Heidi Zilmer at northmodern


Heidi Zilmer had a stand at northmodern to show her hand painted wallpaper. 

Her work may sound like a rather specialist or tightly specific area of design … one that depends on very high levels of craftsmanship to produce one off pieces … and that is true in part but what is important and interesting, in terms of general design theory and practice, is that her work is not about a designer trying to develop a recognisable or signature style. Just the opposite. What is astounding is the wide range of styles in the designs from those that take historic wallpapers as a starting point through to designs that are starkly and uncompromisingly modern and from designs that can be delicate and subtle, looking like shot silk, to designs that are strong powerful and uncompromising statements. 

A starting point can be a pattern found in nature; a pattern inspired by an ancient oriental or traditional Scandinavian motif, or from playing with a strong geometric pattern but all are seen with an amazing eye for colour but it is a wide-ranging imagination that is crucial and an open approach that sees an idea or a form for inspiration that is then developed into a unique design but with a keen awareness of what is appropriate for homes and interiors now. 

For this display a basic colour of deep blue was chosen to link the works but that was a starting point for ornate Japanese style motifs, Viking patterns or the starkest and sharpest geometric pattern of gilded crosses.


Heidi Zilmer at Museumsbygningen


At the end of November Heidi Zilmer demonstrated her work and exhibited her wallpaper at Museumsbygningen, the gallery in Kastelsvej in Copenhagen, at the now well-established and regular show for artist-craftsmen and photographers, organised by Banja Rathnov under the title The Time is Now.



Heidi will have a stand at the major design fair northmodern that opens this Wednesday, the 13th January, at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen and runs for three days.


Heidi Zilmer at Louis Poulsen


Louis Poulsen invited Malermester (master painter) Heidi Zilmer to provide wallpapers and art pieces for the new room settings in a major remodelling of their lighting showroom on Gammel Strand in Copenhagen.

A number of hand-painted papers are shown in the entrance area, including a new dragonfly design, floral designs, geometric patterns and designs with silhouettes of bowler hats and one design has silhouettes of classic pieces from Danish design history.

Wallpapers by Heidi Zilmer from her Nordic range, based on historic knitting patterns, have been used with Nordic Antique in a kitchen area and New Nordic for a bathroom setting. In one  setting - for the new Patera pendant from Louis Poulsen, designed by Øivind Slaatto - there is a panel of the bowler hat design in white on silver along with a Jacobsen two-seat Swan Sofa in white leather. Very elegant, very subtle and very sophisticated.

There are smaller works by Heidi, many gilded, including silhouettes of famous lamps from Louis Poulsen and several larger panels with geometric designs have been used as decoration, hung in with a large group of paintings along with a mirror, across one wall of a bedroom setting.



Nordic Antique wallpaper in the kitchen with an AJ Royal pendant above the work top and the Louis Poulsen PH Snowball over the table


New Nordic from Heidi Zilmer in the bathroom setting of the recently remodelled show room

Decorative panel above the desk and a silhouette of a classic PH pendant from Louis Poulsen by Heidi with a PH 4/3 Table in the bedroom setting in the show room

Heidi Zilmer at northmodern


Heidi Zilmer, centre above, talking with potential customers?

She has a really strong display of her wallpapers at northmodern this year and today will be demonstrating the skills of hand painting, marbling, wood graining and how to use gold and silver leaf. She will be at the Danish™ stand this afternoon .... it normally takes me days if not weeks to write up posts so I thought for once I would try a "hot off the press" post before I head back to northmodern for the day. 


restoration of wall paintings at Moltkes Palæ


At the end of last week Heidi Zilmer invited me to see her work on the restoration of wall paintings in the Gamle Seglsal - an antechamber to the Store Sal or first-floor great hall in Moltkes Palæ. The palace is now owned by Haandværkerforeningen, the association of craftsmen, and the room was decorated for them shortly after they bought the building in 1930.

Set on the corner of Bredgade and Dronningens Tværgade in Copenhagen, Moltkes Palæ dates back to the late 17th century when the first house on the site was built for Jørgen Henriksen Gosebruch, a Chief Customs and Excise Officer.

In 1696 the house and gardens were bought by Frederik Gyldenløve, half brother of the king and Governor-general of Norway. He rebuilt and extended the house and it remained a major town palace for a sequence of wealthy and aristocratic families through the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1852 the palace was purchased by Count Moltke, Prime Minister of Denmark, and his name is still used to identify the house.

In 1930 the property was bought by Haandværkerforeningen and they commissioned the architect Gotfred Tvede to alter the main entrance from Dronningens Tværgade and the main staircase, both on the south side of the palace, and to construct a new north range containing a new first-floor great hall for events and major dinners of the association and at the same time Tvede remodelled the courtyard side of the earlier street range to create this lobby or antechamber to the new hall.

Decoration in the room is painted directly onto the plaster and with time areas have been damaged or the paint has lifted slightly - hence the need for a programme of restoration works.

Heidi Zilmer is a very skilled restorer of historic hand-painted wallpaper as well as being a talented and prolific designer of new wallpapers. Here, in the Gamle Seglsal, the first stage was to consolidate loose paint and then fill and prepare areas of more extensive damage. After restoring the base colour, Heidi marked out the missing areas of the design … surviving areas of the pattern, to be reproduced over the damaged sections, were traced in pencil onto thin paper and then, the outline was pricked through with a line of closely spaced pin holes and graphite powder used to transfer the design to the wall - a technique known as pouncing. Original details of the artists brush strokes for line work and pronounced strong brush strokes in areas of blocked-in colour have been imitated exactly and pigment has been carefully and precisely matched to the surviving colours where they have faded or changed in different ways.



That evening I went out for supper with Heidi and her assistant to discuss their work.

As I have said elsewhere, I first met Heidi last Autumn at Museumsbyggningen when she showed her wallpaper designs and demonstrated historic painting techniques such as trompé l’oeil and imitating wood graining in an exhibition called The Time is Now. And I talked to Heidi again at Northmodern in January and saw her at the 3daysofdesign event called Re-framing Danish Design where her wallpaper was chosen by Danish™ for their exhibition.

As well as restoring historic wallpaper and historic decorative schemes in major buildings, I knew that Heidi also teaches design history and has designed an extensive range of modern wallpapers. I just assumed that she had studied at university in Kolding or here in Copenhagen.

It was only as we talked that I realised that in fact she had followed a traditional craft route and had completed a full painter’s apprenticeship. She is proud, justifiably proud, of that because it is those tangible skills that inspire all her designs and those skills and knowledge of her craft that has brought her international recognition - she was invited to participate in the annual meetings of the Salon of Decorative Painters exhibiting her work first at the Salon in Bergamo in 2009, in Versailles in 2010, in Tokyo and then this year at the Salon in Lecce.

Zilmer’s - Hand painted wallpaper

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.