I am not saying I do not live an exciting and fulfilling life, but I enjoy ordering A4 samples of wallpaper online. I am saying that I truly believe the moment capitalism spiralled out of control was when homeware stores started charging for tester pots of paint. I am saying I’ve bought a plant from Homebase to cover my shame when walking out with rolls and rolls of the test wallpaper one tears off the racks like clingfilm.
All of this forms what I am going to refer to as the “renter’s renovation”. Long-term renters will know that only minimal changes to decor are permitted. Renters will also know that a single gossamer strand of cobweb spotted in a moving-out inventory check can see a portion of deposit chalked off.
But, like most of us, I love to put my stamp on a place; to match up our personality and our environment. And I love wallpaper. I square the renter’s dilemma by using literal squares; I order lots of sample wallpaper and create a collage on a distinct section of wall.
I affix the wallpaper using glue in the corners and middle, which can be easily and totally cleaned off, rather than proper permanent paste. Though I despise the term “feature wall”, that is essentially what this process produces: a pleasing, DIY display of colour and pattern and design.
Wallpaper, like everything, goes in and out of fashion. When I was growing up, it was definitely out of fashion. Now it has had a renaissance. Queen Anne even introduced a wallpaper tax (in 1712, it lasted until 1836). One way people got round it was to buy plain paper and stencil it. Which I like to think is the sort of creative-thinking antecedent to what I do. I’ve never actually understood why this tax was introduced, so I assume Anne had some sort of traumatic wallpaper-related incident and held a grudge.
Many styles have flourished throughout history: Baroque designs, hand-painted Chinese landscapes, silk damasks, floral patterns, flock, 1960s Pop Art varieties, the orange-and-brown scrub-down vinyl of the 1970s, abstract. The Arts and Crafts stylings of the King of Wallpaper, William Morris, remain favourites of mine.
At various times, the wallpaper industry has been screwed by such events as the Napoleonic wars and even the 1973 oil crisis, but it goes on surviving, seeing off challenges from awful, cloying wall decals. (Live, Laugh, Fuck Off.) Not even the discovery that George Osborne is the son of the co-founder of Osborne & Little could quell my passion. Wherever I sort-of-hang my wallpaper, that’s my home.