What A Long Strange Trip It's Been
Experience the groovy past and stylish present of Flavor Paper at its Skylab-designed headquarters in Brooklyn, New York
Annie Block -- Interior Design, 5/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Wallpaper can incite passion. It sounds peculiar, but it's true. Consider Jon Sherman. In 2003, he was working in real-estate development in New Orleans. Then a designer friend tipped him off that a defunct Oregon wallpaper company, founded in 1970 by a hippie named Ted, was unloading equipment and an archive of psychedelic patterns in the next two days. "Flipping through the catalog, I was wowed," Sherman recalls. He'd been vacillating for years between corporate and creative—from paralegal and MBA to private chef and DJ—and it dawned on him that running a wall-covering business could provide the longed-for nexus between his left and right brains: "I thought, If I update the colors and patterns, this could really be something." He hopped a plane 12 hours later. Within a year, Flavor Paper launched in a small New Orleans studio.
It was during Sherman's right-brain days, in San Francisco in the late 1990's, that his path crossed that of Jeff Kovel, who'd just founded the experimental Skylab Architecture. Shared interests in music and skiing as well as design led to friendship and a project, a lounge-exhibit for Air Jordan. The friends' second collaboration is much larger: Flavor Paper's relocated headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
"I immersed myself in the New Orleans studio for three days to grasp their everyday needs," says Kovel. By then, Sherman had seen more than 100 possible sites. His choice was a 1931 brick garage, four stories totaling 19,000 square feet. "We needed more space, and 80 percent of our sales are out of New York, so moving made sense," he says. "I liked the Cobble Hill neighborhood in particular because of the variety of buildings, people, and businesses and its out-of-the-way yet central-enough location."
Back in New Orleans, Sherman adds, "The darkroom was like a dungeon. The ink room wasn't well lit. We couldn't hear the office phones over the washing or properly show clients the wallpaper at scale." Kovel marvels, "The floor level would even change with the humidity." In addition to improving manufacturing conditions, the Brooklyn headquarters was to act as the supreme marketing vehicle. "Everywhere we could, we three-dimensionalized Flavor Paper and pattern in general," Kovel continues.
Initially, the showroom was slated for the ground level, the studio for two. (Three and four are apartments for Sherman and a couple of employees.) "But we realized that nothing we did in the showroom would be as interesting as the studio. It's like theater," Kovel explains. Sherman says he felt it was important "to bring the community into the process, to make the art of what we do the focal point." Indeed, stroller moms en route to Trader Joe's are constantly peeking in to watch wallpaper being hand-screened on two seemingly milelong vacuum tables. Above them, 70 linear feet of mirror make the printing visible from the street while hiding the HVAC systems and fulfilling an overall program requirement, reflectivity. "Jon was initially drawn to this wallpaper because of the metallic grounds, so I looked to incorporate shininess at every turn," Kovel continues. In fact, the mirror idea extends directly outside in the form of an entry canopy of polished stainless steel.
Mirror aside, the studio is predominantly white. So are the decidedly undungeonlike darkroom, the bright and spacious ink room, and the separate screen-washing area. . .for now. To ensure a level floor, Kovel had ripped out the concrete structural slab, poured a new one, and coated it in glossy white epoxy. "Sure, there'll be ink drips, but the mess is the beauty," Kovel remarks. "Over time, the floor will become a design element."
Flooring is a subtle design element in the showroom, where Kovel abstracted a wallpaper pattern for the inlays in the terrazzo. Another pattern inspired the round ceiling coves and the serpentine banquette, while curves define furnishings by Warren Platner, Charles and Ray Eames, Philippe Starck, and Tom Dixon—simultaneously bridging past and present with a futuristic bent. "It's lounge-y," Kovel notes. "Customers like to spend time here." The showroom's neutral tones help set off wallpaper displayed like artwork in huge polished-aluminum spinning racks.
Flavor Paper is now up to 50 patterns including the Tropicalismo collection by Kravitz Design. (Lenny Kravitz's New Orleans house was Flavor Paper's first project, incidentally.) A pattern called Power Plant papers the ceiling above the workstations where support staff sits, then continues past partitions of smoked glass to the private offices of Sherman and his business manager. Passersby can glimpse Power Plant's pumped-up damask-style flora, but the building-as-marketing-tool strategy is perhaps best executed by the former car lift as viewed from the street.
Over the decades, the facade had become "jumbled up visually," Kovel says. He closed all but one of the four entries as well as enlarged the windows—reinforcing their rhythm and creating display opportunities. Then, he explains, he painted the entire building black to "show the detail of the brickwork." And make the view inside super-dramatic. The three car-lift windows frame highly visible pink and purple neon blow-up versions of the Sakura floral pattern that seem to ascend the 58-foot-high shaft like an electric vine.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
KENT HELI (PROJECT ARCHITECT); DRU UELTSCHI (PROJECT MANAGER); CHRIS BROWN; DANNON CANTERBURY; MATT GEIGER; BRENT GRUBB; KIM KOVEL; DANIEL MEYERS; CECILY RYAN: SKYLAB ARCHITECTURE. LIGHTING WORKSHOP: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. INNERSPACE ELECTRONICS: LIGHTING, AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. TOM ENNIS ASSOCIATES: CODE CONSULTANT. PULASKI & SIROTA: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. MOTTOLA RINI ENGINEERS: MEP. GHILARDUCCI STUDIOS: METALWORK. MADE: WOODWORK. LITE BRITE NEON: NEON CONTRACTOR.
TARGETTI POULSEN: RECESSED FLOOR FIXTURES (STUDIO).
TARGET: CHAIRS (INK ROOM).
GAMMALUX SYSTEMS: LINEAR FIXTURES (STUDIO).
KARTELL: CHAIRS (SHOWROOM).
TOM DIXON: PENDANT FIXTURE.
CATHODE LIGHTING SYSTEMS: COVE LIGHTS.
WESTMINSTER CERAMICS: WALL, CEILING TILE (WASH AREA).
BASF: PAINT (EXTERIOR).
BLUMCRAFT OF PITTSBURGH: DOOR HARDWARE (OFFICES).
HAWORTH: CHAIRS (OFFICES, OFFICE AREA).
LINEAR LIGHTING CORPORATION: LINEAR FIXTURES.
DUPONT: DESK, WORKSTATION SOLID-SURFACING.
WILSONART INTERNATIONAL: DESK, WORKSTATION SURFACING.
JOCKIMO: VAULT PANEL MATERIAL (EXTERIOR).
MAHARAM: CUSTOM BANQUETTE UPHOLSTERY, CANOPY UPHOLSTERY (SHOWROOM).
BARRETT HILL: CUSTOM BANQUETTE, CANOPY.
HERMAN MILLER: STOOLS.
FLAVOR PAPER: WALLPAPER.
STONCO LIGHTING: CEILING FIXTURES.
SKYLINE WINDOWS: WINDOWS.
BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT.