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Decorating With Wallpaper

[Using Color]  [Choosing Your Fabrics]  [Period Design Motifs In Fabrics And Wallpapers]  [Wallpaper]  [Decorating And Floor Coverings]  [More Home Decorating Tips] 

( Originally Published 1955 )

Rightly chosen, wallpaper is one of the least expensive means of achieving a distinguished or cosy looking interior. Especially if you are working on a budget or are short of good pictures, do not fail to consider the possibilities of wallpaper to set the decorative theme of a room.

Wallpaper also has this to recommend it: It can cover up unsightly cracks or patches on plaster walls that would require much additional preparation, perhaps even replastering, if you were going to paint them. It also tends to make a room appear warmer and better furnished.

In addition, wallpaper has a variety of uses other than that of a wall covering. Standing screens can be covered with handsome wallpaper wherever you want to introduce a patterned effect against a plain colored background. Or try papering an alcove or a bay window in a room otherwise painted in a flat color.

Old wastebaskets can be rejuvenated by covering them with wallpaper; and bureau drawers can be lined with wallpaper in small allover designs-an attractive surprise each time you open them.

Wallpaper will glamorize any closet. Your assorted hat and dress boxes, if similarly covered, will look like planned units and eliminate the cluttered look of most closets.

Swag, molding, leaf, and fret wallpaper borders have other uses besides the traditional one. They can be used to cover a wooden cornice over your window draperies or on your fourposter tester-top type of bed. Papers in small scale designs can be carried most effectively over the ceilings in informal homes. A wonderful solution for a gabled window.


The size and purpose of your room dictate the scale, or size, of the design to be used. Consider carefully whether a design will be overpowering or will seem insignificant and lost. Remember that wallpaper gives the room a furnished look.

Small designs belong in small rooms with small-scaled furniture; large, boldly-colored designs belong in large rooms.

Gay colorful papers belong in rooms infrequently used; muted (grayed) colors in patterns or self-toned papers are more restful in rooms in constant use.

Halls: Large floral designs, such as the colorful chintz types, are lovely for Georgian and Colonial interiors. Scenic papers are always good, as are the Chinese patterns, either the Chinoiserie (small repeat Chinese scenic patterns) or an allover design like fretwork. Silver or gold papers that come in either strips or small squares, known as "Chinese tea-box paper," are most decorative and not only give light to a hallway but also lend a wonderful background to almost any color scheme.

Photographic murals in sepia and gray tones are also excellent, particularly in modern interiors.

Other patterned wallpapers for hallways are trellis, diagonal or diamond-shaped designs, architectural block designs, bamboo and leaf designs and, of course, stripes. Wide stripes are particularly smart for late eighteenth and nineteenth century halls. Small splatter-dash effects are good for small halls.

Marbleized and tortoise-shell effects are for formal interiors, either covering the entire wall or used in paneled effects, framing paneled effects, or as dadoes on the lower part of the walls.

Living Rooms: This is probably where you and your family spend most of your time and do your entertaining; so, if you want to paper it rather than paint it, much thought must be given to the selection of a pattern.

If you own period furniture, whether it is antique or reproduction, choose a paper with motifs of the same period. If your woodwork is natural-finished pine, walnut, or oak, consider a paper that has warm greens and blues, and light tones of terracotta or soft yellows. These will pull the room together, and at the same time make it gay and charming. However, don't forget your overall color scheme; your upholstered furniture, pictures, and accessories, should be related in color to the walls.

Broadly speaking, large-scaled scenic papers belong in the more spacious, formal homes. As a rule, if selected for the living room, they should be used only on either one or on three walls, for they definitely attract attention. The remaining one or three walls should be painted the background color or the second most dominant color in the paper. Small allover scenic papers in repeat patterns are designed for use in informal Early American rooms, Colonial interiors, or in ranch-type homes. As scenics compete with pictures, they are more safely used in halls with suitable hangings, such as an old mirror, barometer, or clock, or in other rooms as mentioned below, rather than in living rooms.

Grass cloth and textured bamboo papers are lovely backgrounds if you have Chinese Chippendale or modern furniture of Oriental influence. (The Japanese and Polynesian influences, as well as the Chinese, play a great part in modern design today.) If your room has no particular period feeling, you can use an allover self-patterned design, like damask, or patterned foliage designs. Or you might favor stripes. Diagonals are another possibility, though most of these patterns, like scenics, tend to impart a restless feeling to a living room and should be chosen, therefore, with extreme care. Plaids and checkered effects are good only in a very informal room, or where you want a crisp, tailored effect. They are excellent for boys' rooms. On the whole, living rooms are better with quiet monochromatic backgrounds that will set off your best pieces of furniture and pictures to the greatest advantage.

