History as revealed by Wallpaper. Part 1.
When completed in 1894, the Cross House was elegantly finished, and fully wallpapered (including the ceilings).
When the house was converted into a motel in 1950, I was told that all the wallpaper was removed (along with, it seems, all the original lighting), and the walls and ceilings re-papered.
When the previous owner purchased the house in 1999, he had all the paper removed, save a few rooms.
So, what I ended up with was bare paster walls, a living room with painted-over post-WWII paper, and just a bit of post-WWII paper in the library.
However, it seems that history is motivated to continually reveal itself.
Upon buying the Cross House, the very thing I did was to demolish a wall on the upper stair landing. The wall was built in 1929. I have a post on this.
To my ecstatic delight and wonderment, once the wall was down, a full-height strip of 1894 wallpaper was revealed, but only the width of a 2×4:
ABOVE: History revealed! This thin strip goes from the floor to the ceiling. See the green blob at the bottom of the strip? That is a second layer of wallpaper, added after 1894 but before 1929. I know that the living room was re-papered in 1907. Was the green paper added in the stair hall at the same time?
The background of the 1894 paper looks gray but is actually silver. This makes sense, as the house was lighted by gas jets and carbon-filiment light bulbs (very dim). So the silver helped reflect light.
On the silver are green swirly clusters. To the left are two small fleur-de-leys.
ABOVE: A close-up.
At the top of the thin vertical strip is a frieze:
ABOVE: I know it is not much to look at but I am ecstatic. A frieze! And it is like 18-inches high.
The whole ceiling was covered in the 1950s with 12×12 acoustical ceiling tiles with gold starbursts. Cool. But I am removing them (to be relocated). Under these tiles is certainly the original 1894 ceiling paper:
ABOVE: Incredible. HOW has this delicate 1894 paper managed to survive?
It was common in the era to have walls papered, and with a frieze, and complementary ceiling paper. To find all three in the stair-hall seems a miracle considering that all the original paper was seemingly removed in 1950.
This being 2014, it is now possible to have ancient wallpaper bits scanned into a computer and recreated. I am greatly looking forward to seeing if I have enough bits to resurrect the wall paper, frieze, and ceiling paper. If so, I am hoping to restore the original aesthetic of the two-story stair-hall. Of course I may have to sell my car to pay for the paper but surely it will be worth the sacrifice.
Oh, when we were removing the 1929 wall on the upper landing, another thin strip was revealed:
ABOVE: This paper was under a piece of door trim. The door was likely inserted during the 1950 motel conversion. The paper looks 1940s to me, and SO exotic! The background is also silver. And I love the paper. Do I have enough for resurrection?
The library lost its entire plaster ceiling, and 98% of its plaster walls, from water poured in two floors above to stop a fire in 1999. My heart always sinks just thinking about this near-distatser.
There are only small sections of plaster left in the library. Like above the over-mantle. Today I was removing this to bare plaster when it became evident that I could ascertain individual layers:
ABOVE: There are four separate papers above. The original layer, which I assume was put up in 1950, is the one you see the most of. Is is darker due to my spraying the paper with a mister to remove it.
This original layer appears to have had a pale licac background, with clusters of lilac flowers (can you just smell them?), and silver leaves dancing about.
The paper is sweet but wholly at odds with the masculine mantle below, the stained-glass windows, and the trim.
ABOVE: The second layer of paper is the stripe. The third layer is the pinky paper with the vertical white lines. Then, at the bottom, is a very very dull paper. 1960s?
I may have the time-line wrong about the library paper. The lilac paper could be older. Perhaps 1920s? It is certainly not 1894. And the last paper could be 1950s, with the second and third layers between the 1920s and the 1950s. I invite speculation!
The long bedroom was, I suspect, Mr. Cross’s bedroom. I suspect as such due to the masculine-style mantle and over-mantle. The only other masculine mantle in the house is in the library (the Man Cave in 1894). The other six mantles in the house are all more, well, girly.
In 1929 when the house was converted into apartments, the long bedroom became a studio unit, with an adjacent bath and kitchen. A large cabinet was installed in the room, housing a double pullman bed. When the house became a motel in 1950, the pullman bed was removed (sigh), and the cabinet made into a closet.
Recently I pulled the cabinet away from the wall where it has been since 1929. Under a strip of horizontal trim (holding the cabinet to the wall), was a thin horizontal strip of wallpaper. The paper is several layers thick:
ABOVE: Again, I know it does not look like much, but encoded in that thin strip is a historical timeline.
ABOVE: A close-up. This is the last paper installed before 1929. It is a rather dull choice of paper. But what, I breathlessly wonder, is under??????? Stay tuned!
I spent the previous week scraping post-1950 paper off the living room walls. The paper was painted so I could not wet it like I did the library paper, thus revealing the layers.
However, I did notice un unpainted fragment on the ceiling:
ABOVE: The living room ceiling fragment.
Does anybody recognize the vintage? 1920s? It does not look 1950s to me.
I had planned to paint the walls of the whole house. I am not really a wallpaper kinda guy.
But…but…I am increasingly intrigued with the fact that in 120-years the walls of the Cross House have never been painted. The bare plaster laboriously laid on in 1894 is still bare plaster. So, it seems, I dunno, like a sacrilege to paint the plaster. Surely there is a special place in Restoration Hell for such people?
However, I might brave this Hell. Why? Well, take the living room for example. The walls sweep up uninterrupted to the ceiling. By having this all one color (walls and ceiling) the wonderful trim in the room really pops. They look, to my eyes, like pieces of art on the walls. Same with the mantle and over-mantle.
ABOVE: The living room, December 2014. The library is through the opening. It lost all its plaster in 1999. The carriage house is through the window. The plaster living room ceiling has been sheetrocked; it was incredibly damaged. Although now covered, it is still there.
Do you see what I mean about the trim and mantle looking like art pieces on the walls? When I walk through the rooms of the Cross House I feel like I am in a museum, and with all these great examples of 1890s trim, doors, and mantles all gorgeously hung on the walls for me (and others) to admire, like beautifully framed paintings.
With the walls and ceilings all painted one color, this is how the trim/doors/mantles will remain looking. And I like the look.
I could paper the walls/ceiling still, and could maintain, mostly, the same effect, but would have to use a very dull paper with a tiny pattern so as not to create a separation between wall and ceiling. This however makes me yawn.
Oh, and paint is a LOT less expensive than wallpaper! No small consideration!
So, to paint or not to paint? That is the burning question!
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