Susan’s All Things Mural- The Best of the Old-Guard Scenic Papers

A Tiny Bit of History:

Designers wanting gorgeous mural wallpaper have never had so many options — or at least, they haven’t since the since the late 1700s to early 1800s, which were perhaps the glory days of both French block-printed scenic wallpapers….

(If you are a wallpaper buff and visiting Paris, be sure to check out the Museum of Decorative Arts’ holdings of scenic wallpapers- I was lucky enough to catch this exhibition)

…and the heyday of hand painted Chinese scenics.

This lovely hand-painted Chinoiserie paper is in the fabulous Houghton Hall.

Europeans first fell love with these delicate Asian scenics during the days of trading teas and silks. As they became popular, Western imitations sprang up. In the mid-1700s, the French began calling these “Chinoiserie”, which means “in the Chinese style”,  (The pronunciation of this word is perhaps hopeless for most of us Americans, but you can try “shin-waz-zeer-ree”).

The good news for traditionalists is that such gorgeous papers are still available. And the good news for not-so traditionalists is that new printing methods have created a wealth of stunning new options, too!

What follows is my personal take on the best of old and new mural wallpapers. I hope you enjoy!

The Best Old-Guard Scenic Wallpapers:


Let’s start with the most historic – the French company, Zuber (for my fellow English-speakers, pronounce it like “Zoo-bear,” not “tuber”) In business since 1790, Zuber must be doing things right! They offer European-style scenics, printed with hand-carved wooden blocks on hand-made paper.

Zuber’s panoramic wallpapers feature scenery considered “exotic” at the time of manufacture. My personal favorite, Eldorado, has been in continuous production since 1848, and features the mythical land of riches European explorers hoped to find in South America.

Everybody’s dream, Eldorado, has been charming wallpaper fans for almost 170 years, with even single-used panels holding resale value.

de Gournay:

I think of de Gournay as the most glamorous of the hand painted Chinoiserie papers. Their work, done in China and Korea, appear not only on walls, but is adapted by fashion designers for couture clothing and even shoes. De Gournay is a second-generation family business originating in England. Here’s an image from a  Vogue spread on the home of the London director’s.

Ever-so-glamorous de Gournay wallpaper!

Gracie Studios:

Gracie and de Gournay go together like peas-and-carrots, with many designers reeling their names off like one word. But there are subtle and wonderful differences between them. Gracie is, to my mind the most harmonious of the Chinoiserie scenic paper options. The handmade background of paper, silk, or metallic are exceptionally pretty, with options for tea-staining that give them the “it’s always been here” look of an antique mural wallpaper. Gracie Studios, headquartered in NYC, is a fourth-generation family business.

Gracie Studios wallpaper in lovely room by NYC interior designer Kathy Abbott– don’t you want to just sink into that chair with a good book?

Paul Montgomery:

I think  Paul Montgomery Studios has the best neutrals for hand-painted scenic options. Started 45 years ago by muralist Paul Montgomery, the studio still emphasizes custom work. Though his team’s scenics have the look of block-prints, they are painted by hand, so they feel a bit looser and more painterly than  Zuber.  The Chinoiserie options have a nice selection of soft backgrounds. Those loving Paul’s work, but are on a budget, might like to look at his alternative line, Muralsources.