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Colour Notes 14

The seasons have changed, the acorns are falling, and we thought the time was ripe for Colour Notes 14: a look at Old Oak ~ Green.

Brown, white and green paint swatches to match oil on canvas Christopher Wood nature painting

This archival wallpaper by William Kilburn dates from 1800. The original motif was discovered by Kilburn's descendent, Gabriel Sempill, in a sketchbook of watercolours. The design is an homage to the magnificence of the British countryside and the feeling of leaves tumbling from a noble oak - forever a symbol of strength, wisdom and the regenerative power of nature.

This historical wallpaper also contains a more subtle nod to a story from the interiors world of the Victorian age. In the early to mid-19th century, many European countries produced wallpaper that was laced with arsenic. Back then, small doses of arsenic in products were not considered dangerous. In 1775, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented the first arsenic green pigment. The brightness and stability of Scheele’s green made it an instant success, and lead chemists and paint-makers to introduce arsenic to a range of other colours, resulting in vibrant new hues.

A boom in the public's interest and desire for wallpapers was matched by a great uptick in the rate of production - but little did people know they were purchasing products with the potential to poison. Indeed, Arts & Crafts icon William Morris was notoriously in denial of his wallpapers' health and safety issues, despite his socialist leanings. In 1885 he said, 'As to the arsenic scare a greater folly it is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever.'

Later, the developing hysteria around whether wallpapers were safe trigged Morris to print the words 'Free from Arsenic' on his stand book, and even inspired the famous 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which tells the tale of a woman's descent into madness as she describes the wallpaper in her sickroom. 'The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing,' the narrator says. Then, a conspiracy theory even arose that Napoleon died of poisoning by arsenic present in the green wallpaper that lined the walls of his quarters. The idea that something as ornamental as wallpaper could have the license to kill bewtiched people the world over.

Cover of William Morris wallpaperer stand book

Today, of course, arsenic is thankfully not detectable in any wallpapers. But it's interesting to look back on the history of the colour green in particular, as it seems to hold a level of potency and potential that is not present in other paints and colours. The way the bright green of the leaves of Old Oak sing off the paper brings to mind the vivid colours of Christopher Wood's painting Green Hills (1901-1930).

Wood experienced a short but impressive career which mimicked that of his artistic inspiration, Vincent Van Gogh. Like Van Gogh, Wood's existence was one characterised by emotional turmoil. The level of sensitivity and intuition at which he operated is evident in his works, with his use of unusual perspectives and bold colour which at times almost appear primitive and childlike. Wood was largely self-taught and could thus be considered an Outsider Artist - though he was also known to rub shoulders with key figures in the art world, such as post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau, whose work Wood said was conceived as though 'through the eyes of the smallest child who sees nothing except that which would strike them as being the most important.' Green Hills speaks to this naive and impressionistic style, rendering the Cornwall countryside in pure colour and fundamental shapes. The result - a moving scene of natural beauty - proves Wood's skill and his concern with colour as a way of expressing something from deep within himself. 

Christopher Wood oil on canvas painting of green and brown Cornish countryside

So, on to paint colours to match with our Old Oak ~ Green wallpaper (we promise none of these are poisonous!).


When it came to pairing the green of Old Oak to paints, we decided on two perfect shades that (like Van Gogh's self-portrait) echo the almost minty hue and are sure to bring a bright vibrancy to your space. Pea Green by Papers & Paints is aptly named, whilst Farrow & Ball's Folly Green is described as 'strong but soothing.' This one is an archived colour, so if takes your fancy you can pop into the shop and request for it to be mixed for you.

Pea Green by Papers & Paints green paint swatch

Farrow and Ball Folly Green green archival paint swatch


If you'd prefer to let the green leaves of Old Oak be the focal point and pop of colour in the room, there's some brilliant muted greys and whites to pair the wallpaper with. First, there's Raphael Grey by Graphenstone, which is part of the Treasured Collection with the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. This colour is inspired by Raphael's Studies of Two Apostles - making it an appropriately historical colour for this archival wallpaper.

Next, we went for Pearl Colour by Edward Bulmer, an earthy tone that will bring out the natural off-white shade sandwiched between Old Oak's green leaves. Plus the idea of a pearlescent colour on the walls in a home is undeniably lovely.

'Raphael Grey' grey paint swatch by Ashmolean Museum

Edward Bulmer Pearl Colour cream grey paint swatch


We love the loamy tone of the more impressionistic leaves in Old Oak, giving the sense of the oak's tree trunk and earth-clad roots. To match it, we found a paint that borders on a chocolate brown with a hint of reddish clay: Georgetown by Paint & Paper Library. 

Finally, in keeping with the natural theme, there's a linen-feeling taupe, Joa's White from Farrow & Ball, which is a tawny shade, ideal for warming up your scheme.

Georgetown Paint & Paper Library brown paint swatch

Farrow & Ball Joa's White brown cream paint swatch

We hope this helps with some decoration inspiration. We’d love to see how you bring our wallpapers to life in your homes. Tag us on Instagram @commonroom.co or get in touch with images via email to info@commonroom.co.

Further reading...

Shop Old Oak ~ Green samples here

Colour Notes 13

Ashmolean Museum's Treasured Collection with Graphenstone Paints


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