Historic Flocked Wallpaper Installed
Historic Wallpaper Specialties
Home of President James Madison
What’s a Pomegranate Doing in the Drawing Room?
This article was written in November of 2010. What an exciting few weeks it has been! The experts from Historic Wallpaper Specialties arrived the week before Thanksgiving to hang the red flocked wallpaper in the Drawing Room. We were all thrilled to see it finally go up on the walls after so much work. Before we tell you about the paper going up, you should know how we got to that point.
We owe a lot to tiny scraps of paper, carefully hidden clues which helped us select the Drawing Room wallpaper. During the architectural restoration, Dr. Susan Buck, historic surfaces scientist, was able to recover a few small scraps of wallpaper on the first finish layer above the trim of one of the triple-hung windows in the Drawing Room. These bits of scientific evidence are each approximately the size of a typed “O.” From these fragments, under high-powered stereo magnification, Dr. Buck was able to tell the original ground color of the paper, as well as the color and composition of the wool flocking.
This clue told us that the wallpaper was scarlet, with a crimson flock; flocking is when the pattern is created by hand-stamping the paper with a tinted varnish and then chopped wool fragments are shaken onto the varnished pattern. Once flocked, the surface of the paper feels and looks like velvet.
Sadly, the fragments weren’t large enough to tell us what the Madison's paper looked like. Our curatorial research team took on the challenge of finding some good candidates. We knew that James and Dolley favored French-styled furnishings, so we narrowed our choices to red flocked patterns that existed when the Madison's wallpapered the Drawing Room around 1810. After taking into consideration the Madison's’ tastes, we settled on a red, flocked wallpaper with pomegranate design that was quite fashionable in Europe at this time.
The paper was made for us by Adelphi Paper Hangings LLC, the same company which produced the paper for the Dining Room. They make all the paper by hand, using the same methods that were used in the Madison's time.
All of this brings us back to a few weeks ago, when the paper-hangers showed up and started hanging paper. Except that the didn’t start with the paper. Hanging historical paper, especially hand-flocked paper, is almost as complicated as making the paper. First, they smoothed and sealed the plaster, then put up a layer of muslin fabric, to take some of the stress off the plaster walls settling over time. Next they put up a layer of lining paper. Finally, the red flocked wallpaper! Hanging the flocked paper is a delicate process, but under supervision of master paperhanger, Jim Yates, the room reflects the craftsmanship of a master. The final step for us was to re-hang the paintings in the Drawing Room, which we did last Friday morning. It looks fantastic, and we hope everyone can come see it. For information on Montpelier please go to their official site.
Home of President Rutherford B. Hayes
Photo of finished room with bust of President Monroe
Jim is here finishing room in same area in which original wallpaper fragment was discovered
Jim working on a section below the wainscoat