Title: The writing on the wall - '66 style
Pages: 22 - 31
Author: Peter Thompson Susan Forsyth
Text: The writing on the wall '66 style
By Peter Thompson and Susan Forsyth
Are people today keen to paper their parlours? The wallpaper industry certainly hopes so - and is in the process of trying to make sure they do.
Last year the giant WPM group of mills was dramatically taken over by the Reed Paper Group, and the changes in management, and to some extent in design policy which have followed reflect the pressures which are being felt throughout the industry. Wallpapers are facing a challenge from non - traditional materials such as plastics wall coverings, and the industry itself, craft based in origin, must come to terms with modern manufacturing techniques. Reed's, seeing the WPM giant in a state of upheaval and indecision, was able to step in. The WPM structure was ripe for development, and the group was already making attempts to put its house in order at the time of the take over. Reed's is now carrying out the process of reorganisation which WPM had initiated.
Under the old order of things, the different mills which made up the WPM group (and which, incidentally, together produce by far the largest proportion of wallpapers on the British market) had their own designers, and they produced papers to their own designs without much cross - fertilisation. This system resulted in what can best be described as design graded ranges of wallpapers - that is, certain mills, like Bredbury with its Palladio series, turned out excellent, design - conscious, expensive papers, while other mills produced less expensive but very much less exciting papers in a descending scale.
The need to raise the overall standard was recognised by WPM. An experimental central studio was set up to create a pool of advanced designs which the individual mills could use to supplement their own designers' output. Reed's has endorsed this policy and at the same time has added to the original plan by bringing in new men from outside the industry. One of these, the versatile and sales minded Edward Pond, late of Bernard Wardle's, has become the design team leader. David Queensberry has been appointed design consultant to cast a fresh eye over the problem, and to contribute to the promotional image as well.
One of the interesting questions now being raised is what will happen to Palladio. Will concern for good design at all levels leave room for expensive experiment through the Palladio ranges?Over the years these papers have consistently set a really bold and uncompromising standard. The latest edition, Palladio Seven, while not perhaps so assured in concept as some of the earlier ranges, is notable for strikingly aggressive colours and interesting variations of scale.
What the consumer wants
An even more pertinent question is whether the consumer is going to get what he, or more likely she, really wants. 'Raising the overall standard of design' is a resounding phrase, but what does it mean ? Can better design at all levels lead to the equally important objective of increasing profits ?
On the face of it, things look hopeful for the consumer. An enormous market research programme is being carried out, and Reed's has brought in a computer to work on the accumulated data. Many considerations are being taken into account: regional variations, for example - people in the North change their wallpapers more often than those in the South, and a householder in Durham has ideas about colour and pattern which are different from a family in Twickenham. Obvious, one would think, but the obvious problems can be the most intractable. (And, of course, data requires intelligent interpretation: there is the old danger that the computer might be taken as a provider of solutions).
Modernisation is naturally not unique to Reed's - WPM: it applies wherever the increasingly sophisticated materials industries have stakes in end products. New men, new marketing methods, and, necessarily, improved manufacturing techniques - this is the trend throughout the wall coverings industry. For example, there is experiment with automatic screen printing processes, which could mean more wallpapers produced more efficiently. But again there are problems. With faster processing, the solidity and crispness characteristic of hand processes is inevitably weakened.
Kettles and merchants
The development of genuine automatic processes, represented by gravure printing, is much more promising. Gravure, once established, is cheap, fast and capable of long runs. And now its abundant design possibilities are beginning to be recognised. The familiar still life designs - garish reproductions of copper kettles, strings of fruit, and the like are gradually being replaced. The inherent qualities of gravure - overlapping transparent colours and tints are beginning to be used in constructive pattern making and this, it is hoped, means a rise in the design standards of cheaper wallpaper. (Significantly, gravure can also be used in con junction with many of the newer materials, which in time may replace wallpaper in its present form.)
So, one way or another, changes are coming about. But wallpapers have got to get from the mills to the consumer, and a lot happens on the way. There is the sales side of the industry: this is being reconstructed and tightened up.
Then there are the merchants, the relatively few big retail and wholesale buyers, who must be reckoned with. They are not noticeably addicted to change: they prefer to buy the known and safely saleable designs. But they have to be persuaded to think new, and they will be alternately prodded and wooed. (It's probable, that the merchants will, in fact, have to stir themselves fairly rapidly, as huge promotional campaigns are being mounted among consumers on television and in the press.)
Challenge of new materials
A great part of the modernisation programme in the industry has been stimulated by the arrival of new materials. For, together with gravure printing, has come the introduction of vinyl plastics, not only in the form of protective washable coatings for papers generally, but also as supported sheeting, a wall covering material in its own right.
The wedding of modern gravure techniques to plastics film had been explored and developed by several companies, but really became established with ICl's first Vymura range introduced in 1963. This has already gained a firm hold on the contract market, and more recently has been successfully released for retail distribution.
Though at present expensive, vinyls can be expected to last at least 10 years, are easy to hang, and can be scrubbed (not just wiped) if necessary. Is this what people want ? Can they be persuaded to put vinyl in the living room and not just in the bathroom ? And how many people in fact want to scrub their wallcoverings ? Whatever the answers, however, no one can deny that plastics are an important and lasting addition to the industry.
