Heidi Zilmer produces hand-made wallpapers using traditional and well-established techniques including hand painting and stencilling. Her work has been used in the restoration of historic buildings to recreate lost or damaged decorative schemes from evidence where it survives or she has produced designs in an appropriate style using the right colours and the appropriate technique for the period. She lectures and demonstrates these techniques including marbling, imitating the appearance of stone but in paint, woodgraining, used in the past to decorate plain wood and paper - usually to imitate expensive and exotic timbers, and trompe-l’œil, the art of painting so well and so realistically that it deceives the eye.
Demonstrating the technique of woodgraining at Museumsbyngningen
Hand crafting means that designs but can be adapted or scaled in an appropriate way and there is a strong element of mischief … in one scheme with rows and rows of stencilled bowler hats in silhouette, just one might be left out or one, in the most appropriate place, twisted or ‘cocked’ or, in one commission I was shown, just one bowler hat in the room was replaced with a teddy bear.
Clearly modern elements have been introduced in the designs so one of the stencil patterns incorporates in silhouette Danish classics including a PH lamp and the distinct shape of a Jacobsen chair.
But what is so interesting and so important about the work of Zilmers, Heidi Zilmer’s company, is that they do not see these techniques as an end in themselves or as only being essential for high-quality and authentic restoration work: they are skills and methods that have a role in contemporary designs in modern updated adaptation of the technique but also, and much more important, they are techniques that can evolve and be developed further - they have not simply been mastered and brought forward to now but are dynamic and will change and move forward.
The carefully observed studies, painted in minute detail, can even be printed and with modern techniques of printing there is the potential to print onto almost any material including glass and plastic so the hand-painting skills become the first stage of the design and production processes.
The techniques of hand painted designs can also be scaled up to create striking new patterns so this is essentially what has been done with the Nordic Antique range of wallpapers based on traditional Scandinavian knitting patterns. Here, with these wall papers, the clever trick has been to retain strong traditional colours … the classic Scandinavian steel blue … with a cream background which works with the existing features of a historic building … many of the publicity photographs have the papers pasted above dado panelling or with cornices … but the designs also work with both antique and starkly modern furniture.
My thanks to Heidi for giving me so much of her time to discuss her work at the exhibition at Museumsbygningen ... I even came away with a strip of ornately-grained plank ... paper plank.