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Adelphi Paper Hangings – Finding Beauty in the Old Ways of Doing Things
Over the years we have worked with Adelphi Paper Hangings, manufacturers of traditional wallpapers. Unlike many modern wallpapers that are silk-screened or digitally printed, their papers are hand printed with carved wooden printing blocks employing techniques from the early 18th century to late 19th century before machine roller printing began. They also utilize traditional printing materials such as cotton fiber paper instead of wood pulp and specially formulated distemper paints in place of inks. This gives the designs a unique texture and hence, they refract light differently than typical printed papers and seem to cast a subtle shadow.
One of our most successful collaborations with Adelphi is a paper called Deerfield. The original fragment of the paper was found in a house in Deerfield, Massachusetts and given to the Cooper Hewitt. One of our designers, Egan Seward, remembered the paper and suggested its replication to a client. She was the force behind its recreation and developed the colorway shown above.
We used the paper up a stair hall to great success. I very much like its ancient and modern qualities.
Another Adelphi paper I have worked with is the Butterfly Chintz. It is based on a late 18th-century French design and requires 21 individual blocks to print it. I used the paper in the bedroom of my New Orleans apartment where it gives the walls a layered, textured feeling.
Adelphi's designs are all based on document designs found in historic houses or museum collections. While they create versions using historically accurate colors, they also welcome experimentation. They recently asked me to suggest new color combinations for some of their stock designs and I developed the two below. The original colorway of the Bellingham Cary Vine (left) was a muted beige and grey composition. I suggested mellow gold on blue to give it contemporary appeal. In its time, West St. Mary's (right) was printed with what Adelphi's website described as stone colors (grey, black, white and touch of pink). I thought a green background would give the pattern a sense of lightness and a modern feel.
Adelphia also prints a few 20th-century designs. The one below, Spiral Willow, is an art deco design by Rene Crevel. It was originally machine printed, but interestingly, they used rollers with felt strips to approximate block printing.
It is wonderful that Adelphi has made old technique new again. Sometimes older is better.