Since the earliest days of interior design, decorators have relied on ornate botanical wallpapers to bring a bit of nature—and luxury—into the home. Of course, fads come and go—who could forget the Cracker Barrel Country™ look of the 1970s and 80s?—but pay close attention to the pages of shelter magazines and #classicdesign Instagram feeds, and you’ll begin to notice that a few motifs appear again and again. From hand-painted chinoiseries to swaying Mid-Century palms, here are five iconic looks whose charms have stood the test of time, and are still going strong.
Almost 150 years after their debut, almost all of William Morris’s intricate woodblock printed wallpaper patterns are still in production and remain aesthetic icons of the Arts & Crafts movement and favorites of stylists all over the world. While best known for his textile and paper designs, Morris was also a poet, printer, political activist, and architect—talents that are evident in his stylized sense of visual rhythm, rigorous eye for structure, subtle use of color, and reverence for old world craftsmanship and production methods. As a domestic philosopher, he’s remembered for his famous golden rule: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”—and in fact, his earliest wallpapers (such as 1864’s Trellis) were produced for use in his home, Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, England, and influenced by the natural world around it. Of them all, Strawberry Thief (1883)—which was inspired by the thrushes that regularly stole the strawberries from under the nets of the family’s kitchen garden—is perhaps the most playful, and certainly the most timeless.
With prices stretching up to $1,300 per square meter, the stunning panoramas produced by British firm de Gournay are among the most exclusive—and expensive—wallcoverings in the world. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that among their most ardent fans and customers are luminaries like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss, and…The Prince of Wales. Still, you get what you pay for: each de Gournay panel is watercolored by hand onto paper-backed silk by a small team of Chinese artisans trained in traditional 18th century Chinoiserie techniques, and can take from 60 to 160 hours to complete, depending on the complexity. All of the designs are elegant and astounding, but St. Laurent—which was modeled on a set of original 17th-century panels found in Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris apartment—is the most iconic.
Bright, whimsical, and exuberant, Citrus Garden is one of the signature designs that Swedish designer Josef Frank produced on commission for the acclaimed American textiles firm, Schumacher, in 1947—and has been a favorite of designers ever since. Indeed, though it was originally launched as a fabric, over the decades so many decorators adapted it to use on clients’ walls that in 2017 Schumacher decided to give the people what they wanted and officially turn it into a wallpaper. With its combination of clean Bauhaus modernism and warm natural motifs, it’s easy to see why the print remains so beloved. As Frank himself said: “The freer the pattern, the better.”
This bold, bright, larger-than-life banana leaf print by mid-century designer Dorothy Draper was reportedly inspired by a trip Draper took to Brazil to design the interiors for the luxe hotel and casino Palácio Quitandinha. Not long after, in 1939, she used the paper to dramatic effect at California’s chic Arrowhead Springs Hotel, and after her death, her protegee Carleton Varney installed it in homage at West Virginia’s famed Greenbriar resort. And like Martinique—another tropical print made famous by a hotel—it has remained an icon of glamour ever since.
A contemporary classic from the Swedish company, Sandberg, Raphael features layers of rich, inky foliage—are those oak leaves?—that evoke the chiaroscuro look of antique tapestries. But there are also more modern touchpoints: according to the maker, the pattern was also inspired by the leafy canopy of New York’s Central Park.
In the early 20th century, British designer John Fowler made his name as a master of the English country house style, deftly mixing glamour and faded gentility. But nearly a century later, Bowood may be his most enduring legacy. A simple yet sumptuous chintz, the print is based on a historical pattern Fowler discovered at Bowood House, a Georgian manor in Wiltshire, England, that was as famous for its fine gardens as its luxe interiors. Indeed, the story goes that one of the reasons Fowler was so smitten with the pattern was because of how it allowed the “gardens to spill into the rooms.” In production continuously since 1938, it remains a favorite of the preppy set, as well as design luminaries like New York architect Gil Shafer, who used it to cover every inch of a guest room in his Hudson Valley weekend home.
Though, according to pedigreed British wallpaper house, Cole & Son, this striking birch forest pattern dates back to 1959, Woods has become a true modern classic and—with countless appearances in decor blogs and glossy mags—one of the most recognizable 21st century wallcoverings. The spare black and white colorway is classic; but if you’re feeling playful, it also comes in a palette of subtle colors.
This cheeky, curling vine print featuring mischievous monkeys and ripe fruit was created by Cole & Son from a melange of motifs used in the 1940s and 50s by the storied Italian design duo Fornasetti in custom panels for the fantastical Milanese sweets shop, Dulciora. Whether used in a powder room or a dining nook, it makes just as bold a statement today.