Wallpaper looks like carved paneling

INSIDE ADVICE

May 23, 1993|By Rose Bennett Gilbert | Rose Bennett Gilbert,Copley News Service

Q: We are slowly restoring our Queen Anne Victorian house as we can afford it. The dining room walls have us puzzled. What we thought was just old embossed wallpaper turns out to be leather, tooled into intricate designs. I'm sure it was beautiful once, but now it's a mess. We've heard there's a new wallpaper that's embossed to look like leather. Do you know any more about it?

A: I know that you're half right: Indeed, there are inexpensive embossed products that go up like wallpaper to create the look of intricately carved plaster, leather or wood. But this is hardly a new idea -- in fact, it may be even older than your vintage Victorian house.

These wall coverings are called Anaglypta and Lincrusta, which may sound as if we're talking about somebody's great-aunts. Actually, we're speaking of the brainstorm that hit English inventor Thomas Palmer in the late 19th century, when the "upstairs" crowd was decorating their walls in expensive, hand-tooled leather, plasterwork or carved paneling.

Palmer took sturdy white paper and embossed it to simulate the real thing. The paper went up in the usual fashion, then was painted, or faux-finished. (The names come from the Greek: "ana" means "raised," "glypta" means "cameo." Lincrusta refers to linseed oil, a main ingredient.)

But this may be more than you want to know. The point is, you can have an authentic-looking substitute for the expensive tooled leather on your walls at relatively low cost (Anaglypta sells for $15-$25 a single role).

You may want to send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to get a free "Guide to Historical Wallcovering Finishes": Write Bentley Bros., 2709 Southpark Road, Louisville, Ky. 40219.

Q: Our apartment (on the second floor of an old brownstone) has a large bay window in the front room with three radiators that come about halfway to the sill. It's a perfect place for a window seat, but my husband is worried about blocking the heat. Do you know of any nice-looking way to have both?

A: Secrete the radiators behind woven-wooden lattices, or "treillage," as prima decorator Elsie de Wolfe would pronounce it. She startled the society ladies of New York in 1905 when she featured garden-variety trellises in decorating the chichi Colony Club, designed by Stanford White as the first social club for women only in America. It's said that Elsie appropriated the concept from architect Ogden Codman Jr., who wrote "The Decoration of Houses" with Edith Wharton in 1897 (it was her first book).

Appropriate the treillage idea to support your window seat, and you can have an attractive cover-up for your radiators' ribs that will still let the heat escape into the room.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas.

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