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From bright and bold graphics to wandering scenery, these classic wallpapers have endured the test of time and still inspire today’s designers.
Just as the Chinese invented paper, they were also first to stick it on their walls. Painted rice paper was used for decoration as far back as the Qin Dynasty in the first century. Innovation using smoother fibers like linen and cotton eventually replaced rice, making painting on paper even more durable and creating an ever-higher demand.
As the Silk Road introduced patterned papers to the European markets in the 12th century, the continental love affair with wallpaper followed a similar path as sought-after chintz. Simple block-printing techniques were used to create patterns that imitated luxury fabrics, such as silk damask and cotton chinoiserie, as a way to decorate the home in a cost-effective manner. The Industrial Revolution made it easier to produce complex patterns, and it soon became all the rage to outfit the home with wallpaper from floor to ceiling, no matter one’s socioeconomic status.
The main intention of wallpaper has always been to infuse the home with color and pattern, to create a world outside of one’s own, and add a sense of the delight to the everyday. Wallpaper patterns are as much a piece of art as the paintings hung on your wall, and many designs have outlasted the maker. From rambling roses and scenic views to bold, graphic prints, these iconic wallpapers have made such a lasting impression that designers still turn to to them to transform a space.
Famous for its English chintzes, Colefax and Fowler’s Bowood has endured since 1938 as one of their most popular patterns. The design was taken from a mid-19th-century fragment found at Bowood House in Wiltshire, England.
Defying trends, Scalamandré’s Zebras is just as popular now as it was 80 years ago. Gino Circiello, owner of the illustrious Italian restaurant Gino’s, enlisted his friend Flora Scalamandré to help create a standout print for his small-budget Manhattan location. Mr. Circiello was fond of hunting and dreamed of an African safari he could not afford, so instead, he had playful zebras flanking his walls in a dramatic pattern colored in the now-iconic tomato red. Having shut its doors in 2010, Gino’s had been a refuge for the creative elite of New York, including Ed Sullivan and Frank Sinatra, since the 1940s.
While loved and used by many interior designers over the years, Zebras is also known for its use in Wes Anderson’s 2001 The Royal Tenenbaums as the wallpaper in Margot’s childhood bedroom.
This classic Pierre Frey wallpaper was inspired by ikat fabrics from the 18th century and has a cult following from some of the world’s most stylish names, including Estée Lauder, who used it in her Hamptons home in the 1970s.
Though this sweeping, hand-painted wallpaper may be fairly new to de Gournay’s repertoire, Salon Vert’s leafy branches were inspired by the famous antique paper used in Baroness Pauline de Rothschild’s Paris apartment. The pattern was captured in a photograph taken by Horst P. Horst for Vogue with the Baroness peeping into the room from the jib door in 1969.
While de Gournay has since re-created this majestic design, the original was taken down in 1988 after Rothschild’s death and was last seen for sale in a Parisienne antiques shop in the early 1990s. Its whereabouts since are unknown.
We all know and love a tropical banana leaf print, but CW Stockwell’s hand-printed Martinique pattern from 1942 was one of the originals. Second-generation CW Stockwell owners Remy and Lucile Chatain created this design in collaboration with botanical illustrator Albert Stockdale after a vacation to the South Seas. Fashion and interior designer Don Loper fell in love with the pattern and used it in the Beverly Hills Hotel, creating an iconic Southern California look.
Pyne Hollyhock was divined from those magical designer-client love affairs. Socialite Nancy “Princess” Pyne enlisted Albert Hadley to decorate her 1929 Cherryfields estate located in New Jersey’s horse country. The main living room became one of the most venerated interiors in the industry since its 1962 inception, the most defining element being the frothy floral chintz adorning the upholstery. Hadley had picked up the patterned fabric in England, and to the rest of Pyne’s family chagrin, she fell in love. Little did Pyne’s family know how important the pattern would later become to interior design.
In 2008, Schumacher approached Pyne about the pattern, and she graciously loaned it to them. After two years of painstaking work, the pattern was introduced to the market and has since gained even more popularity. We love how Lauren Lowe of Lauren Elaine Interiors adds a bit of English charm to a mudroom using this classic pattern.
One of the most recognizable patterns from the interior design lexicon, Les Touches’s popularity has spanned decades and continues to be one of Brunschwig & Fils’s top sellers. The animal-esque polka dot was originally developed from a set of post-WWII photographs and first introduced in 1965. Since then, the pattern is offered in more than 18 colorways, and its versatility spans from traditional to eclectic decorating styles. Here, Danielle Rollins mixes Les Touches with blue lacquer trim for a chic hallway.
Adelphi Paper Hangings is a small, artisanal company whose 1999 origins are rooted in preserving the traditional techniques and patterns of antique wallpapers. This whimsical design called Parakeet and Pearls in green and pink was popular in 18th-century France and was used in the recent film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.
Titled Sigourney, the name of this iconic wallpaper hints to its celebrity origins. John Knott, owner of Quadrille and good friend David Saloman (Sigourney Weaver’s decorator at the time), found and gifted a Hawaiian quilt to the actress. John loved the playful motif so much he turned into a vibrant, large-scale print. John Fondas expertly uses Sigourney’s print as the focal point of his West Palm Beach dining room.
One of the most iconic and storied chinoiseries, de Gournay’s St. Laurent was inspired by an antique set owned by the acclaimed fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Installed in Laurent’s and Bergé’s Paris apartment, the wallpaper was believed to have been depicted in Cecil Beaton’s famed watercolor portrait of Harrison and Mona Williams (later Mona Bismark) in their Palm Beach home. The Williams purchased the papers from interior designer Syrie Maugham in the 1930s, and they changed hands several times before landing in Yves Saint Laurent’s possession for good.
