In the 1950s it was popular to hang themed wallpapers in functional spaces. Designs were produced for the kitchen and dining room that depicted food and drink, for children’s bedrooms that showed toys, cartoons and fairytale characters, and even designs featuring objects such as irons and scissors were made to be hung in spaces where domestic work took place. Wallpapers meant specifically for the bathroom, naturally, focused on aquatic themes. This vibrant pattern features green seahorses and clusters of tropical fish peacefully blowing silver bubbles as they swim in the midst of vertical rows of white coral. The corals and fish are highlighted against a terra cotta ground. The selvedge states that this paper is washable and fade proof. Washable wallpaper was invented in 1934, so by the time this sidewall was produced manufacturers had mastered the creation of papers that could stand up to the splashes and steam of a bathroom. The manufacturer in this case was United Wallpaper, Inc., one of the largest wallpaper producers of the mid-twentieth century. There are currently 58 objects produced by United Wallpaper, Inc. in Cooper Hewitt’s online collections database. It takes only a minute or two to scroll through all 58, and you’ll be rewarded with a solid introduction to the diverse interior decoration preferences of mid-century America. Expect to find subtle stripes, traditional florals, abstract modernist patterns, dancers, football players, poodles, ponies, planes, plaids and a surprising number of elephants and roosters.

Anna Rasche is a master’s student in the Parsons-Cooper Hewitt History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.

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