Wallpaper flashback: Sears, Roebuck, & Co. 1907

Posted on | December 16, 2008 | 3 Comments

When you think of wallpaper styles common to the Arts & Crafts era these popular patterns from the 1907 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Wallpaper catalogue might not be the first to come to mind. Almost “hangovers” from the late Victorian era, these profusely patterned paper combinations were really the antithesis of the simplicity and aesthetic repose that the Arts & Crafts reformers were advocating. And yet, thousands of self-respecting American bungalows and “four-squares” as well as other Edwardian vernaculars were ultimately adorned with elaborate “Rococo” ceiling, frieze and wall fill combinations just like these.

 Why? Traditionally, popular styles of decorating were (and still are) often decided by such constraints as availability, and with the advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 early mail-order companies like Sears made their catalogs and products amazingly accessible (and thus familiar) to their most remote customers, most of whom were dwelling far from the fashionable showrooms of the day. And owing to mass production the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth,” could also offer their “interior appointments” at rock bottom prices, another huge reason for their historical popularity. Like them or not, they certainly have a unique place in the history of American interior decoration. 

Incidentally, it was just one year later that Sears developed their first specialty catalog issued for complete prefabricated houses, the “Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans”, featured 22 styles ranging in price from $650–2,500.

Comments

3 Responses to “Wallpaper flashback: Sears, Roebuck, & Co. 1907”

  1. john hopper
    January 21st, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    An interesting example of how the general public were not always on the same wavelength as the accepted style of the period.

    However, as you say, whether you like it or not, this is part of interior design history.

  2. Logan
    February 18th, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

    Well said! I often describe my 1907 balloon frame home as a ‘late Victorian dream’. The builder of the home was in his forties, and I am certain he had grown up with a mental picture of his ‘dream home’, though he didn’t get to build it until he made his fortune selling insurance in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire.

    Ultimately, what he built was a rather austere version of a Victorian, with a very few ‘feminine’ touches on the interior. The dining room, however, I imagine was built directly on the heels of his discovery of a popular new architect, Frank Llloyd Wright. It makes sense, as he and Wright had offices in the same buiding.

    The beams of the dining room are simple, the long, tall windows flanking the built-in china cabinet, along with their clean-lined window seats, are Craftsman, not Victorian or elaborate. The bit of trim on the plate-rail surrounding the room is almost apologetic for being there.

    On my one visit to Wright’s Oak Park studio, I was struck by how similar my dining room is to that space. The open concept of the public space in my home is also less reminiscent of the 1890′s and more contemporary to Wright, though the builder obviously couldn’t bear to eliminate ALL frivolous detail from the woodwork.

    I would think, much like these already ‘outdated’ wallpaper patterns, many people didn’t readily embrace the ‘cutting edge’ styles, as they were so radically different from anything seen before. And, of course, a lack of funds prohibited them from making wholesale stylistic changes, once they’d massively invested in furniture or an ‘older’ home.

  3. steve
    February 18th, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

    Logan, your house and it’s builder sound fascinating, and it’s design sound very upscale for 1907. Would you describe it as “Prairie” at all? I and our readers I’m sure would love to see some pictures!

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