Pattern Players: Batya Stepelman
Pattern people are our kind of people, and Batya Stepelman is nothing if not a pattern person. Founder of Denver-based WallTawk (the name is a nod to her New York City roots), Batya lives and works in a heavily wallpapered 1895 home, where she offers appointment-only wallpaper sourcing and design consultancy. Her attitude towards design (pattern-over-plain, old-meets-new, anything goes!) is fun, refreshing, and all about comfort. What's not to love? We caught up with Batya (again) to chat wallpaper, what's coming for design in 2020, and more. She also shared her quick and easy homemade gift idea that's perfect for the holiday season. Keep scrolling for pattern eye candy and a bonus DIY you don't want to miss.
We last chatted with you in 2016. How has your business grown since then? What important lessons have you learned along the way?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to value my time and trust my instincts. When I first started the company, I would run around town doing complimentary walk-throughs and design consults, and that’s just not feasible anymore. I spend a lot of time researching paper design, going to trade shows, and conferencing with installers (who, by the way, all LOVE Hygge & West); it’s okay to be paid for your expertise! I’m also not afraid to set boundaries when it comes to my time and I try to set clearly defined working hours, which is definitely a struggle in a very fast-paced and interconnected world. I’ve learned that it’s really important to unplug, and I always come back recharged and re-energized. For the first two years of my business, I hardly took of any time off (that’s a fairly typical experience when you start a company from the ground up), but I’m in it for the long term so I need to set aside time to enjoy life, too (even though I love what I do).
Other than that, I’ve really worked hard to stay true to my original vision. I wanted to offer the Mountain West, specifically Colorado, amazing papers that were made in the most sustainable ways possible and I wanted to support independent artists, designers, and businesses. I’ve lost a few projects because I won’t carry papers that are inconsistent with my values on that front, and I’ve learned that it’s okay!
As the business has grown, I’ve also been able to give back to my local community, which is really important to me. I am a “corporate sponsor” of a nearby public school, I donate scraps to underserved art departments, and I strategically give to organizations that address food insecurity, homelessness, poverty, and LGBT teen suicide in Denver. Giving back, especially in today’s climate, is very important.
What do you believe pattern brings to a home that other design elements can't? Do you have any tips or tricks for working with pattern?
Pattern, in my opinion, is the best way to infuse personality into your home, and patterned wallpaper makes a space feel complete, warm, and loved. Wallpaper adds a big punch without the intrusive labor and time that’s required for remodeling or construction. You can leave in the morning and come back with a space that feels completely transformed. I think great lighting elements and a wonderful rug can add a lot, but it doesn’t have the same impact as patterned paper!
I like to pick patterns that resonate with me or remind me of something that makes me happy. For example, I spent several months living in Mexico and Otomi reminded me of the textiles I fell in love with while living there. Our master bedroom features a New Orleans Toile (Mardi Gras Indians and Preservation Jazz Hall) and that’s where my husband and I met. We also have a mountain mural in our family room, a nod to our adoptive city of Denver, Colorado.
Basically I select patterns that speak to me personally! I encourage clients to do the same thing. I just completed an install of Arcade and the client said it was the best design he’s ever seen because it reminded him of his childhood, playing Pac Man with his brothers and sisters! I always suggest clients select patterns that they will love for the long term.
What are some of your favorite H&W wallpaper installs? What did each pattern bring to the space?
It’s hard to choose a favorite, but obviously Otomi has a special place in my heart, as it was the first paper I ever put in my own home. A client put that same pattern in her daughter’s nursery and another client put it in her office. It’s amazing how the same pattern can look so different depending on the architecture, the lighting fixtures, and the other design elements in the space. Another example that comes to mind is a recent install I did using Arcade in Celadon. The bathroom was located inside a historic home and the space featured the original 19th century tile. The client wanted something that would complement what she already had in that room and she didn’t want to rip out any of the historic elements or take on a more invasive home project. Arcade (Celadon) looked amazing! I installed that same pattern inside the Needle in the Hay salon, this time in Gold, and it looks incredibly modern and completely different! A new favorite of mine is Piedmont, oh, and I cannot wait to see the H&W x Coral and Tusk collection!
Another great install was done this past summer. In that project the client used three H&W papers: Pineapple (Ebony) [H&W note: this paper has been discontinued], Daydream (Gold), and Slice (Blue). The paper worked so well with the mid-century modern home, which was located on an old horse property south of Denver.
I’m also really fond of one of my first projects where Daydream was put on the “fifth wall”—aka the ceiling. I’m hoping another project I’m working on goes for Stardust (Midnight).
What trends are you seeing for 2020, for both pattern and design in general? Which ones do you hope get left in 2019?
I noticed that a lot of clients are looking for warm/earthy tones and murals. I see that being a big thing in 2020. I hope the general trend of poorly made things, or things made too quickly and without thought, goes away. I hope more manufacturers across the design spectrum make products that take the environment into consideration and I definitely see that happening already. A quote by Dieter Ram comes to mind: Good design is environmentally friendly.
The holidays are perhaps the most hygge time of the year. What are your favorite ways to create or enjoy the extra hygge this season brings?
I love having friends and neighbors over! How do I hygge? I pack my house with people I love, I fill the space with homemade cards, and I cook soups and stews with my kids. This year we will be assembling care packages for the homeless and making cards using wallpaper scraps. Once everyone leaves and my boys are sleeping, I will turn on the fireplace, wrap myself in a warm blanket, and read for one of the four book clubs I'm in (I overcommitted myself!). And of course, when I’m done reading, I’ll bookmark where I’ve left off with a homemade origami bookmark.
ORIGAMI WALLPAPER BOOKMARKS
This basic origami bookmark is a fun and easy DIY that adds the perfect homemade touch to any book gift (seen above in Cat's Meow). BONUS IDEA: Include a sweet handwritten note inside the bookmark for your recipient to discover!
Wallpaper scraps or samples, cut into squares
1. Fold one corner of your paper to the other corner to make a triangle. If your paper is not square to begin, cut off the excess.
2. Rotate so that the long end of your triangle is at the bottom.
3. Fold the lower right corner up to meet the top right of your triangle point.
4. Repeat on the left side.
5. Fold both corners back open.
6. Flip down one sheet of the point and crease.
7. Fold one of the flaps you created back up and tuck into the sheet you folded down in the previous step.
8. Repeat on the other side.
9. Use your bookmark on any book corner to mark your place. Enjoy!