Wallpaper advertising in the Fifties: A Journey through the History of Design

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When we think about the 50s, we think of regeneration, the German Wirtschaftswunder, Rock'n'Roll, hula hoops, petticoats, rubber plants, pineapple ice buckets, and flying ducks on the wall. The Golden Fifties, a design decade which in many European countries were greatly influenced by the "American Way of Life". Besides the economic boom and Rock'n'Roll, we also imported the "streamline" and "organic" design from the USA. From the 1950s onwards, design was considered a sale-promoting factor, and advertising for all manner of products achieved new significance.

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People became "consumers", they had money, a family, a car, and a house that needed to be furnished. As every industry was vying for customers and wallpaper manufacturers were no exception. For even high-quality products didn't just "sell themselves" any longer. In the mid-fifties, the market was extremely competitive, and people felt the need to save their pennies in order to provide for the future. Advertising was a way to influence consumers' attitudes, for instance via reduced sales prices and by incorporating elements like fashion.

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“Wallpapers go with the times”, an advertising poster for the German wallpaper industry said in 1952. The modern housewife was now able to not only coordinate her dress, handbag, shoes and hat, but could choose the suitable wallpaper, too. In the middle of the last century, walls were not just functional any longer - they had achieved decorative status once more. Fashionable families adorned their homes with wallpapers in inviting pastel colours like pink, turquoise, beige, light grey, lemon yellow and olive green. After years of austerity, there was a great desire for lightness and fresh subtlety. Light colours and floral patterns provided an optimistic outlook for the future.

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But the 50s were not just about personal fortunes, they were very much about Europe's economic future. The European Union was in its infancy, and in 1956, the so-called "Europe Roll" (a standardised wallpaper format) was introduced throughout Western Europe. As a result, 1955 newspaper headlines announced "Wallpapers will become cheaper" and "The Europe Standard Roll is coming". Wallpaper manufacturers used this free marketing to woo potential customers.

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But low prices are not the be-all and end-all of wallpapers. "Experience the magic that wallpapers can do!" and "Everything is more beautiful with new wallpapers!", as billboards claimed in 1959. Beautifying the walls was now commonplace, but why not include the ceiling? The young lady with her rain hat and umbrella has some fresh ideas and asks: "Who likes grey skies? A white ceiling is just that - grey! Why not replace the grey monotony with fresh and friendly colours? Try wallpapering the "fifth wall"! It will totally change the "feel" of a room. The trend today is towards changing one's home with a new wallpaper from time to time. Yes, your home demands new wall décor! Why postpone? Do it now!"

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Well, why not indeed? For whether it is just a wallpapered ceiling or an entire room: the likelihood is that it will still be trendy 50 years on. 2015 saw a huge revival in all things 50s, from furniture to lamps and - not least - wallpaper designs. The powdery pastel colour palette of pink, yellow, mint and beige, and the nostalgic patterns which were present on all catwalks this year, is also an integral part of contemporary interior design. But why are the Fifties back in fashion? Perhaps there is a certain longing for more freshness or the sweetness of days long gone - a perfect contrast to our present digital life determined by technology. Just give it a try and create your own personal Fifties Look!

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