Friday, January 29, 2010

"To the Finest Taste": Eye-Popping Wallpaper

Friday, January 29, 2010
Susan reports:

It's a modern notion that the 18th and early 19th c. past was a place of genteel good taste: colors were muted and subdued, and the dusty pastels of a Wedgewood vase set the fashion. A pretty idea, yes, and likely there were plenty of houses "done" in exactly those colors, just as there are today. 

But if you were a Georgian homeowner who wanted to follow the absolute cutting edge of London style, you wanted wallpaper, in bright, bold colors and eye-popping patterns. 

The wealthy Virginians who resided in Colonial Williamsburg loved this bravado look in wallpaper. As gaudy as the effect might seem now, these wallpapers were carefully documented as having been in use in the 1770s, and in some cases were replicated by the same London companies (still in business!) who had printed the originals.  But we NHG have to admit that the scale of the patterns surprised us, dwarfing the rooms (and us) with their boldness. The top three rooms, left, are all in the George Wythe House.

But the room that really takes the prize for dizzying wallpaper is the dining room, bottom left, in the newest building in Colonial Williamsburg, Charlton's Coffee House. This room would have been hired out by wealthy gentlemen for private dinners and parties, and everything in it was chosen in the most elegant taste to appeal to them. 


Still, we couldn't help but imagine a group of colonial Virginians, in town for a meeting of the House of Burgesses, gathering in this room for a late supper.  Fueled by the caffeine of Mr.  
Charlton's potent coffee and chocolate and staring at that dancing patterned wallpaper as the night stretched on, it's really no wonder at all that they plotted the American Revolution.

And for anyone who thinks that this kind of gaudy splendor will soon fade before the more refined tastes of the Regency, we offer only two words: the Royal Pavilion.

20 comments:

Rowenna said...

I think I would have been, unfortunately, one of those dull homeowners with dull wallpapering tastes :)

You might be interested in this blog from the Locust Grove historic home in Louisville, KY--they're in the midst of a remodel that's punching up the interior decor quite a bit--including an absolutely wild verdigris paint. http://locustgrovelouisville.blogspot.com/

Vanessa Kelly said...

Boy, if you drank too much in that supper room, you could have some serious problems. Thank God nobody was dropping acid back then!

I love looking at pictures of the Royal Pavilion. There are some great scenes in Regency Buck by GH, where Perry & Judith Taverner try to explain the insanity that is the Royal Pavilion.

It's so much fun to see examples of flamboyant taste from other periods. And, as wild as the patterns are, they do display the skill of the craftsmen who made the wallpaper.

Lyn S said...

My mother works at Mount Vernon and weathered the storm when they repainted the rooms in the correct colors. The bright turquoise seemed to really set people off.

I made a Civil War (American) reproduction quilt and was stunned by the vibrant poison green. It was the same as a pair of 1960s pajamas my grandfather owned. I guess every color comes back around.

Here's to color specially on grey dreary winter days.

nightsmusic said...

I can handle the less busy papers, but that bottom one...made my tummy flip! *cringes*

Linda Banche said...

Wow, if you sat long enough in that coffeehouse, you wouldn't need either alcohol or caffeine to get high. The other rooms, either, although they might take a little longer.

MsHellion said...

Apparently I have the same interesting tastes as my forebears. I liked all the wall paper designs except the one in the dining room, which I though was a bit too "busy" and would cause indigestion. But the striped wallpaper was cool...and I liked the red one alot too. *LOL*

There was a Colonial house they were showing that had some special blue paint...it was VERY pretty. But it was a very bright blue...

Susan Holloway Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I agree with Vanessa. I get dizzy just looking at the wallpaper. I can't imagine living with it day in and day out. And I love wallpaper.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Rowenna, thank you for the link to Locust Grove and its wallpaper "mysteries." I know I keep referring to CW because it's the biggie in American restorations, but it's smaller, local spots like Locust Grove that really represent people caring about their own history and working to preserve it. It's very encouraging to see!

Vanessa, I'm not sure it's possible to explain the Brighton Pavilion. I mean, where do you START? But as bizarro as it is, I do love its excess. Eh, who needs bland good taste? *g*

Lyn S., that's interesting about Mt. Vernon, and the preconceptions people have about what's historically correct color. It isn't just the 18th c. that gets literally whitewashed; many fabulously colored Victorian houses got the "tasteful" treatment, too, and it's only been in the last twenty years or so that many of those gingerbread-beauties are being repainted in their original color schemes.

As for that bright blue wall-color -- I have pix of the paint inside the Governor's Palace, and that blue is used there, too, as well as an incredibly bright green. I'm saving for another day. *g*

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Regarding that paper in the coffee house -- yes, it's something else! It's a corner room, too, so even with windows on two sides, that wallpaper really danced, and with a couple of big mirrors reflecting it back and forth, it is indeed disorienting. Everyone who enters must have that same reaction, too, because the first thing the interpreter said after his welcome was to explain that yes, this is the actual wallpaper pattern used for this room, proudly and expensively imported by the owner in 1770 from London, and that CW has records to prove it.

I thought it was esp. interesting that the other, larger public room -- the one that received much more use -- had walls that were simply painted a soft yellow-beige. I guess you had to be willing to pay for that "bad trip" experience of the supper room.*g*

Lyn S said...

If you really like those colors, a company in conjuction with Mount Vernon sells them. When I went to find the link, I found you could buy all sorts of licensed stuff. The paint is halfway down the page.
http://www.mountvernon.org/shop/licensing/index.cfm/ss/84/

Lyn S

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks, Lyn. Actually, many of these colors are quite nice -- though probably not what a lot of people associate with Mt. Vernon.

I'm guessing that one of the reasons 18th c. folk liked these bright colors and patterns is that in the days before electricity, most rooms would likely be on the dreary side anyway. Color like this would certainly brighten things up!

Amberlyn said...

The green one looks like flying bats.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hmmmm...green Georgian bats? Well, why not? I can see them now, too. :)

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

These are astonishing. We so rarely see wallpapers in their original but only faded versions that we tend to think they started out that way. How wonderful to see the 'real' thing. Thanks for sharing Colonial Williamsburg's wonderful work.

News From the Holmestead said...

I wonder if it would be possible to get a small sample of these historical wallpaper reproductions from the manufacturer? It would be great to add them to my sample book, along with cloth samples. ~Sherrie Holmes

nightsmusic said...

Sherrie, it's been my experience whenever I've contacted a manufacturer with a request for samples that they arrived within 10 days. You're a potential customer after all :o)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Lesley-Anne, you make an excellent point. Most dyes in the past were vegetable-based, and weren't color fast, whether in fabric, ink, or paint. Today we're often left with the faded, pastel version of something that was once much more vibrant.

Sherrie, I have to admit I don't have an answer for you about the wallpaper samples. However, since CW does license a lot of reproductions -- everything from china to furniture to house-paint -- I wouldn't be surprised if they have a company that's reproducing their wallpaper, too. I'd give them a call (their main switchboard number's on the web-site) and see what you can go from there. Happy hunting!

Catherine Delors said...

Love the 2nd wallpaper from the bottom: it looks like my blog's background! :)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Catherine, I hate to admit that I didn't think of this until you posted -- but the red wallpaper looks like my website's background, too!

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