It’s time for the return of one of my favorite shows, —and one of the best parts about the show (aside from the drama, of course) is being able to see inside Patricia Altschul’s historic Charleston home, the Isaac Jenkins Mikell house, decorated by Mario Buatta.
What particularly caught my eye is the scenic wallpaper in her dining room. You see, my grandmother had a similar wallcovering in her home that I always loved growing up. I did a little digging, and it turns out that the panoramic wallpaper in Altschul’s living room is La Guerre de l’Independence Americaine, or “The American War of Independence,” by the storied wallpaper manufacturer Zuber.
The French have always romanticized the American Revolution, so it is only fitting that this paper was made by , a storied wallpaper manufacturer based in Alsace, France. Originally printed in 1852, it is still available to order today but only as a limited edition, as it requires 2,300 custom wooden blocks and hours of painstaking work to recreate. Zuber is the last factory in the world that still uses this 18th-century technique to print wallpapers, fabrics, and leather.
Altschul says she has had this wallcovering in her home since her own childhood, bringing the panels with her to every residence she has lived in.
“Every time I move, the panels have been taken off the walls and reapplied,” Altschul says. “I love the idea of introducing history to my surroundings, and this scene reminds me of an ancestor who served under George Washington.”
This wallcovering is historic not only because of what it depicts, however—it has also appeared in numerous American landmarks, including the White House, where First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy installed antique panels of the scene in the president’s private dining room in 1961.
They were later removed by Betty Ford, who repainted the room in a bright yellow, but were quickly brought back by the Carters, where they remained until the Clintons arrived. Altschul adds that another scenic wallpaper by Zuber called Les Vues D’Amérique du Nord (“Views of North America”) still remains in the Diplomatic Reception Room.
When asked where people should use the wallcovering in their own homes, Altschul says: “Clearly, I prefer the panels in a dining room, where they can truly be appreciated. I have seen the wallcoverings done well in entryways and large spaces seeking to make an impact. The design has 360 colors, so it is the focal point of whatever room in which it hangs."
And speaking of entryways, Carleton Varney of used a combination of “The American War of Independence” and “Views of North America” in a stair hall when he refurbished West Virginia’s in 2010.
“It is appropriate because it represents the history of America, and historically, the Greenbrier is considered the most Southern state of the North and the most Northern of the Southern states,” Varney says.