People often think of the interior of Arts & Crafts period homes as austere, minimilist spaces devoid of pattern. They envision tasteful rich woods and plain walls with only a jewel tone paint shade as a foil. There may have been some interiors like that, but the height of the Arts and Crafts movement coincided with the height of Victorian decorating. Rather than homes and design books of the period only embracing one or the other style, what often occurred was a blending of the two styles. One of the finest examples of graphic art to come out of this period were the many rich and detailed wallpaper designs.
When you think of Arts & Crafts designs it is the iconic images that often come to mind. From the famous Morris chrysanthemums, pomegranates, daisies and marigolds to Frank Lloyd Wright's hollyhocks and branch borders, these patterns from nature figure prominently in all manner of Arts & Crafts design. Morris was said to have considered wallpaper a 'medium of communication' and created over 144 distinctive textile designs that were reproduced in several different mediums such as textiles, wall coverings and carpets. Historically, the actual creation Arts and Crafts period wallpaper was a painstakingly difficult and involved process. Long sheets of paper were rolled out on great tables and dozens of artisans using a primitive silkscreening process layered on paint in highly detailed repetitive patterns. This made the wallpaper prohibitively expensive for the average decorator. But when you have a great room sometimes painting techniques and stencilwork just won't cut it; they just can't give that 'wow' factor - that's when it's time to look to wallpapers.
From a ceiling frieze to a feature wall to a room done completely in a bold pattern to mimic your favourite period estate, wallpapers is what you are looking for. But, where do you find them? Aren't they prohibitively expensive?
Not necessarily. The advent of laser printing techniques and computer-aided design have changed all of that, and as a result prices have come down so mere mortal restorers and decorators can work with the medium and get the same stunning effect. Currently, several companies are recreating these intricate designs.
A local favourite and one of the few A&C suppliers on the East Coast, J.R.. Burrows & Company and Burrows Studio of Rockland MA consider themselves historical design merchants. The Burrows Studio, a division of J.R. Burrows & Co., produces and recreates designs that are representative of the Aesthetic and the early Anglo-American Arts & Crafts movements. The wallpaper designs are mainly English in origin, as the English A&C movement was - and continues to be - highly influential in New England. There are graphic samples of the papers as well as a provenance and a detailed description of each style on their extensive website.
Heading out to the west coast one of the finer manufacturers is Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. As recently as 2000, Bradbury and Bradbury began using computers to print their beautiful Arts & Crafts friezes, and they are gorgeous, lush, rich (okay, okay, I know - enough adjectives, but I can't help it!) full of color and bold, beautiful designs. The site is unique in that designs are grouped by color theme. Choose an olive room and the site will show how to coordinate various Bradbury designs into a single cohesive look. You can view it all on the site or order a catalog to peruse with a good cup of tea in your Morris chair.
Last stop is way up north in Canada at Charles Rupert Designs Ltd., dedicated to supplying "splendid items for the traditional home and garden." Not only do they have all the paper patterns you have been dreaming of, but they have the fabrics to match. One of their great features is a complete wallpaper and fabric sample cutting service which will allow you to see what you envision before you commit. Everything they sell is top quality and they strive to use traditional natural materials wherever possible, shunning plastic, vinyl and other synthetics.
Thanks to Jo Horner of the always entertaining and often very touching Counting Sheep for this wonderful article!