Vol. 1, No. 5: Is Wallpaper Essential?


We start at that moment hundreds of thousands of years ago when a man and a woman (let’s call them Brad and Karen) wake up within their newly-invented shelter. It's an improvement over a cave. 

On previous evenings Karen had helped Brad struggle into his skins before they dropped to the ground, snuggled together, and fell asleep. But on this very different morning Karen and Brad awoke not in a cave but inside the first built home. In due time they were spreading the same types of claddings that had clothed them over a framework of branches and in that moment interior decorating was born.

So begins my affirmative answer to the title of this essay. I propose here that wallpaper is a type of cladding and that on this account wallpaper is an essence. More precisely: cladding is essential. And since wallpaper falls under the category of cladding, that makes wallpaper an essence, at least. But what difference would this make?

First, considering wallpaper as an essence would lift wallpaper out of such pseudo-categories as minor art, lesser art, or decorative art. It would help explain why wallpaper is still popular some 350 years after it was invented. Reclassifying wallpaper as an essence would also sharpen our ability to examine its past. We may be able to assess some of the slippage that has occurred with terms such as design, decoration, and wallpaper.

To clarify my outline: the need for cladding sets off a chain of corollaries. This need causes decorating, which is done through artifacts; one of these artifacts is wallpaper; wallpaper causes paperstaining; and decorating with wallpaper causes wallpapering. I use the nineteenth-century term paperstaining to stand in for all manufacture because it was during the nineteenth century that wallpaper rose to unprecedented importance in Western interiors.

Vol. 1, No. 5 can be accessed here: