Four years ago, Katie Elliott packed up her nearly two-decades-long life in Boston and moved across the country to Portland, Oregon, for an opportunity that she simply couldn’t pass up. “The stars aligned, and I was offered a position at Schoolhouse,” recalls Katie. “My wife and I were both ready for a big change and it felt like the universe was giving us the push we needed.” She began leading the design and development team there, which eventually led to her current role as Director of Product.
“I have always been interested in lived spaces,” Katie says. After school, armed with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a graduate degree in furniture design, Katie spent a decade in retail design for IKEA. “While I found the work rewarding and the company inspiring, I craved working in product design again,” she says. “I missed designing objects that connect with the human body, have potential to improve our daily lives, and impart a personal history to our homes.”
While Schoolhouse has long been known for their heirloom-quality home and lifestyle goods, they had never before ventured into the world of wallcoverings. But in 2019, Hygge & West—after admiring them for many years—approached Schoolhouse about a possible collaboration. “As like-minded American manufacturers, there has always been a mutual respect and admiration between our brands. For years we turned to Hygge & West for wallpaper to style our spaces for our product photography,” she says. “We were so intrigued about what wallpaper could mean for our brand. Wallpaper would be something fun and unexpected for our product assortment and would allow us to build on our layered approach to pattern, color, and style.”
The collaboration was set to kick off on March 3, 2020—what we now know was just days before the COVID-19 lockdowns began around the country. Katie remembers, “This timing posed numerous challenges, but was also a creative bright spot for the remainder of the year.”
The creation of this collection was a truly collaborative process that required the eyes and hands of many talented individuals—and the success of such partnerships is as much about the aligning of personalities as it is about the cohesion of brand aesthetics and values. “This collaboration was a joy,” says Katie. “We worked together to select artists who were a good fit for our brand and design brief. We were lucky to be paired with two amazing female artists based here in Portland.”
Once the designers were selected, the Schoolhouse team created the initial design brief, and then met many times to review different iterations of the patterns and color. “This whole process was such a wonderful learning experience. My expertise is in three-dimensional designs, so pattern and colorwork was an inspiring creative stretch,” says Katie. And while the collection motifs range from geometrics to florals, they all have one unifying factor: “All the patterns are united by a focused color palette aimed to fit with our existing Schoolhouse products,” Katie explains. “We wanted a balance of neutrals, verdant greens, a nod to historical blue, and our take on a primary palette.”
While Katie doesn’t like to play favorites, there are two patterns in the final lineup that particularly resonate with her. “Cascade Meadow is big and bold, with a nostalgic feel, but modernized by the color palette,” says Katie. But on the very top of her list is Alpine Garden in Primary: “The textural and graphic illustration inspires a feeling of walking through a spring meadow and is furthered by the joyous color palette. There is a sense of history and storytelling with both of these florals that invite one to participate in.”
Beyond wallpaper, Katie’s role at Schoolhouse is to design products that embody the strong, finely tuned visual identity that Schoolhouse has crafted over the years—an aesthetic that is immediately recognizable to the brand’s legions of fans and loyal customers. “At the core, we are guided by our mission to provide a new generation of heirlooms that inspire people to create unique, meaningful spaces in which to live and work… Our products should elevate the everyday by improving the function of our daily tasks,” says Katie. “We value truth in origin and honesty in material and avoid anything faux or false. All of our designs begin and end with quality.”
But it’s not just function, form, and quality that inspire and inform the work Katie does with her team at Schoolhouse. From the city itself and the mossy forests that encompass it, to the wild Oregon coast and snowy Mt. Hood, the geography of Portland and the surrounding areas play a large role in their designs and foster “an appreciation for honest materials and how they connect to the land.” Says Katie, “Sense of place is so important to design—it keeps our point of view strong and unique. It is apt that we are a lighting company in the Pacific Northwest. Winter can be fairly dark here, so how we light our home is so important to our wellbeing.”
When conceptualizing new products, Katie always keeps Schoolhouse’s core values at the forefront—many of which happily align with her own. “I am drawn to clean, modern design with a focus on function and efficiency, but layered with color, texture, and eclecticism. I embrace a slow, collected approach to my spaces,” Katie says. “As I design objects, I think about balance, function, and simple, elegant solutions. A beautiful connection between elements that create an effortless user experience is always my goal. In these ways, my design point of view aligns with Schoolhouse.” But outside of Schoolhouse, Katie’s personal aesthetic and design style is a bit freer and wider in range. “I love highly ornate traditional elements and slick modern design—all in balance,” she explains.