When you think of haute hippie glamour and the design riches of the sixties and seventies, you think of the legendary scenes in London and New York, right? Well, one of the more innovative artistic minds of the time lived right here in Chicago, and the company forged from his unusual but heady mix of high end handmade, Woodstock, couture, tie dye, and glitz — Maya Romanoff — is still here and going strong.
I had the pleasure of a visit to the HQ recently and from the boardroom to the lunchroom, the design studio to the production floor, there was a feeling of laid back creativity and a friendly yet productive atmosphere - a bit of design commune. The uniterrupted flow of open space throughout the facility fosters that collaborative vibe. And, out of this commune that has an air of serious design history, comes wallcoverings that, rather than feeling dated, hit the current design nail on the head.
The words that I would use to describe the products and process puts them directly in line with so much of what is "now": handmade, handcrafted, local, gilt, textured, global, natural, shine, metallic, tactile, free form, artisan, craft - yet the products still feel happily haute (even when the price point is affordable) and ultimately a bit edgy-glam in their final incarnation. They remain a staple for designers who want to add a bit of drama and worldliness to their projects; a interior design "classic" that just keeps on reinventing itself.
The creative mind behind the brand is Maya Romanoff, who Elle Decor called "something of a legend in the American design world". He started the company in 1969 and has been honored with awards throughout this career, including a lifetime acheivement shout out in 2006, but what struck me as I toured the studio and factory was how vital it all seemed now. An important part of the enduring appeal is a visible level of quality that can only be maintained through hands on skill - they are the largest producer of handcrafted walllcoverings in the USA.
The teams who work on the production of the papers are family, in more ways than one - many have long standing careers here and, in several cases, have trained their own family members on the job, making it a multi-generational collaborative process. Indicative of this forward-facing thinking about production are the numerous eco-solutions they employ, from the use of recycled, easily renewable or farmed materials, low voc and no formaldehyde formulas and, of course, the local manufacturing and sourcing.
From hemp to mother of pearl to gold leaf to wood veneers to glass crystals to embossed pattern (croc!), these are highly tactile papers, done beautifully in earthy colors with plenty of shine and sometimes a bit of glitz. Born from the creativity of a young Berkeley student who did time in Paris couture houses, this now global company proves that you can say true to not only your creative vision but your local (Chicago!) roots and find success.
(Images: Janel Laban)