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Vintage Wallpaper 2021

Updated 17/1/2021

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.

Elegant Art Deco paper by Bradbury and Bradbury
Elegant Art Deco paper by Bradbury and Bradbury

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?

1970s Wallpaper
1970s 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.

Kitschen paper

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.

1950s wallpaper
1950s wallpaper

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.

1960s wallpaper
1960s wallpaper

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

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.



The Vintage Revival

Girl on Vintage BicycleBecause we just can’t resist style

In recent times the interest in all things vintage has grown out of a tiny world populated by niche hobbyists; once lingering around the edges of popular culture, quiffing their hair in darkened dance halls and jiving at specialist events at racecourses.

But not any more, people. Vintage is huge, vintage is mainstream and vintage is now.

Vintage crosses many a genre and it’s probably safe to say that most people you know have an interest in a vintage something or other. Whether that be your Dad who’s into his vintage cars, bicycles or motorbikes; secretly harbouring a desire to buy a 1960s Triumph and cruise across the countryside with a beautiful woman in his sidecar, a silk scarf in her hair, whipping in the wind.

Or perhaps it’s your trendy work chum with a penchant for vintage Danish light fittings and Eames’ chairs that all just seem to fit in so wonderfully into his Hampstead study?

Sharing the fun

And of course there are the festivals. No longer small and specialist, vintage and retro festivals are up there with the big boys, hanging out with your Latitudes, your Glastonburys, Reading and Leeds. Punters stylishly dressed up to the nines, glamping it up in the fields and going to see retro style bands like The Macabees or actual proper old-school bands getting it back together for 2013, and of course, for the love of all things vintage and old.

Above all, there’s vintage fashion.

Now fully entrenched into the mainstream, you are most likely influenced by vintage fashion whether you know it or not. Never before has there been such amazing style and diversity out there, individual street style has become such a huge influence on high street clothing design and a force to be reckoned with thanks in no mean part to the establishment and flourishing success of everything vintage.

It’s simpler no longer the thing to rock an outfit that’s either all designer or all high street. It’s just not socially acceptable to pop down to your local Topshop and buy yourself an off the rail outfit for your night out at the local banging discotheque. It just ain’t going to cut it anymore (not to mention the potential risk of wearing the same outfit as twenty other women in the club – so not a good look).

No party people, it’s all about individual style and that is where the power of vintage fashion comes in. Dressing the vintage way allows us to mix-up seriously stylish, fashion-forward thrifty finds, mish-mashed with fabulous new pieces for a pulled together look that you can guarantee, no one else will be wearing. Those trendsetting hipsters you see around East London are today’s tastemakers looked to by designers and street style bloggers for inspiration. And the reason why? They mix new styles with vintage finds.

And now, thanks to the success of vintage trends, pretty much every town has a retro emporium, full of hand-picked clothes, magazines and furniture for you to drool over. And seriously, you must have noticed the proliferation of fairs popping up all over the place? Yep, vintage is definitely big business. But what does it actually mean?

What is vintage anyway?

Most people place vintage as a style referring to items from another time, a different era of style and lifestyle; things like beautiful 1940s tea sets, a 1950s formica table or 1960s Twiggy style shift dresses. But the reality is somewhat different.

According to Wayne Hemingway, anything over twenty years old, or pre 1993, is officially vintage, be that clothes, jewellery, lamps or whatever else.

The question still remains; where does it begin? And what’s the difference between vintage and antique? In my experience of selling vintage over many, many years, I would define antique as anything pre 1930s.

For me, it’s from this point in time that design and style became recognisable as something we would wear or use today. For example, I would classify a 1920s beaded flapper dresses as antique and some may say rather contrarily, a 1930s trilby as vintage. One has contemporary resonance, the other doesn’t. Go figure.

So, we’re talking secondhand, right?

And likewise, can you define the difference between vintage and second-hand? No, dear readers, that’s because there simply isn’t one. It is merely a marketing label that has stuck, the difference being indistinguishable, except of course when it comes to the price tag, which for vintage darlings, is considerably higher.

I can’t say I blame the mass interest in all things vintage. I myself live and love it and perhaps we are all simply harking back to a more glamourous time, a different set of ideals to live by and indulging in a nostalgia that is of course rose-tinted, but still deliciously attractive. And vintage fans, if that doesn’t make you feel good, I just don’t know what would.