Wallpaper is having a moment in the design world. In magazines and show houses, I keep seeing beautiful mural-style wallpapers, sometimes brilliantly colored, sometimes in grisaille (grey tones) or sepia, made by French companies, or companies with French names. I keep picturing one of these gorgeous papers in my home, but I think I’d have to sell a kidney for some of them!
The grandaddy of French wallpaper companies is Zuber et cie. Founded in 1797 by Jean Zuber, the company still prints its panoramic papers using wood blocks in the same location in Rixheim, France. Chosen by Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House, Zuber papers have have graced the grandest homes for over 200 years. King Louis Philippe even honored Jean Zuber with the Legion d’honneur. But, you have to have the budget of a king or president to afford to do a room in Zuber paper – even a modest-sized room could set you back $30,000. Antique Zuber panels (i.e. not enough for a room) change hands for tens of thousands on 1stdibs. So, Zuber is out.
De Gournay papers are incredibly beautiful, but despite the name, they aren’t French. The company is based in London and specializes in hand-painted panels on silk. I love the Tree of Life pattern and I’ve always been partial to a yellow room. Most of their work is custom – the colors, the height of each panel, the details of the design, all is in your hands – provided that your hands are holding about $5,000 for an average room.
Thibaut was founded in 1886 by an American of Parisian ancestry and many of their patterns are French-inspired. They also produce co-ordinating fabrics and furniture to complete the look. You’ll need to contact a designer (although it seems that there may be some online vendors) to get Thibaut paper. Prices for a roll range from about $50 to $400 for their silk papers. Better, but the odds are the paper I fall for will be at the top end of the range.
The French word for wallpaper is papier peint (pap-e-ay pahn), or painted paper. Wallpaper was originally handpainted on paper or fabric-backed paper. It was, like the Zuber panels in the White House, able to be removed from one home and hung in another. And at $30,000 a room, it had better be with you for life.