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Emma Boomkamp's wallpaper with history

What do you make of this? It's a bit full-on, but I kind of like it – but then I find anonymous old portraits are endlessly absorbing. However, I'm almost more interested in the story behind the wallpaper.

It's almost the perfect design for a downstairs loo or the loos at a restaurant, don't you think? A bit too much to have in your face in the distance, perhaps, but brilliant close-up with your full attention. And here's a close-up of the design, above, Femmes Fatales.

Staring at all those different characters really fires the imagination. Who were they? Were they happy? Heroic? Notorious? What daily worries troubled them? And as for those spectacular outfits...

The paper, which comes in three themes – broadly: men, women and children – comes from Dutch/Mexican designer Emma Boomkamp, (very) full name Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp, and the back-story is lovely. The range, called Vanitas, is made up with photos from the archives of Atelier Jakob Merkelbach, a renowned Amsterdam photography studio that opened in 1913.

Here are the two other designs, Mauvais Garçon and Enfant Terrible, in close-up form.

What chaps! (What props!)

Recently, this extensive photographic collection was digitised – no mean feat since the images were on glass plates, many coloured by hand on both sides of the glass. There were also 40,000 of them.

Part of the purpose of this painstaking task, commissioned by Amsterdam City Archives, was to showcase the images in order to find out who the people in the photographs were. It was also to preserve them, since in the 1970s thousands of the pictures were destroyed by a flood – they didn't want to lose any more. You can read more about the project over at the website of the devoted digitisers, Picturae.

And in the designer's own words: "Vanitas presents an enchanting look into the past and reminds us of the transience of life."

For the next three days, you can buy Emma Boomkamp's wallpaper at, a short-sale site specialising in European design. It costs around £169 for nine metres – making a tiny space like a loo more appealing still. You can also check it out at

Post by Kate

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