I thought it was about time to write about something other than a regular wallpaper. Wallpapers seem to get all the glory but there are other papers that pull their weight as well, like dado papers. Dado papers were used below the chair rail in rooms that lacked wood wainscots and were popular from the late seventeenth century up until the late nineteenth century. Given their placement at the bottom of the wall, where it meets the floor, dados visually support the weight of the wall and were thus usually architectural in design. Another aspect of a dado’s job was to divide the wall surface, to break up the large expanse of wall space on rooms with high ceilings. As ceiling heights dropped and rooms got smaller, people began to simplify their decor and beginning around 1900 dados were replaced by a wide border or frieze.
Printed dados were available in a great variety of styles but the most common imitated the inset panels of wood wainscot, as the featured example illustrates. They were available in elaborate tromp l’oeil versions with graining that imitates carved wood and cut stone, as well as simple monochrome versions with little sense of depth. Others sported columns or had figures of Hercules. And they were available in an endless variety of colors to coordinate with any style or color of wallpaper.
Dados were frequently hung below scenic wallpapers, filling that gap between the chair rail and baseboard moldings. Scenic papers were hung above the chair rail which served to elevate them to a proper viewing height as well as offer protection from chairs and other scuffs. Scenics could even wrap around all four walls, offering views of the world, and necessitating a strong dado below to visually carry its weight.