Victorian wallpaper has been a design staple since the 1800s, adding character to homes and giving them a richer look than traditional wood panelling or plaster. Originally, wallpaper was used as an alternative to expensive tapestries, fabrics and mural paintings that could be costly for many Victorian households. By imitating different materials, wallpaper was able to provide a more affordable way of embellishing walls with a variety of textures and designs.
The Victorian era was a time of great experimentation in patterns and colors. Victorian wallpapers grew increasingly colorful and detailed, a trend that can be traced to the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. The movement aimed to return craftsmanship and quality to interior decoration, while promoting social reforms. Designers like Walter Crane and William Morris helped develop the figurative style that would dominate Victorian wallpaper (Hapgood 68).
As technology improved and new paints were developed, wallpaper was hung directly on walls rather than on linen. By the early 1800s, a three-part division of wall decoration became popular: the dado, filling and frieze papers (Krasner-Khait). Decorative ceiling papers were also a common feature of Victorian rooms.
Florals and Botanicals
Using plants as inspiration was an important theme in Victorian motifs. Flowers of all sizes and styles were featured in wallpapers and fabrics, often in deep colors. Other motifs that were popular in this era included animals, insects and other creatures. This type of wallpaper can add a sense of drama to any space without being too overwhelming.
Other textured wallpapers were popular as well, such as Anaglypta and Lincrusta. These types of relief wallpapers were designed to imitate stucco, embossed leather or wood panels and can be paired below a patterned wallpaper to mimic trim work. These styles were often painted a deep color to bring the illusion of depth to a room.
For a less traditional touch, striped wallpaper was another popular Victorian style. Striped wallpaper is still widely used today and can be a fun way to add some Victorian flair to any space.
During the Victorian era, wallpaper generated endless debate and discussion in newspapers, magazines, and books of the day. Tastemakers like Charles Locke Eastlake (1836-1906) published strong opinions about which types of wallpaper were appropriate for which rooms in the home. He promoted a pattern-filled scheme of walls and recommended a frieze, filling and dado paper that was coordinated with ceiling papers to create densely patterned effects.
Other tastemakers, such as Owen Jones and C.F.A. Voysey, promoted more conventional ornamental designs than those of Pugin. These wallpapers often incorporated a medieval and heraldic motif or stylized nature, reducing flowers and leaves to symmetrical shapes.
The Aesthetic Movement promoted the idea that a successful interior design was achieved through the careful layering of wallpaper, paint, furnishing textiles and carpets to achieve an artistic unity of the whole room. This idea was endorsed by the leading Victorian architects and designers of the period, including Morris. However, as a designer who valued quality workmanship and hand crafted products, Morris was aware that his wallpapers could only be affordable to the upper middle class. This may have had some influence on his decision to produce patterns that were more affordable to the masses (Burrows 57).