The history of wallpaper is a story of mendacity, of the many forms lying can take. Wallpaper has been guilty of little white lies, like visually altering the proportions of a room or projecting your idle fancies onto the four walls—and also of more outright deception, of social pretension, even the erasure of history.
According to The Wallpaper Book by Geneviève Brunet, paper itself was invented by a Chinese court official named Tsai Lun in 105 B.C.E., as a mixture of mulberry bark, bamboo fibers, linen, and hemp. Almost immediately after this new material was created, people began hand-painting it to display on walls. Some of the earliest wallpapers depicted scenes of genealogy or the gods, or brought a false natural paradise indoors.
Wallpaper made its way over to Europe in the 15th century with “domino” prints, or designs made with woodblocks and colored by hand. (The book Wallpaper: A History explains that the name “domino” was likely a mash-up of two Latin terms: dominus, classic Latin for God the Father; and mamino, colloquial Latin for either the Virgin Mary or mothers generally.) Domino wallpapers initially depicted political or devotional images, later branching out to include designs made of geometric shapes. Part of their appeal came from the fact that they were a cheaper alternative to tapestries—concealing cracks and improving insulation for less money than woven wall coverings. Often, they resembled other, more expensive materials: leather, brocade, wood. Flock wallpaper, a type made to resemble cut velvet, enjoyed widespread popularity beginning in the 1600s.