Paper Alchemists

In their Jersey City studio, husband and wife Willem and Terrie van Es turn eye shadow, iron shavings, hair nets, bowling-alley wax, and other unexpected materials into custom wallpapers. “We do a lot of prototyping for specific projects,” Terrie says. “It’s usually completely different from anything already in our line, and we’re always exploring new materials and weird stuff.”

Their resourceful approach is based on the years they spent doing specialty finishes and murals on location, in direct collaboration with their clients. In fact their wallpaper business itself was born of invention. “It actually all happened because of a project we did for Disney in Orlando. They needed something at the last minute, and it was physically impossible,” Willem says. “There are a lot of finishes that you can’t do if there’s dust,” Terrie says, completing his thought. “They were sanding the floors, and they were out of time. We decided to do it on paper and send it to them—they were tickled pink, and we decided we should do more of this.”

Architect Peter Marino’s passing comment that there was nothing on the market that truly resembled the texture of reptile skin triggered several years of research and sampling that ultimately produced See Ya Later, the pattern made from hair nets. “Most netting is plastic extruded stuff—like for chicken fences,” Terrie says. “I called up a hair-net company and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but we make custom wallpapers and would like to get some samples.’ We buy their hair nets in bulk.”

Their other methods are equally clever: mica flakes sprinkled from a shaker create the illusion of stone (On the Rocks), velvety bowling-alley wax rubbed over pigment looks like Venetian stucco (Ciao Bella), tinted mica powder from Revlon’s supplier makes pearly papers reminiscent of a teenage girl’s eyelids (High Altitudes), and iron powder dusted over pigment produces something akin to concrete (Scrimshaw). As Terrie says, “We like the materials to create the pattern themselves.”

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