• Part of a roofline shows from one building. Trees with fall color leaves on them fill most of the photo. A lamp-post is near center of the photo.

    Harpers Ferry Center

Carpeting, Lighting, Wallpaper & Window Treatments

Does your site have tired or ragged curtains, dirty wallpaper, or worn out carpeting? Accurate, well-researched reproduction historic wallpaper, carpeting, window treatments, and other textiles greatly improve the authentic look of a furnished room. However, poor quality or inaccurate reproductions mislead visitors and reflect badly on your site. If you are not confident in your knowledge of period textiles and wallpaper, your best course is to consult an HFC curator who has been involved in this kind of work for many years. Purchasing reproduction or stock textiles and wallpaper is very expensive, and will be an investment your park will live with for the next 20 years. However, if you are comfortable that you have the knowledge and expertise, the following information may help you to avoid some of the worst pitfalls.

Closely examine any site-specific documentation for clues. Do you have any photographs or drawings of your interiors? Read inventories closely for clues to colors and patterns. Correspondence can contain references to textiles and wallpaper, especially if the writer is in the midst of a redecorating campaign.

Look through attics, basements, and closets. Sometimes scraps of wallpaper or old carpet were saved or used as shelf liner. Consult experts in paint and wallpaper analysis. These professionals can uncover a wealth of information invisible to the untrained eye. If architectural changes were made to your structure, carefully removing pieces of later molding often reveals small scraps of the older wallpaper.

  • Wallpaper reproduction. Don't despair if you feel like you have a jigsaw puzzle of wallpaper scraps. Sometimes many small fragments of wallpaper can be pieced together to give a reasonable approximation of the whole. The cost of wallpaper depends on the production method (roller printing vs. silkscreen), the complexity of the pattern, how intact the pattern is (and thus how much design work will be required), the number of colors, and, of course, the amount required.
  • Fabric reproduction. Ideally, you should reproduce your historic fabric accurately in terms of color, fiber content, and pattern. In reality, this is often not possible. Most museums don’t want to spend the money to reproduce a 100% silk fabric that may disintegrate in 10 years. Sometimes manufacturers claim that their looms can’t reproduce the large scale patterns seen in some historic textiles. You will have to decide if the final product will be close enough in feel to the original to be worth the expense of reproduction. You might be able to locate a stock reproduction that is an acceptable substitute.
  • Carpet reproduction. Ingrain and rag carpets can be produced by smaller firms, while Brussels and Wilton type carpets are generally manufactured by large companies with power looms. The cost of Brussels and Wilton carpets are determined by design complexity, number of colors, fiber content, pile thickness, and number of tufts per square inch. Remember that before the beginning of the 20th century, both ingrain and pile carpets were typically woven in narrow (27” or 36”) widths and sewn together by the carpet installer. You should use a carpet installer familiar with the installation of reproduction historic carpets. Expert carpet installers or conservators can help you decide if you need padding and what type of padding is appropriate, both historically and in terms of wear.

Once you have collected and examined all of your site-specific evidence, you may still need information from comparative sources. Perhaps you could find no extant wallpaper, carpeting, or curtains. Use the information you did collect and consult comparative sources. These are usually paintings, photographs, and drawings that are contemporary to your site, or contemporary style guides or sample books. What you look at and how much is available will vary greatly depending on the location and time period of your site. Sources that we consult frequently for examples of curtains, wallpapers, and carpets include the following:

  • American Interiors, by Harold Peterson (1979, Charles Scribner, New York)
  • Our Own Snug Fireside, by Jane Nylander (1993, Yale University/Alfred Knopf, New York)
  • At Home, by Elizabeth D. Garrett (1989, Harry Abrams, New York)
  • A Documentary History of American Interiors, by Edgar Mayhew and Minor Myers, Jr. (1980, Charles Scribner, New York)

When using comparative sources, you must be careful to consider more than the time period. The comparative source should also be similar to your site in geographic location (city vs. frontier, east vs. west, etc.); social status (not just tenement vs. mansion, but all the levels in between); and as much as possible, personal taste (was the owner of your site conservative or flamboyant?).

If you don't have any site specific documentation, the most cost-effective approach is to acquire what is called a "stock" reproduction. A stock reproduction is a carpet, wallpaper, or fabric that has already been reproduced from an original and is in a company’s line of offerings. Question the company representative closely to determine the accuracy of the reproduction. Ask about the prototype, the original object upon which the reproduction is based. What is the date of the prototype? Who determined the date? Where is it from? Is the reproduction exact in every way (color, size of pattern, fiber content, manufacturing process)? If the reproduction is based on an original in a museum, call the museum and talk to the curator about the reproduction’s accuracy. If you identify yourself as a curator, most museum staff will be candid.

Many reproductions based on museum objects are excellent and completely suitable for use at another site. However, sometimes museums collaborate with decorating firms to produce wallpaper, textiles, and carpet that have a historic feel and are loosely based on historic prototypes but are not accurate enough for use in a historic recreation. These are usually described as adaptations. You should generally avoid using adaptations in a historically furnished room, although they might be appropriate for an exhibit room or for decorating a visitor center. Another term to watch out for is colorway. You should usually use the "original colorway". Companies frequently produce the same pattern in a variety of colors, many of which are not historically accurate. The companies do this because they are marketing their products to the modern homeowner. Sometimes the company will even discontinue the original colorway while continuing to offer the alternatives. In this case, for an extra fee you can often special order the product in the original colorway.


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