Lovers of vintage often find that the addiction to bygone eras is wildly infectious.
What starts off as a collection of 1950’s frocks or a couple of 1970’s suits, soon becomes an entire wardrobe. Before long you’ll find that you want to wear exclusively vintage, your accessories will have to be vintage and you’ll be visiting a specialist hair salon and picking up pin-up style make-up tips from YouTube videos.
Oh so fabulous
The obsession rarely stops there, because wearing vintage feels so delicious and so fabulous. You’ll find yourself drooling over cake stands, teacups and charming milk jugs. Your crockery cupboards will be brimming with vintage-style oddments to match your wardrobe and jewellery collection. This infectious craze will take over the rest of your house.
It makes sense. Not only is it stylish and beautiful to look at but it is so economical and makes fabulous environmental sense. Buying vintage means that you’re reusing, it’s green and can be so very affordable. You can pick up furniture and kitchenware from charity shops and reclaim them with a little paint and some well-chosen fabric until they look unspeakably vintage.
So what started off as you coveting a pretty 1950s dress, has evolved into you collecting a house full of vintage and retro knick-knacks. But, if you really want to make visitors feel like they are stepping back in time, then you’ll have to go one step further. What about vintage wallpaper?
Papering over the cracks
Sadly, original vintage wallpaper is almost impossible to get hold of. Even if you could lay your hands on enough to paper a whole room, you may find it is not quite up to standard and may well be ravaged by time. Unless you fancy scouring the country for any unlikely house that hasn’t been redecorated since the 1950s, you are best focussing on reproduction wallpaper for your home.
If you are only going to paper one room in your home, then the kitchen is a great choice to start with.
Prior to the 1920s kitchens were unpapered as it was considered wasteful. Kitchens in wealthier homes were only seen by the staff, and poorer people could not afford wallpaper or worried that cooking fumes and steam would damage the paper.
In the 1920s we became a bit obsessed with sanitation and hygiene and it was very popular to paint kitchens white or to tile them with gleaming white tiles. This was to show up any hint of dirt and to portray high levels of cleanliness.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that wallpapering the kitchen became popular. Kitschy imagery was popular. It was supposed to keep the housewife cheery as she prepared the meals and toiled away for hours a day.
Images of domesticity, such as tea pots and kitchen implements, were in. Fruit (especially cherries and strawberries) was commonly seen and quaint cottage scenes or simplistic floral motifs featured strongly.
This trend continued until the 1960s, when more vibrant and psychedelic papers starting appearing, and in the 1970s the trend for tiling and painting the kitchen became more en vogue.
Out of the kitchen
When choosing wallpaper for the rest of the house it helps to know a little about its history.
Wallpaper was once thought of as a cheap alternative to “proper art” and paintings. Being much cheaper, easy to replace and quick to apply; those who couldn’t afford fine artwork would opt for wallpaper to add colour to their homes.
This distinction didn’t last, as those with money soon opted for the most expensive wall coverings; choosing precious metals, unusual designers, imports from overseas and fine fabrics when selecting their wall papers.
During the Second World War, wallpaper was considered a non-essential commodity and so style, ranges and types were limited. The wallpaper industry suffered greatly, as manufacturers were forced to use finer paper types and produce lower quality paper.
After the war, the demand for wallpaper returned and the market thrived. During this era many more exciting designs came out and people eagerly snapped up the new products.
Machine-age colours were particularly popular during this time – so if you fancy something from this era look out for reds, blacks, white and metallic silver designs.
The two main vintage wallpaper designs to indulge in are definitely the sweet homely feel of the 1940s-1950s or the striking geometric abstract designs from the 1960s.
You also need to decide if you want your wallpaper to look like genuine vintage paper or if you want wallpaper that shows vintage items. Both types are readily available, especially online and will really make a difference to a space.
If you are opting for a very busy design, such as a typical 1960’s pattern you may prefer to only paper one wall, and paint the remaining walls in a colour from the design. Busy prints can make a room appear smaller, can make things feel cluttered, unrelaxing, and are difficult to hang pictures on. If you want somewhere to display photographs or pictures, then you’ll definitely want to paint at least one wall in a more muted tone.
Because vintage wallpaper tends to be quite involved and detailed, it’s usually best to pick out the paper before you pick items for the rest of the room. Vintage wallpaper can be a feature in itself, and will only look its best if the rest of the furniture and décor has been chosen to fit with the theme.
If you are desperate for paper that looks like it was actually from the 1940s, rather than reproductions of the original, but cannot find anything from the era then you may like to use brand new paper and treat it to make it look older.
Carefully applied stain can add a softer look to brand new paper, or you could gently sand the surface for a more distressed look.
Personally I think new paper is great, and it will last a lot longer. You can always opt for softer tones to add a slightly sunbleached feel to the wall coverings. Now is the time to start going vintage with your wallpaper. Shabby chic furniture styles are all the rage, and the next step is definitely some beautiful vintage wall paper.
Where to find new vintage wallpaper
Little Greene are well-known for their paints but they also have a terrific range of wallpapers. From geometric patterns in traditional-looking hues, to patterns featuring plants and animals plus sea themes, Little Greene have put together a stupendous collection of papers that will complement any home. They also have a partnership with the National Trust.
Graham & Brown
Graham & Brown have curated a beautiful collection of vintage and art deco papers. They come in a wide range of geometric patterns in greens, blues, pearl whites and more. Rose gold is on trend at the moment and Graham & Brown have seized on this trend in some of their papers.
i want wallpaper
These folks only do wallpaper (as their name suggests) but they have a particularly strong collection of vintage, retro and trad wallpaper designs. As well as the commonly-seen washed-out greens and blues of the 50s and 60s they have quirky animal prints and many other designs that will make you smile!
Wallpaper from the 70s
If it’s the 1970s that turn you on, then Wallpaper from the 70s is the niche wallpaper site for you! They stock many bold and bright patterns in typical 70s colours. Be prepared for a smorgasbord of loud and louche patterns, including many botanicals and florals.