1900-1970: Designs for the New Century and the Modern Consumer
Many of the wallpaper styles developed during the 1890s continued to be popular into the first decades of the twentieth century. Sidewalls designed with coordinated wide borders and ceiling papers were used in every room of the house, including the kitchen. Darker colors were most often found in parlors, halls, and dining rooms, while lighter shades were appropriate for bedrooms.
Novelty papers continued to include nursery and Art Nouveau designs and any other motif that would appear new and different.
For those who wanted to avoid any pattern on the walls, solid-color oatmeal and cartridge papers were available in a range of shades. Borders were optional. Imitation grass cloth and other subtle textures, some imitating stucco work, provided a bit more visual interest. Sanitary papers with tile designs became increasingly popular for bathrooms.
Beginning in the first years of the twentieth century, wallpaper manufacturers, mail-order houses like Sears, Roebuck, and Company, and many wallpaper retailers created sample books to feature their new patterns. Today these are among the best ways to learn about the broad range of wallpaper designs and colors available at any given time. Manufacturers continued to produce patterns to complement the interiors of many different architectural styles, both old and new, from traditional Cape Cod to Art Deco Modern, Arts and Crafts bungalow, American, Dutch, or Spanish colonial.
A 1937 sample book by the Hickey Company used cut-out room settings through which customers could view actual wallpaper samples. This demonstrated how a pattern might look in different settings, such as a living room with up-to date-furniture or an Art Deco hallway. The plain neutral tones shown suggested that textured wallpaper could introduce a richness and warmth to a room that was unmatched by painted walls, which were becoming a popular alternative.
During World War II, the wallpaper industry suffered a serious setback. The War Production Board classified wallpaper as a non-essential commodity and greatly reduced the number of allowable styles, new patterns, and sample books, and prohibited the use of metallic bronze and aluminum powders. Manufacturers were required to use a lighter-weight stock of paper, which affected the overall quality of the wallpaper. Full production resumed in 1945 when the limits were removed and manufacturers increased production to keep pace with skyrocketing consumer spending and the building boom that followed the war.
Mid-twentieth century consumers had a wide variety of wallpaper patterns and styles from which to choose: traditional, Early American, contemporary with stylized motifs in machine-age colors, abstract geometrics, and patterns with cabbage roses or oversize tropical leaves, to name only a few. Many sample books guided customers towards appropriate patterns for the different rooms in their houses, such as kitchens, dens, children’s rooms, and powder rooms.
As the century progressed, new materials and printing methods, such as silk screening, were introduced, and vinyl papers gained an important place in commercial and industrial settings. Selected for its durability and ease in cleaning, vinyl wallpaper expanded the wallpaper market beyond the traditional residential consumer to the contract buyer who selected vinyl wallpaper for use in hospitals, hotels, and restaurants. Introduced in 1947 by United Wallpaper, vinyl wallcoverings would become a leading product of the wallpaper industry by the mid-1960s and account for nearly fifty percent of all wallpaper sales.
Although painted walls still provide stiff competition, each year the wallpaper industry produces thousands of new patterns. A visit to any home decorating center proves that wallpaper still enjoys considerable popularity for the visual interest, richness, and sense of history it brings to the interior of a home.
More twentieth-century samples
Click each image to see the object record