Wallpaper As Art

Los Angeles-based artist Rachel Brown may have been surrounded by art and creative women her entire life, but it wasn’t until the Missouri native relocated to the sunny city that she really found her calling. “My mum was my art teacher from kindergarten until senior year of high school; she was a watercolour artist herself. But I was always a little bit intimidated to go near it,” admits Brown. It wasn’t until she made the move to LA that Brown began dabbling in watercolour herself and fell in love with medium. “I’ve been doing it for five years full-time now and it was never the intention. I just loved the weather and saw other people out here were able to be full-time artists.”

A handful of pop-up shows later and Brown says she was hooked. In fact, it was at the Beverly Hills Art Fair where Brown first met Jodi Finer, the now creative director of textile design company, S.Harris. A year or so later, Finer saw that Brown had been in Africa. “She called me and said I have no idea what it’s going to look like but would you be interested in doing a wallpaper collection for me.”

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Brown’s first collection with S.Harris is about to be released. It’s the places that Brown travels to that usually serves as her muses for her art and in this case, her first wallpaper collection. “I want to capture the feeling of travelling someplace exotic, in a room.” Brown admits it’s sometimes hard to do that with just one artwork. “But if you’re surrounded by interesting, exciting texture, if your whole room is covered in that, or even a whole wall, it’s just more dynamic,” she explains. “It’s more about creating an experience, that’s what was so exciting about the project – creating an actual feeling in a room.”

Evolution of her ideas

Brown quickly discovered that the process wasn’t quite as straightforward as taking an image and turning it into a wallcovering. “We wanted the collection to be interesting but still work in lots of different homes,” she explains. So after sending off 30 or 40 initial sketches, they were finally able to narrow it down to several different patterns and a concise colour scheme.

Brown did everything by hand and while she was still able to use watercolour for most of the designs she created, the process forced her to look at her art in a very different way. “Sometimes designs that look great on their own don’t repeat very well, so there were some that we loved but they weren’t going to look good in an overall pattern,” Brown says. “It really pushed me as an artist. When I paint I don’t do straight lines at all, and the project was much more technical than I imagined.”

Anyone who has ever hung wallpaper will know just how precise everything has to be. “Every stripe, every pattern had to match up perfectly on the other end because they’re connecting to the next sheet.” While Brown admits the project was challenging at times, she says she now sees patterns in a different light. “I know and appreciate how hard it is to make a good pattern now,” she says.

As for what’s next, Brown says while nothing is finalised – her and Finer are focused on the launch of their first collaboration – a trip to Bali is on the cards for the near future. “I want to go back to Bali and paint over there, and stay for a month and do a whole collection inspired by the Indonesian patterns and cultures,” Brown says. “I’m fascinated by the world of design and how art relates to furnishings and wall coverings and fabrics. Hopefully this is just the beginning of collaborations with designers because I really love that world.” 

Wallpaper, artwork or both?

Forget about monotonous prints, the wallpaper of today is art in its own right. So does that mean you have to pick one or the other when decorating? “I think the more layered a room is, the more interesting it is,” says Brown. While there is definitely wallpaper that can stand alone as art, pairing it with the right artworks will make a room more interesting, she explains. “Art on a white wall is fine, but art on wallpaper that really complements one another – that’s the ideal,” she says.

As for how to master the layered wallpaper and art look, Brown advises sticking with an artwork that has a simple black or white background and subject matter in the middle if you’re pairing it with a busy wallpaper. “If you’re doing something more simple with wallpaper, you can go crazy with the artwork.” Whichever you opt for, Brown’s final piece of advice is to pick one or the other as the focal point.

View some of Brown’s wallpaper and artwork below.

Our DÉCOR Picks: Top 20 Design and Homewares Stores

After searching the world for the most inspiring homewares and design stores, we’ve chosen these gems – iconic institutions, designer studios, upcycling champions and more – to give you the guidance you need to reimagine your living spaces.

