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Host Kevin O’Connor takes us on a house call of historical proportions to talk about wallpaper restoration. When visiting the Franklin Pierce home, Kevin speaks with museum staff about restoring the home, more specifically, the 200-year-old imported wallpaper in one of the rooms.

Wallpaper’s Beginnings

Most ornate wallpaper originated in Europe and is relegated to palaces and large villas. They were typically made from thousands of blocks of wood in different colors and took several years to produce. For these reasons, early versions of European wallpaper are rare and worth restoring.

Typical Wallpaper Damage

Wallpaper, like most building materials, is prone to damage over time. Typical damage that antique wallpaper might display include water damage, insect damage, loss of adhesion, and loss of chunks of wallpaper for various reasons.

How to Restore Vintage Wallpaper

Cleaning is Critical

After carefully photographing and documenting the wallpaper, the most important step is a thorough cleaning. Paper restoration technicians use non-silicone rubber sponges and cosmetic sponges to carefully remove dirt, dust, and insect debris from the surface. They work very slowly to avoid removing media, pigment, and color from the wallpaper.

Paper Infilling

Technicians patch new paper into the old wallpaper during the restoration process. They use Japanese paper with has long fibers and is very flexible and durable to infill empty spaces.

They outline the patch on mylar paper before cutting a matching patch and gluing it in place with a typical wallpaper glue (methyl cellulose). They will then add another layer of toned paper to match the height of the wallpaper and closely match the background of the pattern.

Painting and Coloring

The final step of the restoration process is in-painting. For this step, restoration technicians will use matte paints and crayon pencils to mimic the look and pattern of the existing wallpaper design.

The technicians spend a lot of time during this stage. They have to mix pigments and paints, test them, and then let them dry to ensure they match the color of this existing wallpaper. The goal is to restore the wallpaper to the point that the eye can integrate the repair without attempting to recreate the artist’s intent.


Resources

Kevin travels to the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. The historic site built in 1804 has two-hundred-year-old block-printed wallpaper that was manufactured by hand in France. Kevin talks with paper conservators working to restore the scenic wallpaper, which is an edition of “Les Vues d’Italie,” made by Joseph Dufour and Co., Paris in the 1810s and 20s and shipped to New Hampshire in 1824.

Special thanks: Bexx Caswell-Olson