The Hidden Majesties of a Home: Unearthing a Midcentury Mural

After long weeks of waiting, the time finally came this week: we put the key in the lock, opened the door, and stepped into a house that is completely ours, to do with what we please. We spent that first evening sitting on the floor and watching the girls run madly through the main space, drunk with giddiness.

The next day, we began noticing some things–for instance, the family room could use a few more windows. The wallpaper in Eliza’s room is a remarkably bland shade of taupe, or what Pam at might call “greige.” Upside, though: the leathery wallpaper in Gillian’s room peeled off with such a tug, neat as you please, and left us staring at the word LOVE spray painted above the door. (Leathery walls might be fine for a mancave office, but they’re not appropriate for a one-year-old girl’s bedroom.)

Then a thunderstorm came through, and a double rainbow arced over our backyard. Good day.

This morning, I headed back to let the flooring folks in. Yes, we’re breaking a primary rule of retro renovation in that we decided there was no need for us to live with shabby wall-to-wall carpeting and cheap laminate flooring for a year before deciding to replace the floors. So we had the folks from Walls, Floors and More arrange for us to have removal of the current floors, and installation of lovely cork flooring. While they’re here, we figured we could take advantage of the walls part and have them remove the four bronzed mirrors someone installed in our dining room in the early 80s, not to mention the many-times-painted over textured wallpaper in all the hallways. We thought we could live with it, but after all the previous owners’ artwork came down, we were left with some pretty thrashed walls that would require MORE painting to fix. So the paper’s coming down.

Yes, we’ll be doing a lot of painting in the next week.

They arrived late, of course, so I busied myself with stripping the wallpaper from the girls’ rooms; in both cases, it came off as easily as a decal. Cindy (that’s the name of the house) thus revealed her first delight: the wallpaper isn’t just leathery-looking.

It’s Naugahyde.

Naugahyde in '74!

Like for-reals, no jokesies. It says so on the back. Once I realized that, I took even more care with it, not that it needed it; it peeled off whole, with only a few minor tears around the heating grates. It’s currently folded in our basement, awaiting whatever awesome project for which 40-year-old Naugahyde wallpaper can be used. (We have a rocking chair that could use reupholstering.) And the folks who put it up also left a few messages besides LOVE:

Fortunately, none of the signs told me not to blink.

Buoyed by the hippie love emanating from my youngest daughter’s room, I stripped the wallpaper from the alcove in the basement; surrounded on two sides by dark knotty pine, the drab taupe (again with the taupe!) made our lower level less than cheery. Now it looks diseased, with strips of wallpaper glue and drywall peeling in every direction.

But then the floor guys arrived, saving me from despair, and set to the first task: removing the giant wall mirrors. We thought for sure they’d break or crack, but to everyone’s surprise, they pulled off pretty easily with a crowbar. And behind the first mirror, was this:

Bonjour, mon mural!

I nearly fainted. And it was all I could do not to snatch the crowbar and speed up the process with the other three mirrors. But when the guys finished, this piece of time-capsule beauty was revealed.

Could you DIE?

At first, I cursed the mirror-hangers, and then I blessed them. As much as the mirrors damaged the wallpaper–and it IS wallpaper–they also saved them from certain destruction, because the walls were never painted over. The color on the wallpaper is vivid and perfect, sheltered from sunlight for 30 some years.

I just... I can't... PRETTY.

But now, of course, the challenge is salvaging it. Can we paint in the damaged parts? Patch up the giant globs of black goop that held the mirrors in place? I don’t know. And as much research as I’ve done, I can’t find any wallpaper murals like this.

Le sigh.

But there she is. A little mid century Parisian front porch in our dining area. The first time we stepped in, I remarked that it was like the TARDIS–bigger on the inside. And now I’m finding she’s got little pockets of time stored throughout the house, like cool spots in a swimming hole. I can wait to see what else she’s been hiding.

Pretty maids, all in a row.

By the by, if you know anything about wallpaper restoration, help!

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One Response to The Hidden Majesties of a Home: Unearthing a Midcentury Mural

  1. Dottie says:

    This. Is. AMAZING! Yes, you chose the right house. On SOOO many levels.

    I’m so excited for you!

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