For various reasons, vinyls have already achieved enormous retail popularity in the USA, and this may be a pointer to future trends in this country. Certainly big materials interests are behind many of the developments of vinyls in Britain. Apart from ICI and Vymura, Unilever stepped in not long ago by taking over Commercial Plastics, and has recently launched an architects' collection of vinyls under the name of Craymur. Now WPM has this month introduced a printed vinyl range which is being marketed first in the Midlands. The battle for markets is warming up.
Apart from the output from these big interests, what is left to put on walls ? Small ranges of vinyls are available from various sources. ICl's run - of - the - mill wallpapers are widely distributed, but as yet offer no real design contribution. There is the odd independent mill, and some imported papers. Finally, there is Cole's, an old established firm, specialising in rare traditional designs and hand picked imported items. These are excellent prestige papers, tycoon and top peoples' wallpaper, ornate or restrained to suit the setting. The firm offers papers printed from seventeenth-century blocks, Art Nouveau papers also from original blocks, Portuguese tile papers, and a wide range of expensive and exclusive designs. Cole's is the delicatessen of the wallpaper world. It can afford to remain unaffected by the commercial pressures which are being felt elsewhere.
Because of its sheer size, the WPM Group is bound to dominate the market. What happens there will not only affect most of Britain's wallpaper consumers, but also the industry as a whole. What does the future look like ? The reorganisation is still under way, and the details have not been completely worked out. Will the old graded structure (top design, top price, and vice versa) really be levelled out, and if so, what design standards will be reached ? Can this traditional industry succeed in being constructive in its approach to new situations and in relating its responsibilities to the general public with those to its shareholders ? These are the major (and in the circumstances, unanswerable) questions.
Concord is a large scale abstract paper from the Palladio Seven range designed by Michael Hatjoullis of the WPM studio. It can be hung vertically or horizontally, the design looking very striking either way. The paper is particularly effective in black and white. It is also available in two other colourways, and costs about £2 2s per roll.
Harlow, again from the Palladio Seven range, designed by Helen Dalby. It depends for its affect on richness of texture built up by a 'pointillists' technique. It is available in two colourways, red and the metallic golres/pub/COID/brown above. (The use of metallic effects in a modern design is unusual - in the past, gold and silver have been mainly confined to traditional papers). Both versions sell at about £2 14s per roll.
£2 14s per roll.
The Craymur range of vinyl wallcoverings produced by Commercial Plastics Ltd for contract use concentrates on textured effects and plain colours. Of the example shown here, 012/B is a printed silk effect. It is available in five colourways and the price is 8s 9d per linear yard.
ICI's Vymura range of vinyl wallcoverings is available for contract use and from retail outlets. Bamboo, number 0104, was designed by a freelance designer, Carol Williams. It is produced in five colourways, and costs £1 8s per roll.
This Art Nouveau paper in the Macintosh style from Cole and Son (Wallpapers) Ltd is printed from an original block of about 1910, and produced in the original 'greenery yallery' colours. The paper amply demonstrates how much more satisfactory the genuine Art Nouveau article is than most modern re - vamped versions. Called Marlborough and available at the moment in these colours only (there will be a pink/grey colourway soon), the paper sells at £2 16s 2d per roll.
Crown Courier 42646, designed by Deryck Healey, represents a considerable advance in the design of gravure papers. The pattern is built up from overlapping transparent colours, and the simple shapes enhance the delicacy of the tints. It would be particularly suitable as a ceiling paper because of the 'space making' effect created by the design. It is produced in two colourways, and costs 10s 10d per roll.
A wide variety of designs, including op art patterns, stone and wood effects, and florals, are offered in the range of WPM Crown vinyl wall coverings launched this month for distribution in the Midlands. This op art example, L80795, designed by Deryck Healey, is available in three colourways. The price is £1 12s per roll.
Designed by Rosemary Newson and Deryck Healey of the WPM studio, Sphere, from the Palladio Seven range, produces different effects depending on the way in which it is hung. The design is based on a 'shape within a shape', and a large or small repeat can be built up if desired. It is available in two colourways: in yellow the paper costs about £2 16s per roll, and in purple/blue, about £2 19s.
Stereo, designed by Deryck Healey, is one of the most effective op art designs in the Palladio Seven range. The version illustrated here demonstrates the striking colour combinations which are a feature of the collection as a whole. A second version in matt and metallic silver produces unusual visual effects; the paper appears darker or lighter depending on the position of the spectator. A third colourway is also available. Stereo costs from about £1 16s per roll.
Tahiti is a good example of a grand scale floral wallpaper in the Palladio Seven range. Designed by Kay Ferrier of the WPM central studio, it is produced in two colourways, red and yellow, and sells at about £4 4s. per roll. The yellow version is particularly interesting as a rich effect is achieved with a light colour.
WPM's Crown Romantics are inexpensive papers aimed chiefly at young people. The emphasis is on colour - the patterns are mainly traditional. The example shown here, R13877, is influenced by oriental designs. It is available in two colourways and sells at about 7s 11d per roll. It would be attractive as a feature paper, or for an entire room if the occupant had resilient taste.
Rondeau, designed by Deryck Healey, is a good example of the sort of experiments with effects of scale which are a feature of many of the papers in the Palladio Seven range. By reversing alternate lengths, different pattern sizes can be obtained. The paper can also be hung horizontally. It is available in four colourways and costs from £1 14s.