Based on an archival botanical pattern that acclaimed midcentury architect Josef Frank designed for Schumacher in 1947, Citrus Garden bears the signature whimsy, color, and personality of Frank’s distinct style. He combined Bauhaus principles with a loose, hand-drawn sensibility to create textiles possessing a modern, inimitable charm.
Famous interior decorators Albert Hadley and Harry Hinson collaborated together in 2001 to create this wallpaper pattern bursting with color. This light and airy print was unavailable except in large quantities due to the high cost of producing hand-printed wallpapers, but the recent acquisition of Hinson by Scalamandré will make the pattern available as early as spring 2021.
A smaller-scale print discovered in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Ipswich Sprig, re-created by Adelphi, was a popular pattern in parlors and dining rooms in the first half of the 18th century until larger prints became the rage in interiors. This pattern has been used in many historic homes, such as the Choate House at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., and Colonial Williamsburg.
Originating in the 18th century, Bird and Thistle is an English archival print initially printed on a cream cotton tabby from an engraved copper plate at the Bromley Hall print works from 1780–1785. Brunshwig & Fils reintroduced this pattern nearly 200 years later in both fabric and paper, and these frolicking birds have since enjoyed an unparalleled resurgence among interior design enthusiasts. We adore how Clary Bosbyshell designs a feminine entryway vignette employing this class chinoiserie.
Inspired by a work trip to design the interiors of the Brazilian luxury hotel and casino Palácio Quitandinha (designed by Italian architect in Luis Fossatti in a mix of Baroque and Art Deco styles) at the very beginning of WWII, Dorothy Draper came back with a sketch for a banana leaf print that would soon become one of the most iconic wallpapers designs of all time. The pattern was officially introduced with Draper’s design in California’s Arrowhead Springs Hotel in 1939, and it continues to this day to portray a sense of old-world glamour.
Kazumi Yoshida’s first design for Clarence House, Papiers Japonais, was inspired by a book of antique Japanese botanical paintings and has been a top-seller for the brand ever since. In the 2011 book, Clarence House: The Art of the Textile, Kazumi muses on one of his favorite designs:
“’Papiers Japonais,’ the first printed fabric I ever designed for Clarence House, encapsulates the balance that I look for in my work. It’s a kind of ‘less is more’ botanical. I found myself fascinated by a book of botanical drawings found in a museum in Tokyo. So different from Western versions, the drawings were linear ink sketches with just a hint of color. They were so delicate; I really liked them. So I started to sketch flowers from a Western botanical book in a Japanese way, leaving them a bit unfinished, with just a hint of color, a suggestion of blossoms and leaves. Then we scattered the sketches on the floor. The way they lay on top of each other created shadows so interesting that I made them part of the overall pattern. That collected collage of drawings became the final artwork for the printed fabric. The design is so offbeat, but it’s subtle. Your affection for it can develop over time. Lee Radziwill used this print. She used it on the walls in her New York penthouse apartment.”
Views of North America, more succinctly known as Scenic Views, has become one of the most famous panoramic papers in creation due to its use in the White House. Contrary to popular belief, this ode to America was actually created in France.
Jean-Julien Deltil, an artist often employed to create designs for the wallpaper company Zuber, was inspired by Jacques-Gérard Milbert’s recently published lithographs of the New World across the Atlantic. Requiring 1,690 printing blocks and 223 colors, this luxurious, hand-printed 1830s wallpaper spans scenes of New York Bay, the Hudson River, Catskill Mountains, Boston Harbor, and Niagara Falls. This charming depiction of a preindustrial America wooed the likes of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and she used it to redecorate the White House in 1961. It was also used in many private homes and hotels over the centuries.
British textile designer and activist William Morris designed this pattern in 1876, using it in his own dining room at Kelmscott House, which is now a historic landmark in the Cotswolds. A favorite among designers and celebrities alike, it’s been spotted in both Liv Tyler and Kate Hudson’s homes.
One of Sister Parish’s most iconic prints, Albert is an ode to Parish’s longtime business and creative partner. Originally designed by Albert Hadley himself, the print is characterized by small dashes to create a delicate yet effortlessly chic pattern that works in traditional and modern interiors alike.
A recurring graphic in David Hicks’s oeuvre, this bold repeating hexagon offered at Cole & Son is one of Hicks’s most well-known patterns. A sur-flex print technique developed to replicate the character of by-hand block-printing takes the edge off of each corner and creates an overall softer hand.
A room famous for its green trim and luscious wallpaper, Zuber is the designer for the dreamy walls of Belfry Chamber at the Sleeper-McCann House in Gloucester, Massachusetts. This 1832 chinoiserie is still hand-painted today, and designer Henry Davis Sleeper used this pattern to minimize the odd angles of the room by cutting out birds and flowers and reapplying them in different areas to hide seams.
Schumacher’s storied Shengyou Toile was drawn by Jean-Baptiste Pillement, a court painter to Marie Antoinette. It was first printed in 1785 at the Oberkampf factory in Jouy, the genre’s seminal mill. Schumacher brought the design into their fold, adding fresh color ways, like this unexpected yet bold purple.
British designer David Hicks developed this signature bold vase motif for Clarence House in the mid 1970s, and it has a been a best-seller ever since. Just as Hicks was known for his ability to blend the old with the new in interior design, the strong graphic quality keeps the pattern modern while the symmetrical repeat has the feel of an old-world damask.
Dorothy Draper created this splashy design in 1939 for the Greenbrier Resort. It was used in the main entrance and throughout the rest of the resort to create a colorful, unforgettable grand entrance that still inspires today.