Research makes perfect when reproducing wallpaper
December 22, 2014
Historic wallpaper doesn’t just show us how people decorated their homes centuries ago. It also provides inspiration for today’s décor. Interior designer Laura McCoy of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, knows this very well. Her company, Laura McCoy Designs, creates reproduction wallpapers for historic house museums throughout the United States, including the Rutherford B. Hayes House in Fremont, Ohio; Gore Place in Waltham, Massachusetts; and, most recently, Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, among many others. She also uses eighteenth- and nineteenth-century designs as inspiration for private-homeowner clients.
McCoy, an Ogden Codman Design Group member, is delighted that Historic New England’s complete wallpaper collection is now online in a new and improved web interface. Exploring the collection, she enjoys the ability to zoom into high-resolution images. “I can actually see the bubbles and suck marks from the block printing,” she said. “I’m looking at a French flocked paper and can see the individual hairs.”
Growing up in a pre-Civil War house in New Jersey, McCoy was surrounded by historic interiors from a young age. After working in her family’s interior design business, she joined a wallpaper manufacturing company, then eventually started her own business. Her expertise in reproducing historic wallpapers—sometimes from nothing more than old photographs, or a few fragments attached to plaster—gives her a unique design perspective.
“Wallpaper is not a whim, it’s an investment,” she says. “You really have to love what you put on the walls.” She laments that many homeowners see their houses as short-term investments, and that real estate agents often warn owners that wallpaper hurts resale value.
Nevertheless, passionate homeowners come to her to reproduce designs they love, often after finding a scrap or two in unusual places. McCoy describes this process as wallpaper archaeology: “You can find evidence behind molding, behind baseboards, in basements, in attics.”
Once the evidence is in hand, research is required to complete the pattern. McCoy can use Historic New England’s collection to discern period-appropriate styles and colorways. “Wallpaper was a ubiquitous form of design for the masses,” she says. “It speaks to our natural love of beauty and pattern, our love of rebirth. That’s why flowers are a part of so many wallpaper patterns. It reaches us on a visceral level.”