cover image Off the Wall: Wonderful Wall Coverings of the Twentieth Century

Off the Wall: Wonderful Wall Coverings of the Twentieth Century

Sara Corpening Whiteford, Gideon Bosker, Lena Lencek. Chronicle Books, $22.95 (120pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-3573-2

The editors of Beach: Stories by the Sand and Sea turn their attention indoors in a colorful celebration of wallpaper. Once considered a kitschy relic of post-war America, wallpaper is experiencing a rebirth among contemporary designers and decorators. Len?ek and Bosker provide a brief, informative history of wall-coverings since the 15th century before diving into their retrospective of 20th-century papers largely British, American and French in origin. They explored the archives of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt collection and the National Design Museum, as well as the vaults of many private manufacturing companies, to compile this book, which suggests that wallpaper often reflects the cultural zeitgeist of the period in which it was produced. Quaint, Sputnik-era paper featuring spaceships, flying saucers and UFOs offers some charming proof. Neo-traditionalists will thrill to the nursery panoramas of the baby-boomer era: barnyard scenes in hushed tones and playful circus friezes capture the timeless charms of childhood. The explosion of teen culture in the 1960s is chronicled in youthful paper patterns depicting athletes at play and""rec room"" parties with phonographs and stacks of records. And while there are plenty of toile, floral and geometric designs represented here, the section on""High Art"" is the book's standout chapter. It features wallpaper produced in concert with artistic luminaries such as Alexander Calder and Henri Matisse (though the latter's mustard-yellow and black-patterned sample would be considered decidedly loud by most modern tastes). The samples are presented in captivating, full-bleed reproductions throughout and are meant to serve largely as a springboard to inspiration--some readers, however, will wish this were a catalogue.