Libraries and Dens: Grass cloth, scenic papers, or map designs are all suitable. One of the better papers imitating natural wood might also be worth considering. Some are much better than others, so you should look at several manufacturers' samples before choosing.

Dining Rooms: Scenics and paneled effects are good with period furniture. Morals and foliage, such as chintz patterns, are gay and nearly always appropriate except with very modern furniture. Regularly spaced Chinese motifs, fruit motifs, and architectural block motifs are also widely used, the last two being particularly good for Early American homes. For modern dining rooms you might consider "Chinese tea-box paper," plain burlap, or the diamond and other geometric wallpaper designs. Consider also the idea of one papered wall, the rest painted a solid color like green, gold-yellow, white, or any color that harmonizes with the paper.

Dinettes and Kitchens: These rooms lend themselves to the use of gay papers with fruit, leaf, or floral motifs, lattice or trellis designs, or plaids and architectural block designs. For a dinette you might also consider scenic papers that give a sense of space, such as a scene overlooking the bay of Naples or other impressive vista. The ceiling could be papered in a stripe to suggest an awning, with a scalloped effect cut out and pasted to the top of the wall for a border.

Bedrooms: A bedroom is not only a place to sleep, but a retreat. This is where you can best express your individual personality. A woman can stick to the softer pastel colors and use floral patterns, from the sprigged chintz type to the larger and more stylized kind, or swag and drapery effects. Satin-striped papers are lovely, as are moire papers. Both are good for Victorian or late eighteenth-century rooms and most effective when used with deep swag borders. For men's bedrooms, papers of the grass cloth types are good because they have texture and give a feeling of stability and masculinity. Large medallion designs on dark grounds are suitable for rooms in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century styles. But it is wise to rely on paint rather than on paper, either for a man's room or for a bedroom with modern furniture. Plaids are suitable, as mentioned before, for boys' rooms; and gay springlike floral patterns look charming in girls' rooms or small guest rooms.

Bathrooms: Here you can use all sorts of amusing papers, such as stylized designs of fish, shells, birds, or ships; florals or swags; or just swags and other wallpaper borders on painted walls. You can also use wallpaper borders on painted walls to outline doors, windows, the mirrored cabinet, or even the bathtub-but be careful not to overdo it. There are beautiful, waterproof, washable -papers made today for bathrooms. Look into these; they will last for years. But do tie up the color scheme of your bathroom with the connecting bedroom, for harmony. Also make sure the window and shower curtains fit the theme or are of a harmonizing solid color.

Game Rooms: Here you can be gay and foolish, for you use this room only for fun occasions. You can use bright plaids; large-scaled, stylized designs of any number of things that might amuse you, such as circus scenes or balloon flights of the early nineteenth century; or scenics depicting fishing, hunting, or other sports. There are all sorts of gay papers specially designed for such rooms. Here, too, might be the ideal spot for a photomural. Or you can be more conservative and plan a game room to resemble an old English tavern; use a better paper resembling pine planks, with brass and copper utensils, pewter and pottery beer mugs, and a wine or beer keg to carry out the theme. There are also new papers that imitate whitewashed brick or stone, straw matting, bamboo blinds, folding shutters.


Wallpaper rolls are usually packed in bundles of two or three rolls. Each roll contains 30 square feet of paper.

American wallpaper comes in two widths: 22 inches (20 inches trimmed), and 30 inches (28 inches trimmed).

Determining the Amount of Paper Needed

1. Measure the height of the wall in feet.

2. Measure the length, or width, of each wall and total.

3. Multiply this total by the height. The result will be the number of square feet in the solid walls.

4. Divide this number by 30. This will give the number of rolls you would need if the walls were unbroken.

5. Lastly, deduct for openings, allowing 20 square feet per average window, door, or fireplace.

If, for example, your room has two average windows and two average doors, you will deduct 80 square feet. Since each roll of wallpaper contains 30 square feet, you will need two less than the number estimated for unbroken walls in step 4 above.

How to Measure for Scenic Papers

1. Measure the length, or width, of each wall in inches and add them up.

2. Divide this total by the width of each strip of scenic paper in inches, and you will have the number of strips needed.

How to Order Scenic Papers

Scenic papers come in separate strips 19 inches wide and from 6 to 10 or more feet long. Several of these are used to make a complete set. If one set is not enough to cover an entire wall, use it as wide panels on part of the wall.

Scenic papers form a center of interest in a room. They are best hung in the wall space above a dado (see Glossary) or chair rail, where they can be seen to full advantage. Never spoil the design or illusion of space such papers give by placing tall furniture against them. Keep the furniture line low against such a wall.

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