Hermès, Paris

Hermès is famous for its handbags and silk scarves, but if you love sculpture and architecture, the three nine-metre-high wooden pavilions made of ash laths, each housing new Hermès collections, are just the beginning. At the jaw-droppingly impressive Rue de Sèvres store, these hut-like structures allude to ‘a home within a home’, or ‘a store within a store’, concept. One hut, which appears to be lying down, is the entrance to the former grand 1930s swimming pool, which was once on this site. The mosaic tile walls, columns and floors have been faithfully restored to remain an integral part of this masterpiece. Hermès launched its first furniture collection in 2011, and the wallpapers, tableware and fabrics are as beautiful as its highly coveted handbags.

House of Hackney, London

You can clash – you just have to know how to do it well, as the House of Hackney will show you. An exciting den of patterned delights, this groovy business in London was launched in 2011 by a husband-and-wife team. They create wallpaper, fabric, home accessories and fashion. Textile designer William Morris is a big inspiration, and the brand is all about promoting British designers and artisans, and supporting UK manufacturers.

Normann Copenhagen, Copenhagen

This super-cool, light-filled 1700 square metre room is both Normann Copenhagen’s flagship store and its showroom. The bold design, use of contrasting and reflective textures, and the liberal allocation of space captures the essence of this iconic brand. Experimental and uber-modern, the startling colourful yet paired back constellations of style are enough to make any design lover’s heart sing. Sleek furniture, innovative lighting, funky textiles and the best of the best home accessories sit alongside hand-picked clothing and fashion items in carefully curated displays.

Illums bolighus, Copenhagen

Located on Strøget, Copenhagen’s main shopping strip, Illums Bolighus is an elegant, sophisticated world where design is celebrated, Nordic style. Having the right stool, lamp, wooden toy or coffee mug is as critical to a Dane’s existence as cheese and wine is to the French. You’ll burn a hole in your pocket here, as every single object is worth gushing over, but it’s a blessing that the best of Danish design has been brought together under one enormous roof. There are locations in Germany, Norway and Sweden too.

Hay Mini Market, Worldwide

Hay Mini Market, which is one element of the Hay design brand, encapsulates the Scando look with a cosy, unpretentious atmosphere. It’s an accessories in-store concept. The calming space is designed to resemble a supermarket, with aisles of shelves laden with merchandise and curated by Danish founders Mette and Rolf Hay. There are locations all over the world.

Story, New York

Story is a remarkable 185 square metre shopfront located in Manhattan. It’s a new retail concept modelled on the approach of creating a magazine – there are always fresh stories to tell – and it reinvents itself like a gallery every four to eight weeks, with design and merchandise regularly changed up. Founded by Rachel Shechtman, who was a former brand consultant for Kraft and TOMS shoes, the idea was to create a retail concept that would serve as a matchmaker between brands and consumers, integrating strategies of marketing, merchandising and business development.

Herman Miller, New York

Herman Miller has been around for more than 110 years. Today, the brand still makes beautiful, functional furnishings. It partners with retailers across the US and Canada, however the flagship store in New York’s Flatiron district is where it all comes together in one building.

Atomi, Singapore

There’s so much great, funky design in Japan, it’s tough picking just one but atomi is among the best. Established in 2009 by two self-confessed shopaholics – Singaporean Andrew Tan and his Japanese wife Mitsuko Murano – atomi’s products include homewares, clothing, accessories and furniture, all from Japan. In true Japanese style (think simplicity), the store started out selling only five labels and now stocks about 30.

Casa Perfect, Los Angeles

New York-based design and art mecca The Future Project has launched Casa Perfect, a store by appointment only in Beverley Hills. Housed in an unbelievably chic midcentury home designed by architect David Hyun, it’s a design lover’s completely over-the-top version of heaven. It even has a pool and bar that you’ll be dying to hang out at. Look out for Lindsey Adelman and Michael Anastassiades (lighting), De La Espada (furniture) and Eric Roinestad (stoneware).

Varnish + Vine Atlanta

Owned by Will and Shelby Perry, this furniture emporium is for the avid antique hunter. If you can’t find what you’re after, simply sit down with the staff and arrange to have it made. The business works with local craftsman who upcycle pieces or create what’s in your head from scratch. The shop is packed but is beautifully curated so you won’t be overwhelmed. Don’t worry, there’s no dust in this wonderland of treasures.

