2018 - Lougheed House

Lincrusta

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Visitors to the Lougheed House often ask about the wall covering material that is found throughout the lower level, but is particularly remarkable in the main hall. It’s called Lincrusta and it was a common wall covering material at the time the Lougheed House was built. In the house, it was embossed and painted gold for decorative effect. An unpainted sample of Lincrusta can be found in the closet to right of the fireplace beneath the bison head, and displays the unique properties of the material. If you have an opportunity to hold this sample, it will immediately be clear that the material is pliable and has a unique composition. While this sample has become brittle over time, it still demonstrates the unique properties of Lincrusta.

Lincrusta was invented by Fredrick Walton in 1877. After noticing oxidized linseed oil (also known as flaxseed) had formed a flexible material over a can of paint, Walton noted that this substance could be modified to produce a substitute for natural rubber. After experimenting with linseed oil and wood flour, Walton created a floor covering that he termed linoleum, which he derived from the Latin words for flax, “linum,” and oil, “oleum.” Building on the development of linoleum, Walton began to develop a wall covering incorporating the same technology, and by the late 1870s Walton had developed Lincrusta, a versatile wall covering that was originally patented as Linoleum Muralis – linoleum for walls. The success of Lincrusta was that the wall covering had a “warm and comfortable” effect and “would not warp or be eaten by worms.”[1] Additionally, Victorians noted that unlike stone or terracotta, Lincrusta had a low heat capacity, meaning that it would not be “cold in winter and hot in summer.”[2]

In 1891, Lincrusta was just one of many new technologies that was incorporated into the construction of the Lougheed’s new mansion. The Lougheed House also made use of electric lighting (which had been incorporated into some homes since the 1880s), indoor plumbing, and a telephone line. While it is tempting to think of Victorian homes as existing at a time when technology was not constantly upending and reshaping living spaces like it is today, the reality was quite different. Victorian buildings often incorporated the latest developments of interior design, and profited considerably from incorporating new technologies that could be used by residents. Fortunately, Lincrusta proved to be a material that withstood the test of time, and while it is uncommon in residential properties today, it is still used in hotels, restaurants, and public buildings around the world. Today, Lincrusta is manufactured by Heritage Wall Coverings Ltd. in Morecambe, England, and while it no longer represents the cutting edge of manufacturing, it is still regarded as a versatile and attractive material with a plethora of potential uses.

-Sam Kerr, Interpreter and Event Host

[1] Pamela Simpson, Cheap, Quick, & Easy: Imitative Architectural Materials, 1870-1930 (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1999), 104.

[2] Simpson, Imitative Architectural Materials, 104-105.

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