In 1750 the British East India Company imported 4,727,992 lbs. of tea from China. The tea was transported in large metal tins which were lined with squares (Fang Kuai) of paper with metal leaf applied. Europeans quickly realized that there was value in these papers as a wall covering. They were applied in overlapping squares, creating beautiful patterns.
Tea Tin Detail
Honey Collins, a wonderful designer, with whom we often work, asked us to estimate the cost for a mural and several rooms of glazing in a house in Belmont, MA. The living room had an old silver tea paper wall covering around the fireplace & we all thought Zoë Design should make reproductions of this and add it to our line of wallpapers.
Silver Tea Paper Fragment
We already know about applying metal leaf so I started researching the block printing methods and began the process of making blocks when I noticed a lamp shade in our own bedroom with the exact same pattern. It is strange that I had never really looked at it before.
Lamp & Shade Detail
I used the lamp shade as a guide to create this pattern, which we can print in any foreground and background colors and any pattern size. My favorite look is when I made the pattern and background in opposing colors and then adjusted the value to be almost the same.
Zoë Design wallpaper pattern from Lamp Shade Design
A few days after creating the tea paper pattern above, Honey contacted me with a new project. The same clients had a large scale, similar pattern on a blue paper with gold wash in the house they are leaving in Wellesley, MA. This paper was dear to them and I was tasked with re-creating it for their new dwelling.
Fragment of Original Tea Paper
The challenge in reproducing this wallpaper is the gold. I can reproduce gold color but cannot print metallic. We had two choices, 1) make the blue paper, wash it with metallic gold and then block print the pattern, as the original was done. Or, 2) reproduce it photographically and match the color in a digital print after which Lena can wash a metallic over the gold. The drawback to the second method is the metallic washes over the pattern, not behind it. It was decided to go with the faster and less expensive method of digital reproduction. I chose to print on Etching Ragg to create a completely matte look, like the original. It ended up taking an hour to photograph the original paper, 7 hours to stitch and make a beautiful repeat and another 4 hours to get the color exactly right in the output.
Reproduction “Tea Paper” for Honey Collins Design
Samples of some of the styles and substrates (Pictured here - Blue / gold background on Etching Ragg, several sizes of repeat on mural pro and a swatch printed on metallic canvas)
Thanks for reading, I will post again when I perfect the block printed on silver leaf paper version, and also when the install is done and I can post an after photo.
Over Christmas many of you have lamented my discontinuing the “Wallpaper-a-Day” posts. Thank you for your kind words & admiration. If you want to “like” “share” and “repost” these missives it will be invaluable in spreading the word about our work.