The Martinique wallpaper from CW Stockwell is a beloved MCM staple, but its story started out in the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.
To the uninitiated, wallpaper sounds unsexy—reserved for grandmother’s powder rooms and cheap motels. In the interior design world, the element has a way of transforming a space entirely, introduce punch and pattern. And across Instagram and Pinterest alike, you may have come across banana leaf wallpaper—long before Millennials brought the print into their living rooms, the print could be found strewn among the film stars of 1950s Hollywood. And it all started at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.
The hotel was opened in 1912–back long before the boulevards were studded with celebrity glamour, and even before the city was founded. It’s been an establishment ever since, the choice accommodation for stars from Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin to Elizabeth Taylor and John Travolta. In its early days, the hotel was certainly a hotspot for Los Angeles and Hollywood’s budding film reputation—the perfect stage for a mid-century modern trend to emerge. And emerge it did.
It started with a small company called CW Stockwell, a Southern California–based wallcovering designer and fabricator. In 1942, CW Stockwell released the Martinique wallpaper, and the company never could have guessed that the print would end up on the design radars of mid-century enthusiasts for decades to follow. The iconic banana-leaf print wallpaper caught the eye of interior designer Don Loper, who in 1949 boldly incorporated the mural-like Martinique into the newly-renovated Beverly Hills Hotel design scheme—broad swathes of pop art-like leaves in a blown up scale were daring, but it was a stylistic choice that immediately took off.
Most people, however, if asked, could almost never pin a wallpaper print to one place—sure, toiles and damasks conjure memories of royal opulence, but Martinique holds an especially recognizable place in the history of design. How did it become the MCM icon that it is, in a hotel that otherwise isn’t particularly mid-century in its design?
Look no further than the film industry. Movie-making and silver screen stardom was a bright new flash in American culture, and fandom for those celebrities was itself a memorable new phenomenon. The broad banana leaves of Martinique formed the backdrop of a new generation of style and fame, and as the hey-day of Hollywood glamour stretched into the latter half of the century, the wallpaper proved to be a timeless and singular print, at once easy-going and expressive, colorful and evocative of leisure.
Banana leaves speak to far-flung tropical locales and the sandy, laid-back days that come with them—bringing that sentiment not only to the hotel, but now to homes, as CW Stockwell recently relaunched the print with a fresh new element by way of additional colorways. The original Martinique, however, will hold a place in 20th century design history all its own, as a maverick of wallpaper and a Beverly Hills celebrity like the rest of them.
About the Author: Writer Marina Felix has been writing about art, architecture, and design for more than five years, most recently having worked as Business of Home’s Assistant Editor. She is currently pursuing a masters of science in Architectural Conservation in Edinburgh, Scotland.