The art of wallpaper

A new wallpaper company is unleashing the potential of digital technology to realise ranges of designs created by artists and designers, reveals Arabella Youens.

Making wallpaper has been a tradition since printing presses were invented in the Middle Ages (Dürer was an early adopter) and over subsequent centuries it has swung in and out of favour. In the 1990s, the unstoppable rise of Farrow & Ball created a fashion for the nuances of paint. Recently, however, a new generation drawn to a more layered look and the transformative possibilities of wallpapers has precipitated a revival of interest, coinciding with the arrival of digital technology and its exciting new possibilities.

Printmaker Jo de Pear, one of the artists collaborating on designs for Dado Atelier.

Although digital printing is less labour intensive than traditional block, screen or surface printing, the quality was initially variable. Now, the technology has come on leaps and bounds and digital printing can mimic the subtle nuances of traditional techniques. It has created opportunities for smaller design firms to establish their own print-on-demand collections, offering consumers an almost infinite choice of pattern and prints.

One of those embracing the possibilities of digital liberation is Dado, a new wallpaper company that produces a seasonal collection of finely edited wallpapers designed in house, alongside collaborations with creatives from the fields of fashion, fine art and printmaking. For the launch range, Dado worked with painter Matthew Burrows (who established the Artist Support Pledge to support emerging artists during the pandemic) printmaker Jo de Pear and Gabby Deeming, former creative director of House & Garden magazine and founder of the clothing label Daydress.

Matthew Burrows, founder of the Artists’ Support Pledge, worked on the launch range.

It’s not the first time that artists and designers have crossed over into wallpaper: the 20th century saw a number of well-known artists turning their hands to surface design. From 1960 to 1980, Andy Warhol created several; the first was called Cow Wallpaper and featured vast pink cow heads on a zingy yellow background, described as ‘ridiculous and vulgar’ by the art dealer Ivan Karp. There were others, too. ‘Raoul Dufy, Sonia Delaunay, Matisse, Picasso and Duncan Grant — they were all at it between the wars,’ says Miss Deeming. ‘What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on their original designs.’ Before that, she says, textile and wallpaper designers worked in a freelance capacity — with the exception of Morris and Voysey — so we’re unlikely to find many documents attributed to them. ‘It’s a shame, as many of them are incredible and executed with such beauty and skill.’

Miss Deeming established her clothing business in 2017 with a capsule collection of hand-block-printed cotton dresses inspired by 18th-century Indian and French prints. ‘I was approached by Dado last year with the idea of turning my block prints into wallpapers and I jumped at the chance,’ she explains. ‘For me, a huge attraction is preserving the appearance of the block print and its inherent handmade charm.’ More sophisticated digital printing ensures that the detail of the original designs for the dress fabric is preserved.

Gabby Deeming, whose Daydress clothing designs translate beautifully to wallpaper.

Miss Deeming has long been a fan of wallpaper — particularly in bedrooms. ‘I’m always drawn to designs that take their inspiration from historic documents and have a gentle, trailing feel. I think they can bring magic to a space, elevating it from the domestic into something romantic.’ Her Jaipur Flower design was one of the first block prints she created, influenced by the simplicity of the Mughal flowers painted in palaces all over northern India. ‘It’s a pattern I keep reprinting in new colours and its charm hasn’t faded.’

Future collections for Dado will feature collaborations with interior and textile designers. ‘Our aim at Dado is to be able to tell our customers about the collaborations behind each piece,’ explains creative director Kate French. ‘We’ve created an online lifestyle magazine to showcase our designs where customers can shop straight from the pages.’ As a former deputy editor of Homes & Gardens, she is a fervent advocate of the possibilities wallpaper presents. ‘It’s an easy way to express your own taste. We’re all spending more time at home, so what surrounds us has become more important. Wallpaper adds texture and pattern in a way paint can rarely replicate — unless done at considerable expense.’

Dado — 020–8191 1060; www.dadoatelier.com