Sam Design St John’s, Newfoundland

As its catchcry says: “Style lives here.” In St John’s – a picturesque Canadian port city – the industrial chic of SAM Design’s showroom, retail space and design studio is an ode to Canadian style. SAM represents some of the top modern furniture and lighting lines in the country, including G. Romano, EQ3, Huppé, Mobican, SOHO Concept, Trica, Zuo Mod and 18Karat. It specialises in bespoke pieces and personal design services for commercial and residential spaces, so it’s a one-stop shop for creating awesome spaces.

i gigi General Store & Café, East Sussex

The warmth, sense of homeliness and Zen that emanates from this place sums up the relaxed, welcoming attitude of two women who joined forces after realising they had similar taste in homewares, women’s clothing, accessories, and design. Celebrating reclaimed pieces, craftsmanship and textures, i gigi General Store is also a home design consultancy. Enjoy a lovely pot of tea and organic treats in its light-filled café while making some space-changing decisions.

Galeries Lafayette, Paris

There’s a range of top brands at the Galeries Lafayette flagship department store. In 1895 two cousins opened a small haberdashers, and then rapidly expanded until they’d bought the entire building and the ones around it. Enjoy the Art Nouveau architecture and views of Paris.

14 Green with Envy, Matakana

This store, which was one of five global winners at this year’s Global Innovator Awards (gia), encapsulates the laid-back Kiwi attitude. Green with Envy started out as an online store. It was so popular, owner Nicole Ward set up shop in an old fruit and vegetable barn, which also has a delightful café in the old potting shed. You’ll find items from local and international designers.

Aesop, Worldwide

Great things come in small packages, and this is the case not only with Aesop’s classy products – let’s face it, they’re homewares as well as hair and body products – but in its retail stores that pin down refined, restrained style. The company is more like a philosophy than a shop, and it champions intelligent, sustainable design. Wood, stone and polished concrete take centre stage in terms of aesthetics.

Artek, Helsinki

Iconic Finnish furniture company Artek was founded in 1935 by architect Alvar Aalto – you might recognise his furniture and glassware, particularly the cult classic “Aalto” vase – his wife Aino Aalto, visual arts promoter Maire Gullichsen and art historian Nils-Gustav Hahl. The business strategy is “to sell furniture and to promote a modern culture of living by exhibitions and other educational means.” The creative, forward-thinking founders all wanted to make a difference in architecture and design. Artek’s headquarters is in Helsinki, and its flagship store there captures the essence of this iconic Finnish furniture company.

Selfridges, London

Selfridges was founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909, and the flagship store on London’s Oxford Street is the second largest shop in the UK after Harrods. Originally from America, Harry wanted to quash the idea that consumerism was just an American thing, and being way ahead of his time, his goal was to make shopping a fun adventure and a form of leisure instead of a chore. His store quickly became a social and cultural landmark; giving women a public space in which they could be comfortably indulge – what a good man.

Artel Design, Prague

The Artel Design Concept Store in Prague is the latest addition to Artel’s string of shopfronts, which was founded in 1998 by American designer Karen Feldman. Its focus is on mouth-blown and hand-engraved and decorated bohemian crystal for the home and table. The light, bright, white space punctuated with beautiful, colourful works of art make it more a gallery than a store, and a bowerbird’s dream nest.

Casa Palacio, Mexico City

Casa Palacio is an epic 18,000 square metre emporium in Mexico City designed by NYC-based retail architect Jeffrey Hutchison. There’s a European marketplace-like store upon entry, and an outdoor ‘street’ lined with five houses representing Mexico’s colonial and modern architectural styles. Inside the houses (that are more like mansions, really) the rooms are homely so customers feel as though they’re visiting a friend – one with extremely refined taste, of course.

Top3 by Design, Melbourne

For more than 16 years, top3 by design has been at the forefront of retail innovation. It’s super-trendy store in Richmond, Melbourne, showcases its focus on original design. Their latest innovation is the top3 AR app. It allows you to use augmented reality to visualise furniture or homewares in your living space. While looking through your smartphone camera at your room, you can place the furniture in front of you. You can walk up to it, look at the fabric, reposition it and change colours to see what works best.