizing eighteenth and nineteenth century papers, their collection includes wallpapers from institutions such as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Smithsonian Institute.  Adelphi also researches and designs custom jobs for any individuals who have any  documents or wallpaper scraps of an old design.  Their wallpaper are made with the old fashioned wood block method.  In fact, Adelphi operates the only bloc printing facility dedicated to producing vintage patterns in the United States!  Very inspiring.

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Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is one of the most successful young artists on the scene today.  His work shows a distinct interest in patterns, and serve as yet another example of the intersection of wallpaper and fine art.  Wiley is known for portraying modern African American men in heroic portraits, often overtly referencing masterpieces of the Western cannon.  I am struck by how he uses colorful, graphic patterns to balance the strongly portrayed figures.  It’s almost as if he uses wallpapers as backgrounds for his subjects, removing them from ordinary space and instead placing them with abstracted, fantastic backdrops that express their strong, vibrant, youthful personalities.  Kehinde’s color pallet is bold, his patterns engaging.  Amazing, amazing work.

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Objects on Wallpaper

Wallpapers can serve as a background or foreground design element in a room.  If it weren’t obvious already, I am personally most excited about graphic patterns that stretch the limits of traditional wallpaper patterns.  But the decision to hang pictures or other items on top of wallpaper is still a relevant one.  What can you hang on a wallpapered wall?  When should wallpaper stand alone?  Inspired by my favorite design book, here is my simple overview.

It’s all about balance.  First, think color.  If your wallpaper is extremely colorful (more than four colors), then anything you hang should be very very simple: a mirror, a simple photograph.  On the other hand, if the wallpaper is simply one or two colors, you have more liberty to hang intricate, colorful objects.  Whatever the objects, make sure their colors match not only the wallpaper but the rest of your room.

Next consider size.  If the pattern is full of small elements, your hanging objects should be of medium to large size.  You should not have too many hanging pieces either.  If the wallpaper repeat is large-scale, you have much more freedom to hang smaller objects- and more of them.

Finally, choose your wall composition– where to hang your objects.  Each wall and room is different, but overall, you will need fewer objects than you normally would hang.  Wallpaper attracts attention on its own; you don’t want to over-do it with hanging objects.

The idea of nailing holes into your beautiful wallpaper is somewhat frightening — but that’s not a good reason to dismiss hanging objects!  When successful, the combination of wallpaper and objects can make the most sophisticated, impressive design choice in a room.

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Better Homes and Gardens, helping home makers fifty years later.

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The pattern is quite busy and there is lots of it.  This large scale picture (with only a few colors) works well.  Nicely balanced.

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With the small pattern repeat, these medium/large sized objects look great.  Photo from Domino (RIP!)

BlackbirdWith its large scale and dynamic composition, “Blackbird” is usually best on its own.

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General, Wallpaper History

Wallpaper History :: Political Wall Coverings

Political themes emerge in wallpaper’s recently history. First, Andy Warhol’s most famous wallpaper depicted Chairman Mao with a purple face, simply repeated. Like his cow wallpaper, the pattern challenged traditional notions of wall coverings with strong color and bold composition.  It also created a strange discord between the poppy colors and the unlikeable political figure.

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Then we have the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, known for his bright colors and fanciful, absurd renderings. With mushroom, eyeballs, and happy flower characters, Murakami evokes political themes associated with the atomic bombs that dropped on his home country. Like Warhol, he creates an intriguing (even disturbing) effect by matching such serious political themes with such an optimistic, energetic color palate.

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Eyeballs

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Nick Peters picks up where Murakami and Warhol left off. Several of his images mix World War II bomb imagery with innocent, even childish, fruit renderings. He also uses wallpaper to investigate the current political situation in Russia. After meeting Putin for the first time, George W. Bush said, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Peters patterned those eyes, adding hammers and sickles.

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Political wallpapers certainly do not appeal to mainstream taste, but they do provide an interesting outlet for activism. They also serve as yet another example of the thin line between wallpaper and fine art.

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Floor Patterns

As a pattern enthusiast, I love graphic designs on the floor as much as on the wall. Here are some rugs that caught my attention recently, from Loloi Rugs and from my personal design hero, Jonathan Adler.

Rugs not only increase the cozy-factor of a room but also accent any colors and patterns you already have. Rugs can bring rooms together or they separate areas of a larger space. They provide a great outlet to express your design sensibility, and they are one more opportunity to add patterns to a space.

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How It’s Done (Part 2)

While many people are familiar with silk screening as an abstract concept, the process of turning a digital image into silk screened wallpaper is admittedly mysterious- and amazing.  Here’s an overview of the process.

First, we e-mail our digital files to the printing facilities.  The image is printed on special plastic paper, called film.  Then this crazy machine uses light to burn the film onto silk.

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The silk screen allows paint to seep through to paper below only where the pattern should be. For a pattern such as our “Blackbird,” there may be two screens.

Paint is poured and distributed evenly…

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And finally, the screen is washed with high powered hoses.

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And voila!

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Every Day Patterns

The more I keep my eye out for patterns, the more I am struck by the enormous variety of ways in which they appear.  From wallpaper to fabric, rugs to book covers, posters to building facades, patterns differ in style but always create a distinct, highly energetic style.

Here’s a table at a coffee shop, which not only has a pattern carved into its surface but also shows a mirrored image (in shadow) on the floor.  I took the photo with my new iPhone- many more of these to come…
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