Embossed Wallpaper at Lockwood-Mathews


1. Introduction

2. LeGrand Lockwood and Elm Park Estate

3. Production and Installation

4. Paul Balin and "Leather Papers"

5. Acknowledgements, Sources and Recommended Reading 

1. Introduction

If you're thinking that the photo above looks like something out of a horror film, you're dead right. The 62-room mansion in question appeared in three feature films. “The Stepford Wives” was made in 1975 and remade in 2004. “House of Dark Shadows” (based on the television series “Dark Shadows”) was made in 1970. The subject of the Stepford movies is wife-cloning. The plots are based on a novel by Ira Levin, and the films use the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut as the fictional Stepford Men's Association clubhouse. However, the novelist's inspiration for the breeding grounds for the “perfect” mate—blank-eyed but stunningly attractive—was not Norwalk. It was Wilton.

The mansion was built by Norwalk native LeGrand B. Lockwood, a New York investment banker and bonds broker. It was completed in 1869. In 1876 ownership passed to Charles D. Mathews, a New York importer. His son, Charles T. Mathews, is the architect responsible for the Lady Chapel which was added to St. Patrick's Cathedral (New York City) in 1908. 

The mansion was known in the 19th century as Elm Park Estate. After the death of Mathew's daughter Florence in 1938 it was sold to the city of Norwalk. City officials used the house for storage and offices for many years. Norwalk officials announced in 1959 that they planned to cease using it. Space requirements for Interstate 95 and various agencies had been chipping away at the estate acreage for years, but now the granite mansion itself was to be demolished. 

This, despite protests from knowledgeable professionals at city hearings that “...the lavishness of the marble and wood inlay wood almost defies description in the museum quality of its workmanship.” The story has a happy ending but not before several chapters of court filings and appeals. The resolution of Baker v. City of Norwalk upheld the rights of a unique public/private partnership known as the Common Interest Group. In 1964, the Junior League of Stamford/Norwalk was instrumental in winning a 75-year lease for the Mansion Corporation.

Those who fought from the beginning now warm to the recitation of a hard-won victory. Demolition contractors prepared a trench encircling the building; fortunately, the building did not come to an explosive end. Remarkably, the positive reaction of outraged citizenry, prolific court action and successful preservation all happened before the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson on October 15. The act was far-reaching: it created the National Register of Historic Places, the list of National Historic Landmarks, and the State Historic Preservation Offices.

In retrospect the successful legal action of 1964 was, literally, a landmark case. The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion went on to become a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Ever since, the Mansion Corporation has been building archives, finding dispersed furnishings and replicating historic fabric where necessary.

Wallpaper apparently entered the picture during Lockwood's 1867 trip to France, when he was collaborating 
with Marcotte, Herter Brothers and others to furnish his new home. Researchers at the LMMM believe that Mrs. Lockwood accompanied Leon Marcotte to the Second Paris Exhibition to select sculpture. If so, it seems quite possible that Mrs. Lockwood may have visited the Balin stand as well, where his innovative embossed and gilded paper-hangings were on display. Balin is little known in the U. S. but is considered one of the premier wallpaper makers by European scholars. A study of Balin's embossed and gilded wallpapers appeared recently in the Wallpaper History Society Review: Special Issue. It was written by Wivine Wailliez, Florie Toussaint, Marina Van Bos and Ina Vanden Berghe. These Belgian conservators and technicians compared six Balin patents with extant samples in museum collections in order to analyze his embossing and coloring methods.

The study by the Belgians found little evidence of metal leaf. Bronze powders and embossing were his two main tools. He printed and embossed separately, and the main motifs and backgrounds often had different embossing patterns. It was his masterful use of dies and counter-dies, along with different-colored mordants, that made his work sing. The golden tints resolved into five shades: yellow gold, dark gold, copper red gold, greenish gold and old gold. The researchers found that he used silver sparingly. 

2. LeGrand Lockwood and Elm Park Estate

One mark of Lockwood's success is that he was elected treasurer of the New York Stock Exchange in 1863. In that year he bought 30 acres of land in Norwalk and hired architect Detlef Lienau. Construction of Elm Park Estate began in 1864. Lienau is sometimes credited, or blamed, for the introduction of the mansard roof, a feature that was perhaps overused in late-19th century America. However, Lienau worked in a variety of styles to acclaim. Of particular interest is that he and Leon Marcotte were business partners. Commissions were carried out on both sides of the Atlantic.

