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WALLS : Embossed Papers Raise Options

November 19, 1994|From Associated Press

It's not easy to please a paper hanger. "Like everyone else, I want my home to be unique," said Sally Combs, a professional wallpaper hanger. "But after putting so many patterns in other people's houses, I feel as though I've already seen it all."

Combs says she found the solution a couple of years ago when she discovered the high-relief charms of Lincrusta and Anaglypta, two paintable Victorian-era embossed wall coverings that are making a comeback on walls, ceilings and under chair rails. After using a border of Anaglypta on her bedroom ceiling and a dado of Lincrusta in her guest bathroom, Combs recommends the two wall coverings to all her clients--and still never sees the same thing twice.

The secret is in the amazing range of decorative finishes that the two materials can take. Originally invented to mimic expensive molded plaster, the wall coverings can be painted a single color--semigloss is best for bringing out the pattern and texture--or can be glazed and burnished to resemble anything from tooled leather to pressed tin.

Burdened with two of the most peculiar names in the wall covering world, Anaglypta (a combination of the Greek words for "raised" and "cameo") and Lincrusta ("lin" meaning flat and "crusta" meaning relief) take a little explaining.

Invented in 1877 to bring upper-class elegance to middle-class walls, Lincrusta is a compound of linseed oil and putty, similar to linoleum. Highly durable--it was once used to decorate the outside of Pullman cars--it can be embossed with a very high relief. Because of its weight (a double roll weighs more than 30 pounds) and relatively high cost, Lincrusta is used most often these days for borders and friezes.

Just as Lincrusta was invented as a low-cost alternative to expensive traditional materials, Anaglypta was developed in the 1880s as a low-cost alternative to Lincrusta. Both are produced by Crown Berger, an English company. Classic Anaglypta--now known as Anaglypta SupaDurable--is a heavyweight paper product that gets much of its strength from its high cotton rag content. Like Lincrusta, SupaDurable can be embossed in high relief. Less expensive than Lincrusta--about $60 for a double roll as opposed to $180 for a double roll of Lincrusta--SupaDurable is also lighter, which makes it easy to use on ceilings or as an all-over pattern on walls.

Lincrusta and Anaglypta are hung just as conventional wall coverings are; the only special tool needed is an extra measure of patience. "Because they're heavier, they take a little longer to cut, which can slow the process," said Whitney Lewis, whose Bentley Bros. company distributes Anaglypta and Lincrusta.

Once up, Anaglypta and Lincrusta can be expected to last for decades. "There are plenty of historic houses that still have their original Anaglypta and Lincrusta," Lewis said. "You can paint it over and over again and the embossing will not lose its sharpness."

Although still relatively unknown in the United States, both Lincrusta and Anaglypta have been in production in England since their invention. Hailed as "utopian wall coverings" in Victorian times for their decorative potential, they became prized in the more sober 20th Century for their ability to hide cracks and bulges in plaster walls.

First embraced by people who, like Lewis, were involved in period restorations, Lincrusta and Anaglypta are finding their way into a wide variety of settings. One surprise has been their popularity in the film industry--the wall coverings have lent a touch of class to settings like Tom Cruise's office in "The Firm" and Kevin Costner's farmhouse in "Field of Dreams." Equally surprising, some architects have begun specifying the traditional wall coverings for their new construction.

It's a trend that may well continue into the 21st Century. "I firmly believe that we've been staring at blank walls for too many years," said Joni Monnich, a San Francisco-area decorative painter who wrote a pamphlet on wall-covering finishes for Crown Berger. "Anaglypta and Lincrusta offer us a wonderful opportunity to bring ornament back into our lives."

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