On the Wall

July 10, 2014


Carolina Parakeets


These designs are not your grandma's wallpaper. Toronto-based design and consultancy firm Whitman Emorson has recently launched Thoreaux, its own wallpaper company — and the patterns are the furthest thing from stodgy.


"It was a rich opportunity for us to do some visual exploration and to give our designers the opportunity to explore something with broad parameters," says Benjamin Leszcz, managing director of Whitman Emorson.   


Why wallpaper? "We decided [it] would be a great medium both in terms of how [the prints] would work visually, and also in the idea of being an object that fits between decoration and art," Leszcz says. "There's been a bit of a revival in wallpaper. My generation is really excited about wallpaper, but our parents' generation associates it with a fussy, old-world, outdated aesthetic."


There's nothing outdated about the stunning eight-piece collection (some are available in various colourways), which features designs drawn from historical patterns on textiles, ceramics, tiles and books. The "Carolina Parakeets" paper, laden with lush green feathers, draws from the copperplate etchings in The Birds of America, American painter John James Audobon's seminal 1827 tome. The pink florals on "The Last Monarch" call to mind the Renaissance Revival designs of 1850s Paris, and the "Faenza" paper references the 16th-century ceramics housed in Cairo's Aqsunqur Mosque, built in 1347.


"The ecelectism works," says Leszcz. "We liked the idea of cherry-picking different historical epochs, and that suited our vision for the brand."


Owen Jones


The Last Monarch


Leszcz and his team at Whitman Emorson came up with the idea for Thoreaux while speaking to friends at an overseas image research company, which maintains a archive of historic images. "We started a conversation with them around the idea of 'what could we do with these images?'" he explains. "A lot of the images are in the public domain as they are hundreds of years old, or even 1,000 years old in some cases. There was no reason [the European patterns] couldn't be brought to North America."


Whitman Emorson worked with York Wallcoverings, a manufacturer in Pennsylvania, to bring the designs to fruition. "This was an opportunity for us to have our own consumer company," Leszcz says. He acknowledges the difficulty of starting a wallpaper business without having much experience in the production side of things. "But coming up with a name, identity, website, brand story — those are things we do. Doing the wallpaper design was a challenge, but it was in our wheelhouse. Telling stories about each part of our design was also normal for us."


The challenge has certainly paid off — response in the design community has been swift and positive. The wallpapers are available on the Thoreaux website, and plans for a second collection are in the works. 




The Grammar of Ornament



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