It's unclear which partner made the contact with Balin, but by 1867 he was well-established as an innovative wallpaper-maker completely at home in the world of de luxe interiors. Marcotte's specifications for the library included an embossed wallpaper. The production number of the pattern is 4850 with the legend "Exécuté d'après un cuir flamand de l'époque Louis XIV" on some samples, housed at the Royal Museums of Art and History of Belgium in Brussels. 
The silver effect in the original “Louis XIV” paper may be similar to those finishes that are “grey - almost not metalised - plain finish” and “rather a silver paint than a flake silvering process,” observed in the Belgian scholarly study. 

Lockwood was an art lover as well. He commissioned Albert Bierstadt to paint “The Domes of the Yosemite” for $25,000. This work was hung in the rotunda of the mansion. He also patronized Frederic Church, William Bradford, and Asher B. Durand.  Lockwood's ownership of the house was brief. Catastrophic business reversals caused the property to be mortgaged in 1869. By 1872 Lockwood was dead and the following year Elm Court was put up for sale. A few years later the Mathews family moved in. It's believed that around this time (1876) some of the library wallpaper was renewed or replaced. Some of the paper had never been hung at all, and a fragment of this stock was preserved in a glass frame (shown above).

Remarkably, most of the original wallpaper hung on the walls until the 1990's. At that time it was stripped, interleaved and archived by the paper conservator T. K. McClintock, and stored in the attic.

3. Site Conditions, Production and Installation

It's fortunate that the embossed paper hung in its original position on plaster for so long; this avoided multiple paint layers so often encountered in historic homes. The sample of the paper preserved under glass showed that the vertical repeat is about 11 and 1/4 inches, the horizontal width of the strip is about 18 and 3/4 inches, and the pattern is a drop match. The colors of the wallpaper preserved under glass differed a little from the archived wallpaper, which caused some head-scratching: was deterioration at work? Or was it a sample from the later 1876 hanging?

However, the colors of the paper-under-glass turned out to be a bit of a red herring. During renovation of the stenciled and gilded ceiling, decorative painter John Canning found some better preserved samples of the original wallpaper. McClintock had created rough elevations prior to stripping the paper and recorded the dimensions of each strip (75 in all). These proved invaluable during the engineering of the re-hanging. The archived paper also showed how the wallpaper was trimmed, pasted and hung. The wallpaper retained pieces of an underlayment (a rag lining paper) with noticeably long fibers. This, at a time when cheaper mechanical pulp was beginning to flood the wallpaper industry.

The wall space was about 1,000 sq. ft above a high dado. The paint surface was tested for adhesion and suitability for carrying a lining paper. The reproduction wallpaper was made by the Atelier d'Offard workshops in Tours, France (principal François-Xavier Richard). During meetings with Mimi Findlay and other volunteers several high-quality historic photos were provided. These showed that the original installation had been well-planned. The paper's hour-glass motif was centered on a long doorway adjacent to the glass-domed conservatory not only side-to-side, as one might expect, but also vertically, so that it fit neatly into the space above the doorway.

Strike-offs (samples) were sent to the house committee for color and design checks, and then sent on to the installers to determine trimming methods, paste composition and hanging techniques. From these parameters specifications were drawn up for the work. Although there were few coats of paint, the top one was not bonded very well. For this reason a thorough sanding (feathering) of all loose edges of the paint was done, followed by dusting and priming. This was done with a Festool Rotex vacuum machine sander for central wall areas with hand-sanding for edges.

After the walls were washed, cleaned and dried, oil base primer was applied. After dry time the primer was topcoated with a translucent acrylic wallpaper primer. After dry time an acid free liner was applied with methyl cellulose paste and after further dry time the liner was sized with a paste size to promote adhesion and reduce porosity of the liner.

The reproduction was produced as a laminate. The first layer is a stiff white paper which takes the embossing. The second layer is a much thinner, cotton-like paper which stabilizes the paper. The amount of expansion during testing revealed that the product remains porous and soaks up water. Metallic silver and gold inks were used, but the primary medium was distemper.

Testing of the strike-offs indicated that seam rolling should be light to avoid crushing the material and thereby losing embossing. It also indicated that coloring the edges of the seams prior to installation was advisable. A significant change was that in the present-day production the hourglass motifs are centered on a seam. In the original, the seams were positioned slightly to the side of the hourglass figures. The new location of the seam was fortuitous, since during installation it was necessary to foreshorten the design or expand it, as the layout demanded. These slight trim changes are less noticeable in the centered type of production than in an offset layout.

