Friday, 14 January 2011

Wallpaper Designs of William Woollams & Co

Illustration: William Woollams & Co. Ivy wallpaper design, 1849.

These five wallpaper designs were produced by the English company William Woollams & Co in 1849 and give a broad taster as to the type of design work that was available in England during the middle of the nineteenth century, provided by a good, solid and critically acclaimed company.

Although French derived wallpapers were still seen by a large proportion of the public during this period as preferable to those that were domestically produced, English based companies had made great strides in wallpaper decoration, with the presentation of simplified, yet elegant examples that tended to suit the more conservative and less flamboyant needs of the English population.

Illustration: William Woollams & Co. Block printed wallpaper design, 1849.

It is interesting to note that this particular company seemed to stock a range of design work that covered the precepts of the design reform movement and their call for less flamboyant and more sustainable design work, along with the much more flamboyant European derived work that lent itself much more to the creative interiors of the French, but more particularly those of the Italian.

It is sometimes difficult to appreciate the complex role that the manufacturing and retail trade played in the history of the decorative arts and interior styling. Some companies were fully responsive to the importance of ideas concerning design and decoration reform and the changes that needed to be put in place as regards not only completed pattern work but the machinations that delivered the finished product. However, companies also had to be aware of a range of factors associated with the general buying public, often including wildly diverging elements that included indifference, intransigence, transient novelty and outside fashion forces. Large proportions of the consumer market often veered uncontrollably between one fashion fad and another, and although manufacturers and retailers were to blame at least to some extent, or at least could be held indirectly responsible for these fluctuations, it was not always as easy to control the market as it at first appeared.

Illustration: William Woollams & Co. Arabesque wallpaper design, 1849.

It was not unusual for companies to offer a relatively wide selection of styles, some contemporary, but others sometimes twenty to thirty years out of date. Consumers have always had a range of differing tastes that have usually had more to do with cultural traditions, social and financial concerns, than that of retail pressure. For companies to factor in all of these issues and preferences in order to produce products for all tastes was hard and often impossible. Wallpaper companies in particular often had large pattern books that covered a vast range of tastes. In this mid-nineteenth century era, wallpaper design incorporated the highly fashionable Gothic Revival, as well as the passing though still popular French Rococo Revival, two styles that were poles apart both stylistically and culturally. However, other factors were also involved such as a number of other decorative style eras that were still being used by companies, but also pattern work would be split into different types of decorative work, whether that be florals, geometrics, motifs or all over pattern, and each pattern would come in a range of colour tones. 

Illustration: William Woollams & Co. Arabesque wallpaper design, 1849.

Budgets for wallpapers also differed depending on the finances of either the individual or the room that the wallpaper was to decorate. Expensive flock papers were often used for public rooms, while money could be saved by using cheaper printed wallpapers for rooms that were not to be on display. With this extensive range of factors it is surprising that a company such as William Woollams & Co had time to include what many manufacturers and retailers considered to be a dubious undertaking, that of design reform. However, the company was consistently and critically praised for its high standards in both the practise of its design work and its finished product. It consistently offered wallpapers throughout this period that were thoughtful, balanced and attractive to the public. In many respects William Woollams & Co were a company that worked on the principal that the general buying public deserved the best that they could produce and although this was by no means a universal principle in manufacturing during this period, it was more widespread than is often readily perceived. The integrity of the company and the intelligence of the consumer should not necessarily be downgraded or ignored altogether.

Illustration: William Woollams & Co. Flock wallpaper design, 1849.

By contrast, the contemporary market of today is often lacking in any other principal than profit margins, though fortunately for us there are always companies that can prove this principal wrong, even if they may appear to be few and far between.

Reference links:
Wallpaper: A History of Style and Trends
French Scenic Wallpaper 1795-1865
Wallpaper and the Artist: From Durer to Warhol
The Papered Wall: The History, Patterns and Techniques of Wallpaper, Second Edition
Wallpaper, its history, design and use: with frontispiece in colour and numerous illustrations from
A history of English wallpaper, 1509-1914
Wallpaper, a history
Book of Wallpaper: A History and an Appreciation
Wallpapers: An International History.from the Victoria and Albert
The story of wallpaper: Highlights in the evolution of wallpaper as a medium of decoration from the 16th century to the present
Papered Wall: The History, Patterns and Techniques of Wallpaper
The last hundred years: The magic influence of Mr. Kydd, blocked and stencilled wallpapers, 1900-1925
19th Century European Textiles: Dyeing & Wallpaper
London Wallpapers: Their Manufacture and Use 1690-1840 (Revised Edition)
Wallpapers by Edward Bawden Printed at the Curwen Press
Off the Wall: Wonderful Wall Coverings of the Twentieth Century
Wallpaper: The Ultimate Guide

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