In honor of Mother’s Day, this post is about the one common love all mothers have. And no I’m not talking about Tom Selleck, I’m talking about the holy grail of home decorating: wallpaper.
Gone are the days of struggling to keep yourself entertained while your mother browses the oversized wallpaper pattern books at Sherwin-Williams, snipping a sample corner here and there to hold up later in the kitchen or dining room. Or hearing the clank-clank-clank of the metal framed racks that showcase the finest vinyl wallpapers that the 1970’s had to offer, while you gaze longingly at that overpriced Snoopy pattern that would ultimately never become part of your bedroom decor (damn you, United Feature Syndicate trademarking).
Yes, it was a big decision and never one that was taken lightly.
Wallpaper has been around since William Morris reigned the arts and crafts era, but the technological advancements of the 1960’s and 70’s created a true heyday for this decorative home addition. This was an era where you picked colors and patterns based solely on a 12×12 inch sample square, and then promptly plastered hundreds of square feet of living space with it, ensuring that no vertical surface was left blank.
The time when you had a steady supply of those long, flat wooden wallpaper brushes and gallons of paste stashed away in the garage corner, should you discover a new type of wallpaper pattern that was elegant enough for the powder room, but with colors just bright enough to burn your retina.
The days where you stayed up well past midnight hanging those last few feet of wallpaper, desperately trying to match the busy patterned seams as you dragged the last roll out of the bathtub to its final resting place next to the china hutch. And then hoped it wouldn’t peel off by morning.
And maybe you weren’t around for this era at all. Or maybe you were on too much LSD to really remember it. Either way, there are plenty of time-capsule homes on the market today that will bring you right back into those decades without hesitation.
Or, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find some amazingly pristine wallpaper sample books from the late 1960’s with hundreds of patterns that you can’t imagine ANYONE ever wanting to put into their homes.
But you know they did. And you know they just loved it.
One of the most well-known wallpaper manufacturers was a company called Imperial. When it came to wallpaper, they offered everything from tweeded to flocked to foiled, all in wild, unapologetic patterns that would nearly induce motion sickness. They also offered a line of “washable” or “scrubbable” vinyl that was so thick you could probably cover the exterior of your house with it as well.
But whatever your design preference, you better pick a real winner, because some of these wallpaper patterns cost roughly the equivalent of $40-$50 per roll in today’s economy. Not the cheapest decor option, but certainly the longest lasting. The vinyl was thick and durable enough to withstand generations of abuse, which is likely why it still graces the walls of so many midcentury homes during estate sales.
And the patterns, my lord, the patterns.
There were, of course, the obligatory mod floral designs of the midcentury era, both large and small print, and each more garish and hideous than the last. These seem to usually end up in kitchen areas, no doubt making you lose your appetite.
Some of my favorites are the ones that attempt to tell a little story, showing scenes of people picking fruit, men hunting in the woods, young women frolicking in fields, ladies in fancy ballgowns, and houses on wooded hillsides. These were clearly most suitable for the dining room, accompanied by a crystal chandelier on a dimmer switch and a Henry Mancini record.
And if the patterned scenes weren’t enough drama for your dining experience, you could always choose a full-wall vinyl mural instead. It’s just like being on a luxury European vacation! Except you’re eating overcooked meatloaf off melmac dinnerware.
Then there’s of course the pattern that should never be patterned–European architecture, old Victorian advertisements, faux-newsprint, and even some very patriotic typography, perhaps highlighting the upcoming bicentennial. These patterns always seem to be in bathrooms, providing yet more fascinating reading material for those using the facilities and hiding from their mother-in-laws.
And we mustn’t forget the brightly colored and somewhat psychedelic mod patterns. These were strictly used for redecorating kids’ rooms once they hit puberty. Paste on this wallpaper, turn on the blacklight and crank up the Jefferson Airplane.
And call Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.
But my absolute favorite, and the most expensive option, are the tactile wallpaper patterns. The delicate flock and foil designs that just beg you to run your hands along them (don’t worry- it’s scrubbable!) as you pass by. These are by far the most elegant of the midcentury wallpaper options. Always gracing the living room or bedroom walls, creating an environment suitable for even Liberace to lounge in.
So hop into your overalls, remove the kids’ toys from the bathtub, and shimmy the furniture to the middle of the room, because you’ve got a date with 6 rolls of high-gloss, scrubbable vinyl wallpaper. And it’s going to be a late night.
Happy Mother’s Day!