Making a Feature of Retro & Vintage Wallpapers

retro and vintage wallpapers - where less is more

Do you have a wall in your home just shouting out for retro and vintage wallpaper?

It may not be your first choice, especially if your tastes are at the modern end of the design spectrum, but coining a phrase from the 90’s BBC staple Changing Rooms – retro and vintage papers can create a stunning “Statement Wall” even in the most minimal of homes.

Yes it’s probable that Mr Llewelyn-Bowen, Ms Barker and Mr Wynne chose to only wallpaper one wall due to time and budget constraints, yet the result was they helped create a popular and enduring design statement in homes across the UK – that of the focus wall.

By focusing attention on a single wall and creating a visual centrepiece, you can showcase dramatic vintage and retro style wallpapers. These are typically hand-printed or luxury wallpapers that would break the bank if you were to cover a whole room, whereas one well chosen wall could be covered in just a few rolls, getting you maximum design bang for your buck.


Getting Started – Placing your Retro or Vintage Paper

Selecting a vintage wallpaper doesn’t necessarily mean you need to ape the style in your other furnishings – you’re not recreating a Victorian parlour, or Edwardian drawing room – and vintage doesn’t have to mean shabby-chic.

Vintage and retro pieces can not only be juxtaposed effectively with modern or minimal design, the contrast can be extremely effective with each style only emphasising the other.

Feature walls can allow you to experiment with colours and styles giving rooms an inspiring focal point and an often theatrical backdrop on which you can display favourite objects, treasures, art and furniture.

Ideally choose a wall without permanent fixtures such as doors and windows, as these can interrupt a pattern and unless great care is taken, they’ll typically cut right through the best part of the print. The exception to this would be if there is an existing central feature such as a fireplace, where a well chosen vintage wallpaper will accentuate it’s role within the room.

In a bedroom, your chosen wallpaper would usually form a full-wall bed head, or become a focal point opposite the bed for your viewing pleasure as you drift off to enjoy design-filled dreams. Young son and daughter sharing a room? Two contrasting rolls can be used to efficiently mark out territory.

With an open plan kitchen-diners or other multi-purpose spaces such as a live-work room wallpaper can be used to similarly differentiate separate areas. How perfect would this vintage Ribbon Wallpaper look hanging on the wall behind your sewing machine?


Which style – Vintage or Retro?

So now you see the practical and design uses of retro and vintage wallpapers, it’s a question of selecting a style and era. While all retro and vintage wallpapers are looking back and drawing design influece from the past, how far back you go is down to your particular tastes and with some people being drawn more to one era than another.

Where retro paper will typically seek inspiration from the mid to late 20th century, vintage and vintage inspired papers will look much further back in time to Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian and even earlier influences.

Vintage-Retro crossovers will take some elements from the distant past and combine with later or modern themes in completely new ways.


Vintage Flower Power – putting on the Chintz

chintz floral vintage wallpaper

When most people think Vintage, they tend to think of flowers. And when people think of floral wallpaper, the next phrase that comes to mind is Chintz – and seldom in a good way.

Yes, in the bad old 80s, the fashion was to have floral wallpaper covering every square inch of wall and then to have the pattern continued across every chair, cushion, curtain and throw, leading to what could be a migraine inducing pink and lavender overkill.

Yet in the right hands or setting this floral explosion can be perfect, either as a straight-faced “vintage french” interior or as part of a willfully ironic design statement!

But as the 80’s showed us, flowers are very easy to get wrong. Just to be safe take a less is more approach with floral prints and look at just papering a single wall, perhaps with a more modern twist such as with the beautiful British Bouquet wallpaper from Occipinti. (featured at page top)

Keeping with the floral theme, it’s possible to turn back the clock even further to the eighteenth century when Chinoiserie was in vogue and the Kings of Europe had entire rooms decorated in this Chinese style. Take your inspiration from Louis XV and choose this oriental inspired vintage wallpaper design featuring dragonflies buzzing around watery foliage.


The Twentieth Century – when Vintage and Retro meet


The 20th century contains rich pickings for design, with every decade having a unique style. Starting with the Roaring Twenties, look at this vintage geometric design from Erica Wakerly, whilst sipping a mint julep and listening to Duke Ellington.

While it would not look out of place on the set of Baz Luhramann’s film ‘The Great Gatsby’ it could be a striking centrepiece in any modern room, where the reflective sheen of this metallic paper becomes all the more dramatic as the lights are dimmed.

Speeding through on our time machine, we hit 1950’s and the cheeky chic Housewives by Dupenny. This glorious selection of vintage/retro wallpapers features black and white drawings of delightful housewives unashamedly flashing a seamed stocking and suspender or two.

Ramping up the cheeky to 10, Time for Tea begs the question “More tea Vicar?”

Retro choices are commonly based on childhood memories so without knowing it, you’re most likely copying your parents, grandparents or maybe that favourite neigbour. But of course your tastes are better!

horseshoe arch focus wallpaper example 3

Part of our most popular retro range Sian Elin has produced some incredible geometric retro wallpapers such as the Horseshoe Arch featuring a stylised Moorish arch.

What could be considered a retro/vintage crossover, combining retro geometry with vintage photographs and lustrous insects in a humourous and perhaps risque way, A Bash or Do takes the best of both worlds in a paper that’s definitely classified as unusual.

risque boutique wallpaper

On a similar crossover theme and just as eccentric, one of our personal favourites in the Graduate Collection has to be Gentlemen’s Wallpaper. Look out for the head!

Whatever wallpaper you chose you’ll quickly realise a single wall using the best retro or vintage paper you can afford makes a much better statement than a whole room of something average.

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