Choosing wallpaper for Matt’s new blue and gray bathroom designed to look like it’s always been there

Matt has been constructing this blue and gray tiled bathroom in his 1959 home — all from scratch — oh my — it’s fabulous! Now, it’s time to choose wallpaper. He’s found a contender but sends in this question: Does his wallpaper choice have an authentic midcentury look? I opine.

Matt writes:

I’ve been recreating a blue / gray bathroom since early last year, and I’m finally at the point where we choose wallpaper. We found a pattern we really like that has a blue / gray scheme that’s similar to our tile and fixtures with a yellow accent.

You would have to see the colors (I have a couple of pictures) but I’m wondering how authentic this might be? I don’t see very many blue bathrooms, let alone blue with a hint of yellow anything mixed in there. For what it’s worth If we go with this I’m thinking white towels so it would be just a pop of color.

Our goal is something that looks like it’s been there since the house was built in 1959. It’s basically down to wallpaper, building the hamper, someone changing our salvaged green bathtub to blue, and small details so we’re getting really close to the end! 

The bathroom is changing quickly though, for example if our two year old cooperates the countertop may be tiled by the end of the weekend. Likewise the tub I’m hoping can be enameled in blue soon.
The tile and plumbing supply fixtures are new. Cabinets, lighting and other fixtures are salvaged. We’ve used a lot of the resources available here for tile and fixtures, by the way. We’re definitely glad all of it was available.

Choosing wallpaper that looks authentic to the midcentury era

Fun wallpaper, Matt, and what a job on that bathroom — kudos!
But to answer your question(s) directly: (1) No, I do not think your wallpaper choice has the look of actual wallpaper you would have seen in the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s or even earlier. My reasons are technical rather than color-related. And (2) The colors are fine — except for that bright white field.


“The look” of vintage wallpaper vs. much of today’s wallpaper

I am not expert on the technical language, but here goes:
  1. Old paper was printed using actual rollers — actual ink laid down, layer after layer until the desired design was achieved.
  2. The paper stock also was — pretty paper-y — they can be tricky to install for that reason — they may tear or otherwise be brittle or fragile.
  3. From a design perspective, old wallpapers also often had metallic inks…
  4. They often had striations in their background…
  5. More typically than not, I’d say, they had relatively small patterns… and, I’ll say:
  6. Few bright (blue) whites / mostly yellowed pinked off-whites.
Bradbury’s Atomic Doodle in Turquoise has on off-white field in a smaller pattern, and it’s hand-printed.
Many of today’s widely available wallpapers, on the other hand, are digitally printed on paper that is more water-fast. That means, you don’t see, so finely, the laid-down layers of paint. The finish is more washable — typically a vinyl coating with satin finish; this also makes it stronger so the paper is easier to install. Regarding the aesthetics: The patterns may be larger — as with yours. 
A vintage bathroom wallpaper from Rosie’s Vintage Wallpaper
So…  If you want a paper that looks truly authentic to the time — if you want time-capsule look — look for vintage or a paper that’s still printed with real inks using rollers or similar technology. 
ALL THAT SAID, unlike tile — which is forever — wallpaper is jewelry — it can be changed out at far less cost and hassle. And, it folks did change their wallpaper out over time. So if you like the “new retro” aesthetic and don’t mind if a super-expert knows in a glance that it’s not true “time capsule”, go for it!

  1. Bruce Garibotti says:

    The would be a fine choice and something that would be popular. Yet, when I saw it, I thought reproduction and it being sideways. It strikes me as something that was made to look the way we think it would have looked. Most of the repro stuff seems to be loaded with sputnik and boomerang elements. The designs come across as trying a bit too hard. This design is nice, though.

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