LONDON — Today’s definition of do-it-yourself has taken on a less stressful interpretation, thanks to two nouveau wallpaper designers who have come up with easier approaches to custom wall treatments.
Rachel Kelly and Deborah Bowness, who studied at Leeds University together, have separately come up with interactive design services that allow clients to customize their wallpaper patterns with decorative stickers, sold either separately or with their handprinted rolls of paper. They see it as a simple solution to eliminate the difficult steps of stenciling or sponging those frequently used by professional designers at home.
“The main idea was to have fun with it,” said Kelly during an interview at her studio off Brick Lane in London’s East End. “It was also on the back of do-it-yourself trends, suggesting that stenciling is actually a difficult technique to do well. It’s messy and can leave blobs of paint where you don’t want it, so this way is easier and the end result is better.”
Kelly and Bowness rented a flat together at Leeds, but went their separate ways during their postgraduate studies. They don’t work together, but remain friends even though they came up with the same business concept coincidentally.
Kelly studied design for textile futures at Central Saint Martins School of Art here, but when she graduated two years ago, she said she knew her career path didn’t lead to a big textile firm.
“It’s not my thing churning out textile patterns that I don’t like,” she said. “I wanted to be innovative in my designs and do something different. Interiors are booming right now and there’s room for more creative work.”
Kelly’s most recent design is a “Sex and the City”-themed roll. Commissioned by Bailey’s Irish Cream Liqueur to use for corporate events, the recycled paper is illustrated with sketches of kitten heels and stilettos in water-based inks. The interactive part comes in the form of labels that stick on the inside soles of the shoes.
“Aside from deciding where the stickers should go, the consumer can also write their name on the labels for extra personalization,” she said.
In addition to personal commissions for private clients, one of Kelly’s biggest projects has been the reidentification of upscale chain Oasis. This spring, Kelly gave every store window in the U.K. her interactive signature with a concept that included acetate layers on a floral backdrop, covered in high-gloss vinyl flower stickers in similar shapes to kitsch doilies that were stuck directly onto the window.Bowness has pursued a similar career path since graduating from London’s Royal College of Art and is considering expanding her wallpaper project into items for the home.
“I’m thinking of actually selling the objects that I print on the paper with the rolls,” she said. “It would be like a 2-D meets 3-D kind of thing in a conceptual kind of way.”
Bowness is talking about chairs. Her current design, “Utility 2000,” features a tinted photograph of a chair on a plain background, with printed plug sockets at the bottom, electric fans and life-sized lamps, creating a strange trompe l’oeil illusion that allows the mind to believe they’re all real. She’s now contemplating selling the actual chair with the paper to complete the living room look.
“I like the way it brings the paper to life,” she said. “It crosses the boundaries of what’s real and what isn’t. It also challenges the concept of wallpaper being flat; it doesn’t have to be.”
Her favorite project to date was decorating the fifth-floor library at the newly opened SoHo House in New York. Not surprisingly, the paper looks like a real bookshelf, with colored book spines filed neatly.
Her other designs include “Ruddy Ducks,” complete with kits of three different sized flying ducks, and “Cagey Birds,” which is a paper printed with old-fashioned birdcages and the interactive birds to match. She’s also designed paper with a life-size camper van that has glow-in-the-dark headlights, and rolls that are printed from a montage of photographs taken of the interior of a hut she once visited in Thailand.
A roll of Kelly’s wallpaper takes three to four weeks to make and is priced at $275, while Bowness charges $165. Both can design to any length. Interactive kits are sold separately from $33. Dollar figures have been converted from the pound at current exchange.
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