In examining the historic photos and McClintock's plan, a question arose: why was the wall adjacent to the conservatory apparently the main centering point as well as the starting point of the historic installation? Some theories are: 1. since other historic photos show that this doorway received the most elaborate drapery treatments, it was probably always considered the focus wall. 2. visitors passing from the central area of the house (the music room) would see the conservatory wall first as they approached the library.

Another historic photo showed that the outside corner high above fireplace, right side, also has a centered figure. Armed with this information about the original installation, a plan was worked out to replicate the original look of the room. Two widths of the wallpaper were produced during trimming, depending on the type needed for each section of wall: a "narrow" width of 18 and 7/16, and a "wide" width of 18 9/16. With expansion these grew to approximately 18 and 10/16 and 18 and 12/16, respectively. 

The finish size was controlled during installation by erring on the "wide" side during dry-trimming, and then retrimming where necessary in order to hit the predetermined layout marks. Sometimes the sections were hung from the center of large wall spaces outward; but, more often, hanging in sequence was observed. A felt-tipped pen was used to add color to the seams prior to installation, and touch-ups were done after installation. Soft sweeps were used to adhere the wallpaper to the wall, taking care to retain embossing. 

4. Paul Balin and "Leather Papers"

Balin was born in 1832. He apprenticed in the Defosse workshop around 1861 before taking ownership of the Genoux & Cie factory in 1863. Genoux had been a prominent firm since at least 1850.

His first patent appeared in 1866, around the time that Lockwood's mansion was being built. However, embossed wallpaper had been made since the late 1840's and 50's, according to wallpaper historian Bernard Jacque, who credits Bauenkeller (Germany), Seegers & Josse (France) and Hendrickx & Jamar (Brussels) with advances in the field. Embossing was also carried out in England earlier than we have suspected, according to Andrew Bush's article in the Wallpaper History Society Review: Special Edition mentioned earlier. Bush places the start of English embossing in the mid-1830's, although this was usually done prior to printing, as opposed to the methods of Balin, who embossed his paper afterwards.

Embossing (raising the surface from the back) and impressing paper (from the front) are improvements on perspective, which is done by applying shaded colors on the surface of the paper. Even the application of flake powders or gilding is a form of shading, because the paper remains flat. Though simple in form, shaded effects can be impressive indeed. Scenics, draperies and decors are probably the best known of these trompe l'oeil marvels.

Embossed paper was more impressive because in addition to coloring it had deep relief—an enhanced physicality. Jacque attributes this interest in embossing to the increasing demand for paper-hangings. By 1860-70 wallpaper was approaching full industrialization. Most manufacturers broadened appeal by lowering prices, but it seems that high-end makers were going in the opposite direction: they developed fewer designs, with more innovative methods, at a higher cost. Balin straddled these developments and produced designs in many editions. Each step in pricing from 16 to 49 francs was accompanied by techniques ranging from the simple application of printed colors through flat gilding, silvering, flakes, leaf and so on.

His reconstructions of gilded leathers achieved their results in a completely new way. Gilded leather relied on a base coat of metal and yellow-colored medium prior to embossing; the embossing was then glazed and hand-colored. In Balin's methods, the bronze and gilt powders were the last step before embossing (the penultimate step was applying a mordant of differing shades). Remarkably, he did not topcoat his papers with varnishes or shellacs.

Balin's approach relied on three things: 1.) an unparalleled collection of antique textiles for models; 2.) original patents; and 3.) innovative machinery. Jacque says that the differences among companies who embossed can be traced to their presses, and Balin's were exceptional. Paper could be embossed with hot-pressing (very common for gilding) and cold-pressing. Balin's factory used cold-pressing, but at enormous levels of pressure and with precise registration, on stronger paper. His “balancier,” a machine of his own invention, was said to deliver ten times the standard pressure, in a temperature-regulated chamber.

It's interesting to read the comments about Balin from a trade magazine of 1878 (The Painter's Magazine, New York). An anonymous distributor or retailer summarizes comments about “artistic” wallpaper in Europe. He asserts that “art features” should be of great interest to American manufacturers, dealers and painters: “. . . they are the views of a foreigner, but we know that this branch of art has been much more cultivated in Europe, than in this country. . . Balin . . . undertook the task of copying the richest brocades with all the improvements of the most finished technic. This he so successfully accomplished . . . that his copy was almost more beautiful than the original. Not content with this he stretched atlas silk on paper and linen till it was without folds and treated it in the same manner as paper. If we add to this, the relief pressing from the wrong side, in order to show the most delicate lacework in all its threads, we can easily understand the astonishment which Balin's exhibition in 1873 excited . . . the numerous demands from Museums and different collections, are not to be wondered at. . .”

