The Bauhaus Bestseller

It wasn’t a cantilever chair, it wasn’t a table lamp, it wasn’t even a teapot – the Bauhaus design that sold best in its day was actually the wallpaper!

By Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Wallpaper Sample (1880 - 1910) by EnglishThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

How could you go to the Bauhaus Director with nothing but wallpaper?

There was hardly anything that was less in keeping with the ideals of the Dessau designers than this stuffy, conventional wall covering with its ornaments and twirls – and it had the unpleasant habit of making rooms look smaller and darker. You might just as well have asked the poor man whether there should be frilly lace all over the cool glass surfaces of the Bauhaus building.

Thomas Flake and Hannes Meyer (during inspection of the building site for the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau) (1928) by Erich ConsemüllerBauhaus Dessau Foundation

But Hannes Meyer did not wave Emil Rasch away in disgust. The brother of Bauhaus student Maria Rasch just happened to be a wallpaper manufacturer from Bramsche, and when he approached Meyer in 1928 about a cooperative venture, Meyer thought about it, and suddenly saw the potential in wallpaper.

Laubenganghaus in Dessau-Törten, Peterholzstraße 40, interior model house, 2012 (2012) by Hannes Meyer (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

“People’s needs not luxury needs” was the motto Swiss-born Meyer had just announced, and since then everything at the Bauhaus had been about the People’s Flat, the low budget pad with style.

Now a matching wallpaper could be created for this functional social housing.

Untitled (wallpaper design) (1930) by Margaretha (Grete) ReichardtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

A competition was quickly announced at the Bauhaus and students from every workshop got busy drawing designs.

Untitled (wallpaper design 4) (ca. 1930) by Margaretha (Grete) ReichardtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Four Bauhaus teachers selected the final shortlist of designs. They were primarily ones that worked with structures ...

Untitled (wallpaper design) (1930) by Margaretha (Grete) ReichardtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

... often producing soft, inconspicuous patterns ...

Untitled (wallpaper design 3) (ca. 1930) by Margaretha (Grete) ReichardtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

... with small lines, grids or hatchings. The colours were bright and friendly.

Advertisement for Bauhaus wallpaper (1932, undated) by Hubert Hoffmann (Hobby)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

So these wallpapers were super for small rooms. They were cheap, and their subtle patterns meant that they could even be stuck to the wall without matching wastage, saving even more money.

Advertising poster for Bauhaus wallpaper (1932, undated) by Hubert Hoffmann (Hobby)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The Bauhaus wallpaper became a bestseller – not just the accountants were caught on the hop.

Rasch’s Bauhaus wallpaper is still being sold today, even though there hasn’t been any Bauhaus in it since 1933. And – the wall covering that was once designed for social housing now ranks in the luxury segment. From people’s needs to luxury needs.

What would Meyer have made of that?

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt
Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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