It contains the popular as well as the posh. It tells a story of the past and present. It has been burried, but has been resurrected in new splendour. Wallpaper is having a renaissance – as a modern statement in interior decor as well as as an important link to times past. One of those who really understands how to combine expressive wallpapers of the past with the simpler touch of today is the designer and expert in restoration, Heidi Zilmer. With great historical insight and craftmanship she reconstructs historical wallpaper, while at the same time developing new, modern expressions on paper.
Paper is both a very simple and a very enchanting material. Created by plain organic fibres, it has for centuries been the foundation of artistic creativity of all kinds. Great writers have been able to secure their fictive worlds on the white surface, while painters have marked their statements with brush, pen, charcoal or pencil. Ever since Chinese Minister Cai Lun in the year 105 A.D. reated the first piece of paper from hemp, paper has been the focal point of a series of creative developments. This most certainly includes the manufacturing of wallpaper.
In the 1700s, the first pieces of wallpaper, created in singular pieces printed only on one side, hit the market. – The production of the decorated paper which in years to come were manufactured endlessly has worked as a historical testimony: Wallpaper is a reflection of the trends of each decade and, at the same time, evidence of craftmanship and artistic ability.
The fascination with old crafting techniques, the interest in historical wallpapers and the ability to combine extensive knowledge of wall linings with the desire to create new, innovative wallpaper designs has brought designer and expert in restoration, Heidi Zilmer, to a central position in the interior design scene. Her latest, impressive, project is the recreation of original wallpaper designed by painter Albert Naur for Poul Henninsen’s 80-year-old villa. Not only an impressive project but also a demanding one, which has been beautifully finalised in cooperation with Realdania By& Byg (ed. Realdania City & Building) and the Danish National Museum. The proces and the result is an exciting piece of work documenting important Danish design history.
The hunt for the extraordinary
Heidi Zilmer, who comes with a background as a house painter, and who today is the owner of Zilmers – a design studio that specializes in wall art, design, restoring and teaching – claims to be a true nerd, who cannot ever finish learning and working with patterns, shapes and colours.
“I studied wallpaper during my education and found myself deeply frustrated by the bad quality of the different wallpapers. We had to compromise with the mounting, while in very old buildings we came across very old wallpaper mountings with not a single error. This was a paradox I wanted to conquer,” explains Heidi Zilmer. Her excitement was noticed. Wallpaper manufacturer Fiona was one of the first to develop non-woven paper (wallpaper strengthened with polyester and with a stable shape).
In the same period, a teacher of her unknowingly ”provocted” her to combine old manufacturing techniques with modern architecture and interiors. At this point her ballgame of work was defined:
“My teacher claimed how old techniques had no place in a modern context. This made me defiant and I became determined to show that an integration between old and trendy in an elegant and graphical way would be possible… and maybe even a little bit ahead of the times and trends.”
So speaks Heidi Zilmer, who now has prooved her thesis.
“I chose golding techniques combined with the techniques of working with premanufactured shapes – and the result was excellent,” she states. Back in 2010 she had already started working on her second design of an antique cross.
“My starting point was one of the oldest symbols that we know of: the cross (+). I created a composition of patterns with the cross symbol which made a kind of optical illusion. A modern kind of trompe l´oeil, which makes your brain spin. Gold-enlightened cross patterns on a background of indigo-blue. Antique, graphical, golden, classical, minimalistic and hypermodern at the same time, she claims. Her statement was supported by the fact that she actually sold the wallpaper for the use of the private estate of the chairman of Painters Board in Copenhagen.
The Antic Cross became the commercial breakthrough for Heidi Zilmer. The breakthrough, combined with deep knowledge about antique wallpapers, opened the door to an old Danish mansion called Gammel Estrup. Here she was hired to recreate an ancient, antique Chinese wallpaper from 1870.
“We used silk-print techniques to replicate the exact pattern and we had to use all 24 hours of each day and night in order to handpaint every single piece of the wallpaper. And so the challenges piled up, especially at the point when they were about to mount the wallpaper, which was first painted with distemper paint and then decorated with patterns made in watercolours. Those very wet pieces of wallpaper were to be mounted throughout the entire room on strectched and fastened flax canvas – and of course the patterns were to match perfectly. It was a big challenge, which was almost impossible, so, by the time we knew we had succeeded, I was incredibally proud,” Heidi Zilmer explains.
“I always let myself be inspired by the old, but then I twist it in order to create a Danish/Nordic expression. This you find in my new Nordic Antique collection. Here I worked with Nordic knitting programmes mixed with the art of mosaic and trompe l´oeil techniques. The collection is created be several layers painted by hand, then photographed and edited in Photoshop, so that the pattern can be scaled in size and shape, which makes it possible for each customer to choose the colour. I only print the amount ordered by each customer. It means zero waste and no storage,” she says and emphasizes how she hopes for this proces to be one of the future. A kind of “print-on-demand”.
Time will tell you how
Right now Heidi Zilmer is experiencing a lot of interest in her wallpapers. It fits perfectly with what the trend dictates: wallpapers are modern again and the interest in craftmanship and the authentic has never been bigger.
“Paper is fascinating because it offers so many possibilities. To me personally the interesting thing is to investigate the possibilities of non-woven qualities of paper – as they are stable in shape and can be treated, coloured and wet right through like textiles. It offers totally new possibilities for working with watercolours. At the same time, I find it exciting to combine old ways with new technologies, like lasercut motives ind shibori coloured wallpapers,” she finishes, but then adds:
“I believe that we have become crazy about wallpaper again because we need a contradiction to the black and white universe and all the monochrome that’s been ruling for so long.”