However: “. . . their expensiveness precluded the use of these papers, and it very seldom happened that they were ordered for anything but a very small room or for a firescreen . . .” In short, Balin was something of a hero to this wallpaper retailer. In his view, Balin's innovations were a spur to his competitors (even Americans), and even if few could afford the most elaborate specimens.

Late 19th-century leather papers (and, repurposed and imported genuine gilt leather hangings) became closely identified with the dark dens and libraries of the robber-baron type of home that are themselves so clearly modeled after the mansion at Elm Court Estate. It's true that Balin's papers sometimes resemble late-19th century leather papers, but there are important distinctions.

Japanese papers were designed by Westerners and produced by Japanese craftsmen using traditional techniques for a Western market. They were composed of 4 to 6 layers of pulp stuffed into a mold. The decorative top layer was colored, gilded and varnished, i.e., these were solid fabrications. The Balin paper and the d'Offard reproduction are embossed (hollow). In this they resemble Anagylpta, also hollow, whereas the Japanese papers resemble Lincrusta, which is solid. The true onslaught of Japanese papers began much later, with Rottman, Strome, & Co. in the mid-1880s and the 1890s. On a practical note, the width of Balin's papers is always 18", or thereabouts, whereas the Japanese leather papers are about a yard (or meter) wide.

In a chapter of Buying For The Home, Yasuko Suga credits Balin with innovation: "At the Second Paris Exhibition of 1867, Paul Balin, a French wallpaper manufacturer, produced a papier cuir repousse that was widely acclaimed, whereas comparable Japanese and Chinese papers were generally criticized as 'imperfect', expensive and unprofitable." She footnotes the contemporary remarks to a report on the Paris exhibition by an Austrian critic. So, it seems that Lockwood was far from the only one to champion Balin's papers. Suga traces the development of leather papers, which achieved world-wide success in the last quarter of the 19th century. She documents the staggering quantities that were produced. An important note is that they were perceived as “Japanese, but not too Japanese". Suga understands well the tics of Western consumers, many of whom demanded Orientalia that was stylish—and also highly washable.

Balin's leather papers came out of a European tradition, following after Spanish and Dutch gilt leather. The Japanese leather papers, in contrast, were a story of Western design and oriental craft. Both types were innovative in their methods, but Balin was scrupulous about the provenance of his designs, whereas the most traditional thing about Japanese leather papers was the crafting, which was carried out by native workers. Japanese leather papers were similar in some ways to Balin's, and they did win awards in the Paris exhibition of 1878. Yet, we need to remember that this accomplishment came 10 years after the paper that Paul Balin made for Mr. Lockwood.

5. Acknowledgements, Sources and Recommended Reading

I am grateful to all at the Lockwood-Matthews Mansion Museum for their stewardship, and especially Mimi Findlay and Brian Fischer II for their help, and their permission to use photos shown here. More about the LMMM can be learned here:

The installation was carried out by myself and Barry Blanchard of Eliot, Maine.

The panoramic photo is by WestportWiki and is published here under the following CC license:

The quotes from the trade magazine (in the Winterthur archives) are from an anonymous article written in 1878 for The Painter's Magazine (NY) which was based on an article by Frederick Fischbach for the Workshop, a German periodical.

My summary of Bernard Jacque's comments are from his chapter on Balin in Technique et Papier Peint (Bulletin No. 823 / 4-1991), a publication of the Musee du Papier Peint in Rixheim, France.

The quotes from Dr. Suga are from her chapter in Buying For The Home, edited by David Hussey and Margaret Ponsonby and published by Ashgate in 2008.

Leather papers (the late-19th century, meter-wide type) continue to fascinate; an outstanding text is LEUNG, Felicity. Japanese Wallpaper in Canada, 1880s-1930s. Material Culture Review / Revue de la culture matérielle, North America, 28, jun. 1988. Available at: http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/MCR/article/view/17363 

It is almost a companion piece to Richard Nylander's "Elegant Late Nineteenth Century Wallpapers," in The Magazine Antiques, August 1982, pp. 284-87, which illustrates many leather papers.

A general account of embossed wall materials appears in Cheap Quick & Easy: Imitative Architectural Materials by Pamela Simpson.

Exhaustive detail of the Marcotte/Lienau partnership is online at:


The web site of Atelier d'Offard is at: www.atelierdoffard.com

More information about the Wallpaper History Society Review: Special Issue can be found at:


Copyright: © 2013 Robert M. Kelly.

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