Judges at Wolf-Gordon’s wall-covering competition, held at Harvard University this past winter, didn’t even recognize the winning entry as wallpaper. That might be why Light, by Corinne Ulmann and Isamu Kanda, won top honors. “They thought the pattern was a shadow that was projected on the wall from an outside light source,” recalls Kari Pei, design director for the Long Island City–based company and curator of the competition. “But the room they were in had no windows.”
In fact the pattern began as digital photos of light falling on the designers’ living room and bathroom walls, which creates natural depth and color without formal decoration. A far cry from precious flowers or staid stripes, the wallpaper adds dimension to space, much like having a window on the other side of the room. “We were really interested in creating something that was spatial and interactive rather than just sort of a graphic backdrop,” says Ulmann, who shared the $5,000 prize with her partner.
The competition, “Surface Over Structure,” held at the Graduate School of Design, asked students to create a wallpaper that made an architectural contribution to a room. The participants—who study architecture, not interior or graphic design—submitted a 52-inch panel, a smaller representation of the repeat, and a 500-word concept statement. “My feeling is that wall-covering should be so much more than just decorative; it can sculpt a space two-dimensionally,” Pei says. “When I saw Light, I knew it was the winner.”
Wolf-Gordon plans future contests at other schools to enrich the training of architects, who tend to let interior designers specify materials. But for now it is focused on producing its Harvard collection. Light—along with five finalist designs—was unveiled at this year’s ICFF and is available on vinyl in three shades through Wolf-Gordon (www.wolf-gordon.com). The pattern may be subtle, but the company insists it’s no wallflower.