Do you love interior design from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s? Our friend Sarah — owner of the Gilbert Spindel ’round house’ — recently scored two amazing Alfred Peats Co. wallpaper books from 1928. The books are chock full of gorgeous floral, metallic, geometric and lineoleum-like wallpaper designs and interior design ideas, too — giving us the perfect opportunity to take a look back at prewar design and how it was done.
I found 2 wallpaper books from 1928 at a garage sale recently. Beautiful papers, a lot look hand painted, some have metallic accents and there is a small section of glossy extra slick papers for the kitchen.
I did a little digging online and found that Alfred Peats Co. seems to have been a large distributor of high-quality wallpaper and wallpaper murals. I found a catalog full of sketches of rooms decorated with the company’s wallpaper from 1917 on archive.org:
The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum also offers this information about the company alongside the 1915 Alfred Peats Co. wallpaper sample book that is part of their collection:
This 1915 sample book by the Alfred Peats Company is from the Decorators Wall Paper Co., the Vermont distributing agent for Peats. Peats was not the manufacturer of these wallpapers, but acted as the jobber or distributor. Many different manufacturers’ names can be found on the selvedges, including Imperial of Glens Falls, New York; Gledhill of New York City; and Becker, Smith & Page of Philadelphia. Sample books are important part of the museum’s wallpaper collection because they contain the entire range of designs produced in a given year, including papers made to be hung together. Details such as prices and decorating advice are often offered. Wallpaper designs were usually available for one year, unless a pattern proved to be an excellent seller. This book is one of four sample books from Peats from 1915 under consideration. It is unusual to find four sample books from the same company within the same year. Together, these books provide an effective illustration of how the industry worked at the time.
And — they provide an effective illustration of how industry encouraged people to decorate at the time!
The book also has a few ideas on how to hang wallpaper in interesting ways, such as this illustration featuring “paneled walls.” That is: Apply the wallpaper inside the raised moldings. What a great idea!
Why was wallpaper so popular in the prewar era — and for decade before that, too? Pam weighs in:
I believe that wallpaper was ubiquitous in the early 20th century because painting walls was a horrific job: The oil wall paints available then were smelly and slow-drying, definitely a chore that had to be hired out. On the other hand, wallpapering was much easier — DIY was an option — and affordable. Putting paper on the wall also was desirable to counter the grime that was so much more of an issue then: Stoves burned coal or wood, and keeping the kitchen clean was a never-ending chore. It was only the advent and spread (pun recognized) of latex paints after World War II when painting your walls began to trend to the norm. In addition, midcentury modern purists eschewed unnecessary decoration so they were ixnay to the allpaperway and more likely to go for pared down wall treatments. Of course, well into the 1970s, Mrs. America liked her wall paper. I’d was the 1980s when widespready wallpaper-hating really began in earnest — as part of the pendulum swing of marketeers pushing this look then the other. I think I have read that today, wallpaper is, if not hot, then warm again.
Mega thanks to Sarah for taking the time to photograph so many of the pages in these wonderful vintage wallpaper sample books — what a find.
Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… click anywhere to move forward and look for previous and next buttons within photo to move back or forth… you can start or stop at any image: