A Brief History of Wallpaper

Most of us don’t think about the history of wallpaper as we’re rolling it onto our walls. We rarely consider where it comes from when we’re picking out that perfect pattern, but wallpaper has, to pardon the metaphor, has a rich historical tapestry. It’s been with us in many different forms for centuries, all over the world, and it has served a functional and fashionable purpose for many different classes of people. In fact, wallpaper has a bit of a controversial history, which makes it all the more interesting.

Earliest Records in the History of Wallpaper

The earliest records of wallpaper we have, or at least records that actually come with examples, are from 16th century England. The wallpaper was a natural extension of textiles, which up until that point had dominated wall decorating. Many people used textiles for a dual purpose. First, the woven patterns could be incredibly beautiful and captivating, which made them popular with the rich and anyone else who could afford the more luxurious tapestries. The second reason is that textiles were warm and provided insulation from the cold, temperamental English weather.

By the 15th century, paper printing had started and people looked to such technology as a cheaper, more efficient way of getting the aesthetic effect of textiles. This wallpaper was printed and hand-coloured, using patterns that mimicked textiles in their design. Because of the variable size, people started using wallpaper in places other than walls, including chests and armoires, which is where some of the best preserved examples are found, away from the sun and damage of 16th century living.

Within a century, wallpaper had taken Western Europe by storm. It was particularly popular in Paris, where shopkeepers and the lower classes would use it to spruce up their homes and establishments. A wallpaper hanging guild was started in Paris at the turn of the 17th century and it started showing up in novels and historical accounts of the period.

Wallpaper Spreads Throughout The World

It was around this time that wallpaper had begun to show up in China. Unlike European wallpaper, Chinese versions were printed on rice paper and often decorated with flowers, landscapes, and elegant wildlife. Being the 17th century, it made its way West, where numerous imitators popped up and authentic imports became highly prized possessions. No longer a substitute for the more expensive textiles, it was by this time that wallpaper became its own, highly sought after, decorative material.

The history of wallpaper after the 17th century, and after its widespread adoption, follows many important technological movements. The 18th and 19th centuries saw changes to printing technology and, with it, changes to wallpaper production. By the 20th century, coloured wallpaper was not only common, but a fixture in well to do homes. Different materials broadened out the kinds of wallpaper available and, by the beginning of the 21st century, we have seen a blossoming industry of wallpaper made from plant fibres. Wallpaper, always subject to innovation, has come a long way from its origins.

The Paint Roller Is A Piece Of Toronto’s History

man using a paint roller

When it comes to claims to fame, Toronto has many different kinds of things to consider for being world-renowned. The CN Tower may no longer be the tallest building in the world, but it’s still a defining part of the city’s skyline. Musical acts have travelled the world after getting their start in Ontario’s capital. But few people who use a simple yet ingenious invention ever know that it was created in Toronto. One of the most ubiquitous painting supplies, the paint roller, and it’s probably become Toronto’s most secret and widely-used claim to fame.

The Paint Roller Was Invented in Toronto

The paint roller was invented by Norman Breakey, a Torontonian who wanted to apply paint quicker without sacrificing a smooth finish. Up until his invention, which he developed in the 1940s, the only painting was done with paint brushes. Sure, they came in a variety of sizes and shapes, but painting was still painstaking work that took a long time.

The invention made perfect sense at the time as well. Canada and the rest of the world were moving to the city and, with their migration, they were moving sensibilities. Bare walls not only made sense in the country, they were part of a certain aesthetic for the time. But as people moved to urban areas, they started thinking about walls differently. Interior design was becoming more and more popular and, with it, a demand for paint that was unprecedented. And with more paint going on the walls, people were looking for easier, and less expensive, ways of getting it there.

Breakey Neglected to Patent His Invention

Enter Norman Breakey’s invention, which took the world by storm. It didn’t, however, completely change Breakey’s life, as his tale is one of how a trip to the patent office could mean the difference between millions and millions of imitators. Breakey went to a colleague of his with the idea, wanting some input on the fabric for the paint roller. His idea, while game-changing, also needed money, something he personally had in short supply, and he had an impossible time finding willing investors. The result, that Breakey was unable to make a significant number of rollers, meant that when his own supply ran out, people flocked to the imitators who realized that Breakey never went for a patent.

Faded Into Obscurity

After that, Breakey more or less faded into obscurity. Minor improvements on his original design soon made it to the patent office, much like he should have done in the first place, and it wasn’t long before his invention was out of date and underperforming. South of the border, a Mr. Richard Croxton Adams invented a similar device while working for paint giant Sherwin Williams. His was patented in the States and Breakey was out of options. He apparently died penniless in Toronto, never able to make money off of an invention that revolutionized painting.

Dollar Store Painting Supplies, The High Cost of Cheap

The dollar store seems like a brief respite for any amateur painter. The supplies are cheap and plentiful, and it can all be bought in one go without too much hassle. And after spending a lot of money on the actual paint, getting paint supplies at the dollar store seems like a no-brainer for people who want to repaint on a budget. But the problem is that these cheap paint supplies can actually end up hurting your wallet, your project, and take your more time for sub-par results. So before you head into a dollar store for your paint supplies, consider why that may not be the best idea with these three simple reason.

Low-Cost vs High-Cost Painting Supplies

Yes, some painting supplies may seem to be expensive, but under scrutiny what’s ends up costing you the most in the long-run are the problems associated with low-quality equipment.

Low-cost brushes and paint rollers are notoriously short-lived, wearing out sometimes after half a day and need regular replacing. Additionally, in many cases the filaments are falling out of the brush on first use which leads to them becoming stuck on your walls and paint. So even if you swap out to higher quality brushes later you still might have to fish out the filaments that found their way into the paint.

High-quality painting supplies, especially when it comes to applicators, may cost more upfront, but they are easier to clean and will last you for multiple painting projects. In fact, some paint brushes will last for years if you clean them after use and put them somewhere safe. So if you ever plan on painting again, or prefer to reuse supplies instead of continually replacing cheap ones, you’ll need to shop at somewhere with better paint supplies than the dollar store. Your local Benjamin Moore paint store is a good start.

Quality of Finish

Besides being cheap and breaking down easily, low quality painting supplies also ruin your hard work and leave your new painting project looking amateur and poorly done.

Filaments from paint brushes and fabric from rollers, both of which have been hastily assembled using sub-standard materials, will give way and stick to your walls leaving you with unattractive results. And none of that will be your fault, because as much as we like to say a “poor craftsman blames his tools,” you can only do so good with poor tools.

The best painting jobs come from a combination of skill and quality supplies, so you can get a high-quality look without necessarily having to hire professionals.

Productivity aka Time to Complete the Job

Yes, cheap supplies will end up costing you more money and leave you with a poor look, but that doesn’t even consider your own labour.

Constantly wrestling with substandard painting supplies is difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating. It makes what can be a relatively fun and quick paint project a long process of many different kinds of frustration.  One can expect to encounter rollers leaving fluff on your walls, holes in your drop clothes or tarps due to lack of durable materials, highly-flexible plastic handles, and all around poor supplies resulting in small problems that add up to your time being wasted. And your time is valuable, so why not spend the extra little bit of money and save yourself the annoyances?

The dollar store, on the surface, may seem to be the ideal place to get your paint supplies. They’re cheap and ready to go, helping you cut costs relatively easily, also they weigh considerably less because they’re usually constructed from as little material as possible. But the problem is that quality painting supplies are important, and low quality painting supplies will end up costing you in the long run. So instead of trying to save money at the register, invest in some quality paint supplies and get the job done faster and more effectively.