April 27, 2010

Going for the hand touch isn’t exactly foolproof. An easy way to miss: embossed wall coverings. Lincrusta was originally invented in 1877 as a kind of textile-linoleum hybrid by linoleum progenitor Frederick Walton, and was made with gelled linseed oil backed by a heavy canvas. It functioned as a kind of molded linoleum and was offered up as an economic alternative to hand-carved plaster. It continues to be used today, not only as a wall covering but for all manner of decorative borders, dados, and friezes, the subtle sense of dimension suggesting wood, pressed tin, or even leather.

the wrong impression detail embossed wall red

Such a material identity crisis is matched by the assortment of patterns Lincrusta comes in—–low relief or high relief, floral or stripe, ornate acanthus leaves, or Byzantine geometrics—–all of which are meant to further a sense of history, some remote sentiment about the tradition of ornament. Such embossed wall coverings may be a reasonable option for historic restorations, if what you’re after is Georgian panel appliqués for the master suite.

Otherwise, though, the stuff invariably implies some fuzzier notion of handwork and may be less about what you put on the walls and more about what will have you climbing them. In trying to do too much, Lincrusta generally just ends up suggesting a cheesy nostalgia, a kind of William Morris for Dummies. And wasn’t it William Morris who suggested, “If you cannot learn to love real art, at least learn to hate sham art”? In this case, texture, tactility, and the sense of dimension are all used to simply conceal things rather than to clarify them.

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