James Russell on Wallpaper

“After my Décor Diva post on the expiration date of wallpaper, James Russell of James Russell Agencies wrote me an e-mail expressing his views on the matter. His comments were so enlightening that we just had to share his thoughts with you. I have worked with James for many years on a great deal of projects   during which I was constantly reminded of his wealth of knowledge. Let it be said then, that when this man speaks, sit up and listen! So, ladies and gents, please welcome our first guest blogger, Mr James Russell.”     
– Love Rose

By James Russell

From the early days of the Middle Ages the very wealthy hung tapestries on their walls for decoration as well as for insulation and warmth. Tapestries were very expensive and therefore could only be afforded by the wealthiest. Not so ‘well off’ members of the elite, prevented from buying tapestries due to price or wars, turned to wallpapers as a form of décor. Early wallpapers were printed or painted in panels and one of the earliest know wallpapers was English and dates back to 1509. Some used fabrics to clad their walls for décor and insulation, but this too was expensive. Early tints and paints were not very colourfast and had to be re-coloured making hand painted murals and tromp l’oeil expensive compared to printed wallpapers which could be replicated a number of times. Some of the earliest fabrics used were woven silks, Toile de Jouy and ‘Print Room’ designs. These, along with early tapestry designs, formed the basic wallpaper designs. As printing techniques and paper manufacture developed and evolved, wallpapers became more affordable to the middle classes, and eventually in the 1900’s to the working classes where it was a major décor item until the 1980’s loosing favour to Faux painting.

On a visit to the Louvre in Paris you will find many examples of beautiful tapestries.

The re-birth of the ‘wallpaper trend’ initially focussed on something called the “feature wall” in a room. Traditionally most rooms used to have a “focal point” which was, more often than not, a fireplace around which people would gather to keep warm. This “focal point” was generally enhanced with decorative features such as a fire surround, a mantle piece topped with decorative items, and above the mantle a piece an important artwork, family portrait or decorative mirror.

A recent launch of Design Team's new fabric & wallpaper range - James Russell Agencies is the Cape Town agent for Design Team.

With the advent of televisions and later home entertainment systems, radiators for central heating and later under-floor heating, and the architectural development of “open plan”, the traditional “focal point” in a room became obsolete. Modern architecture would try where possible to take advantage of such things as “great views” by putting in large windows, great in the daytime but at night often enclosed by curtains, thus lessening the effect.

Using decorative wallpapers to create a “feature wall” can be a great décor solution to an otherwise “featureless” room. Using vertical stripes can enhance the apparent visual height of a room, horizontal stripes give a room energy, and “pictorial” wallpapers can create ‘vistas or views’ in rooms lacking well appointed windows. “Feature walls” become works of art in and of themselves. But why stop at a feature wall? By using the modern wallpapers, featureless passages, uninteresting 3rd bedrooms or pokey guest loos can all be transformed.

The minimalist trend decors of the last decade or so are now crying out to be “updated”. The many new advances in wallpaper technology, such as real or faux raffia finishes, can add great textures to rooms, whilst developments in metallic or glass beaded finishes can enhance the lighting effects within a space.

Not everyone is able to create an “outdoor lounge” on patios or terraces leading onto gardens, but by using floral or nature/botanical wallpapers, one can bring the garden indoors. So whether your desire is to live in a forest, a desert, an urban city-scape, or even in outer space, there’s a wallpaper to suite your needs. From wallpapers with a “hand painted” look to photo-real papers on a huge scale, wallpapers allow one to create features out of what were “just walls”.

So when you ask are wallpapers a “fad trend” or a trend that’s here to stay for a while, my intuition tells me that not only are they here to stay, but with the developments in the various technologies being applied to the manufacture of wallpapers, we are going to see even greater “works of art” to adorn the walls of our living and working spaces.

James Russell Agencies is the agent for Design Team Fabrics & Wallpapers in Cape Town, check out James’ website: here.


11 thoughts on “James Russell on Wallpaper

  1. You know – small things amuse small minds. Well – the small thing that is so amusing me is the little radio in the one image – it really does take me back to the days when we all sat around that little electronic devise for our entertainment.

    • Oh yes, those Design Team chickies are ingenious! BTW, I absolutely LOVE your blog and all the furniture pieces – those are some of the best furniture transformations I’ve seen in a long long time. Beautiful!

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