This unobtrusive sidewall was designed c.1954 – 1955 by Rolf Middelboe for the Danske Tapetfabbriker company, and it is a great example of midcentury “Danish Modern” design. Thin white lines wander over the paper, sometimes angular sometimes curvilinear, creating a patchwork of abstract polygons. The shapes are filled with muted tones of grays and greens, and present an aesthetic appropriate for a dentist’s office waiting room, bank lobby or any other corporate space that wants to convey the message of “professional, non-threatening and slightly fashionable.”

Modern associations aside, Danish wallpapers such as this piece became popular with homeowners both in Europe and the United States in the years following World War II. The population was eager for a return to color and form after the drab war years, but found traditional wallpaper patterns fussy and outdated. Scandinavian countries rose to the challenge, and drew on their long histories of quality craftsmanship to create “more beautiful things for everyday use.” (1) Wallpapers designed during this movement often took the form of simple, abstract patterns in soft colors. The “modern” pattern and colorways of this sidewall would have appeared fresh and exciting, while the abstract shapes and subtle color palette make it a practical option for any number of interiors. This paper is designed in an expressionist style, similar in fashion to many papers being produced in Germany at this time. It is however, very different from the majority of papers being produced in the United States, which tended to be more traditional, even kitschy at this time. During the course of the war wallpaper manufacturers could not produce new patterns so were forced to keep printing with their existing rollers. The materials needed to make new printing rollers were being secured for the war effort.

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.

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