The Marriage Of Paint & Paper

16th January 2015

Independent British paint manufacturer Little Greene launches its eighth collection of wallpapers on 23 January. Emma Fuller sneaks a preview…

Once again, Little Greene has turned to the archives. The Painted Papers collection is a comprehensive compendium of striped wallpapers, which celebrate the historic and harmonious marriage of paint and wallpaper.

More than ‘just plain stripes’, however, all ten designs in Painted Papers have been reworked from historic patterns sourced from several archives, including those at English Heritage and Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. Faithful to the period in which they were designed, and with many of the colourways also boasting an authentic historic provenance, the wallpapers are nonetheless highly relevant for the 21st Century interior. “In reviving these historic designs,” says Managing Director, David Mottershead, “we have tried to create a collection to serve homes of all ages and decorative styles…”

Using traditional surface-printing methods, which would originally have applied paint rather than ink, the production reflects very closely that used in preceding centuries: it also gives them their delightfully tactile feel and slightly textured appearance. In the early 1800s, the invention of continuous rolls of paper facilitated huge advances in block printing and subsequent surface printing techniques. At the same time, a new fashion for stripes in interior decoration began to emerge. Regency style was heavily influenced by the sudden influx in international commerce and a grander architectural vision that brought fresh ideas about space and decoration. Consequently, designers of the time gained a first-hand awareness of how colours and pattern, both in fabrics and on walls, could help shape a room, rather than just adorn it – and Little Greene have capitalised on this heritage. Painted Papers is a substantial collection, that includes pieces not only from the nineteenth century but also, as David Mottershead points out, “offerings from the early and mid-twentieth centuries, in colourways to suit both the timeless and the cutting-edge interior.”

Broad Stripe (c.1825) is a classic ‘Roman’ or Regency proportioned stripe, originally produced in the early 19th century using the ‘open trough’ method. In this technique, stripes were created by bands of paint seeping through holes or slots in the bottom of a wooden trough onto the surface of the paper as it was pulled beneath. Striped wallpapers manufactured this way are characterised by a brushed finish later superseded by a flatter print achieved rollers. The grand scale of this particular stripe is tempered by the restricted use of colour – in each case the stripe sits on a softer ground of the same hue, creating a wallpaper that brings a relaxed structure to a room, without being too formal.

Carlisle Street (c.1890) was inspired by a design found at a property in Carlisle Street, Soho, London. The original is actually a much more complex pattern than its offspring, but by removing the solid stripes and extraneous leaf trail, what remains is a paper that cleverly achieves all-over pattern but, at the same time, highlights an elegant stripe.

Dating Cavendish Stripe at 1965 might seem strange, but the particular fragment that inspired it emerged during English Heritage’s restoration work at Marlborough House on Pall Mall, London, though this was undoubtedly based on a much earlier original. In the new interpretation, the motif – which was in fact a flock – has been completely removed to leave a cleaner, more versatile stripe. In keeping with authentic methods of production, the background strié effect is achieved using a horsehair brush, with the stripe and gilded edges printed on top. It’s really rather lovely.

Next up is Colonial Stripe, an accurate reproduction of one of several wallpapers found in a private residence in St James Place, London, dating from around 1840. Its ornate, decorative detail gives it a subtle artisan quality, and the original, richly-coloured blue and red colourway, faithfully reproduced for this collection, is very typical of the Regency era.

Elephant Stripe (c.1850) takes the exact proportion and structural quality of Broad Stripe, but each band in this more complex version comprises 42 ‘pin stripes’, creating a sharper, more contemporary look… it’s appealing at first glance and even more so on closer inspection. With its fine proportions, this design would have been virtually impossible to print before the arrival of the surface print roller in around 1840.

Very much a 20th century design, Ombré Plain / Ombré Stripe (c.1956) is a 1950s English pattern found at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. A band of fine, white stripes over flat grounds, it is actually space between the stripes that creates the subtle and beguiling optical movement. The more complex striped versions contain an additional three ground colours each, and the ‘plain’ versions are produced in matching colourways. These are highly flexible papers for traditional and contemporary homes alike.

The original of Paint Spot is French, and hails from 1830, when it was printed in a bold combination of yellow and pink. Particular attention is paid to the paint reticulation (also known as the ‘seaweed effect’) evident within the printed spot element, in giving orientation – there’s a definite right and wrong way up for this paper to be hung!

Another 20th century design, Tailor Stripe (c.1968) contains a judicious balance of six tightly packed colours. It has been inspired by the way designers would ‘tag’ colours together when referencing interior design schemes, or, indeed, fashion collections.

Tented Stripe (c.1845) was originally produced as a design on fabric. Its name is taken from the Regency fashion of hanging fabrics in a room to create a ‘tented’ effect. Having been shown extensively in its own right as a stripe, it was subsequently popularised as a background to a range of larger overprinted designs, including French damasks.

Faithfully reproduced, but increased in scale, from an eye-catching piece in the English Heritage archive, Thames is a historical panorama of the capital as published by London Illustrated News in 1851. The hand-drawn, hand-painted scene depicts the buildings and landscape along the river Thames at that time: it has subsequently been re-mastered to include a repeating section, meaning it can be now hung as a continuing frieze. The original would have been shown at cornice height, but for rooms of a more ‘conventional’ scale, it has been created to sit comfortably at dado or skirting height as well.

The last word goes to David Mottershead, justly proud of Printed Papers. “As with our previous wallpaper collections, we have judiciously selected paint colours to coordinate or complement each design and tone, to aid selection and encourage the end user to be adventurous.”

‘Painted Papers’ will be launched in Paris on 23 January. The collection will be available nationally and internationally through Little Greene’s network of distributors.


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