Victorian style wallpaper brings to mind floral motifs, rich colors and a sense of opulence. While it might be difficult to find authentic Victorian wallpaper, current reproductions of Victorian wallpaper are still popular choices for homeowners looking for a romantic touch to their décor.
The Victorian Era (1837 to 1901) was a time of radical change in the decorative arts. Historical revivals, anti-industrial returns to nature, futurism, and Oriental exoticism coexisted in enthusiastic—if sometimes startling—decorative combinations. This rich variety is reflected in our Victorian Collection, which features “roomsets” with harmonizing wall and ceiling papers.
Achieving a Victorian look requires more than just the right wallpaper. You’ll also need coordinating fabrics, furniture and accessories to complete the effect. The most common Victorian fabric pattern was a floral motif, such as a large-scale damask or a smaller rose design. Floral patterns were a symbol of beauty and love. The era also saw an increased interest in Japanese decorative motifs, either imported directly from Japan or reproduced on the newer surface printing techniques. Relief wallpapers were also very popular. Examples include Lincrusta and Anaglypta, and they often featured designs that mimicked wood grains.
Other popular Victorian wallpapers featured scenes from the natural world, especially landscapes and floral gardens. Framed figures, ruins and other architectural features were also appreciated. A paper from Doddington Hall, for example, shows framed floral and landscape motifs interspersed with insects, birds and fish. This was a fashion inspired by the Print Rooms, where prints were cut out and pasted directly onto walls.
Flock patterns were another way to add texture to walls. Powdered wool, a waste product from the textile industry, was shaken over the wallpaper to create a simulated fur or flock effect. Other flock wallpapers imitated cut velvet or silk damasks.
As the print production methods improved, Victorian wallpapers came in a range of shades. Pale, muted colors were popular, but some homeowners also used brighter tones. These days, many people use patterned wallpaper to break up the monotony of plain walls and add color and texture to small rooms or powder rooms.
Wallpaper fashions varied among classes, as well. The wealthy tended to set the tone, but middle-class households also hung on to older styles. In addition, wallpaper fashions would change throughout a house: Timeless smaller patterns might remain in bedrooms, whilst the latest designs took pride of place in parlours and drawing rooms.
One of the most interesting Victorian wallpaper trends was the frieze-filling-dado arrangement. This layered effect consisted of three separate patterns: the dado paper covered the lower part of the wall, from skirting board to picture rail; the filling paper went above the dado to the picture rail; and the frieze paper decorated the top section from the top of the chair rail to the ceiling.
The Victorian era was an exciting time for design, and many of the trends that we now consider classics were developed during this period. Unfortunately, these trends also entailed the widespread use of arsenic-based paint and wallpaper pigments. Haniya Rae, a historian of Victorian decorative arts, has written an excellent book on the topic called Bitten by Witch Fever: The History of Arsenic in Victorian England.