Using Wallpaper in a Heritage House


A century home bedroom.
Wallpaper is a natural choice.

I am always very pleased when I see one of my clients want to use wallpaper in their heritage home rather than just paint as is the norm these days. Wallpaper was so common in homes of the past that for us to restore and not use wallpaper somewhere means that we are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to add pattern and colour to our rooms. Not all wallpaper is easy to find however. Some of the nicest and most historically appropriate patterns are found on line. One of my clients is looking for wallpaper to fit into the area above the wainscot (known as a frieze) of the dining room of her 1912 house. She has found some lovely patterns on one site. Here are some of the points I shared with her:

? Picking a single color / white scheme is more limiting than a multicolored example. With multicolored wallpaper you can pick out colours that work in adjacent rooms or repaint later if you get tired of the colours you chose for your wall – simply pick a different one!

? It’s hard to pick colours from online sources because the colours may not be exactly as shown. Request or buy samples before you commit to the purchase.

? The wallpaper in some sites may be hand printed and they require professional application. Some have water based inks which can bleed. When I was in Calgary doing interviews for my book I complimented one lady about her William Morris wallpaper – she said they had to redo an entire room because the installer did not know how to work with this paper and the colours all bled.

? If you are thinking of purchasing the wallpapers from an online site call around and ask some wallpaper installers what they would charge to install such papers (mention water based inks and pasting required). Also make sure you read every bit of product information available on the site so that you know what you are getting into. This may help you make a decision.

? A last recommendation: If you decide you do not want to order that type of paper or you find it too expensive for your budget then why not use the site to get some great ideas and choose a few that you really like. Print these and use them as a guideline for when you start your search for appropriate styles for your home. Don’t expect the dramatic results that you may get with these historically appropriate reproduction wallpapers but sometimes, going after the “feeling” created by wallpaper is fine too.


4 thoughts on “Using Wallpaper in a Heritage House

  1. Like I said, I have been looking and looking for wallpaper. And I am not going to pay a king’s ransom for it.
    However, in my search, I am being told over and over and over again, that wallpaper is out of style.
    What resources are there out there for wallpaper- preferably not online, as one can spend a small fortune on samples before getting the right design and colourway. Suggestions?

  2. I wanted to use wall paper in the soon to be dining room and located a couple of historic wall paper dealers -one in Canada and a couple in the US…but no matter which way I slice and dice the numbers, I cannot justify $700 USD to wall paper an area 15 ft x 38 inches. Can anyone recommend some wall paper sources in the Edmonton or Calgary area? I cant find any sellers in Red Deer.

    1. Beverly: The days of cheap wallpaper are pretty well over. Some of the specialty sources like Banbury and Banbury in the US and Charles Rupert in Canada can be very expensive but their designs are not the stuff of mainstream wallpaper companies. The way they create the wallpaper is also much more labour intensive so if you buy their paper you have to make sure you understand exactly how to hang it. Most of the time it is recommended that a professional hang it.

      You know if you look long enough you have a good chance of finding something suitable for houses of any age in normal wallpaper books. The problem is, first of all, that most people are not that familiar with the style or motifs of the era. They get exhausted just looking at all the patterns because they look at every book and every page.

      Save yourself some time by looking at the intro page in each wallpaper book. If it seems to feel right put it in a pile next to you – don’t open it up yet. Do that until you have at least four or five books that meet your criteria. Then you can spend more time looking at each design carefully and try to imagine what it might look like. Do this slowly so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Do this over more than one visit if you have to but keep track of the books you’ve already looked at so that you’re not overwhelmed all over again.

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