I never thought I would say this, but thanks to designers like Susie Mendive of SUM I am actually ecstatic wallpaper has made such a solid comeback. This is gen-u-ine excitement. My parents coated our home with wallpaper in the early 80’s, and it wasn’t pretty. It was so bad I remember as a little girl trying to peel it off to hint to my parents that they needed to do something with the walls. Now, times are different and I want to paper my walls myself!
Wallpaper actually gets me all riled up so I apologize in advice for my lengthy list of questions with Susie Mendive. Enjoy!
I know a bit about your background…a graphic designer with a graduate degree from North Carolina then to LA then to NY as art director with stila cosmetics…but I think there are some holes, especially in how you transitioned from branding cosmetics to designing modern wallpaper. Tell us more! How did SUM come together?
It happened very organically. I very much wanted to design and produce my own product and call all the shots. It just made sense at that point in my career. There is a lot of hard work involved and it can be consuming but I like taking it one step at the time.
Tell us about the name, SUM. How did you come up with this?
My husband and I were in Tokyo and it just hit me, Su is from Susie and M from Mendive but more than that it was the idea of a total home concept…SUM of all parts. A total approach to design and living.
The female silhouettes of your Floral Femme Fatale prints are an amazing graphic. They have a significant presence let alone bring movement, style, femininity, character and a sense of a couture-ness to a room. I would guess that your time with stila cosmetics may have carried over into the inspiration for these designs, is this right or was it something else?
Yes, that’s right. The silhouettes are something I started with at stila. They have a very universal quality and allow you to project your own thoughts on to them. I am always more intrigued by what is left out of an image or illustration.
Many of the modern wallpapers we see are meant to be an explosive replacement for traditional wall art which I find very refreshing and exciting, but also a bit of a challenge! I love the colors and graphics of the Vespertine Wallpaper in Twilight but am not sure I could pull it off in my space (maybe the black option would be better for me). What tips do you have for creating a harmonizing space when using bold/graphic wallpapers?
It isn’t as difficult as it might seem. I think Vespertine Twilight would be great in a powder room, kids room or a small kitchen. It uses bold colors but you can paper a single wall if you are unsure and pick an accent color from the pattern for rest of the room. Items like lampshades or rugs will help unify the scheme and wood and chrome or bronze elements will add a little luxe to the mix. I try to stay away from a too done, matchy matchy look or it seems like a set rather than a lived in space.
Was it a challenge to create a line of wallpapers that are made in the USA, constructed of recyclable paper and hand screen printed with water-based, non varsol inks? I can’t begin to image how long your screen printing stations must be!
Too long for a Manhattan Apartment! I actually use a company out in California who share the same values as I do about the environment. They have been hand screening wallpaper for over 20 years and converted to water based inks about 5 years ago. We try our best to maintain the highest quality product and still be kind to mother nature.
I always appreciate getting a glimpse into a designer’s work space and adore the photos of your loft on hgtv. Any difficulties to living/working in the same space?
I don’t actually live in that apartment anymore but still do the live/work thing. For me work and life are not separate. Living is by design. I have an enormous bedroom now (with a door this time!) and carved out two spaces with a beautiful, white modular folding screen. I then built in a storage/desk unit and of course wallpapered the space in Underwater Bamboo Pink. The whole color scheme came from the wallpaper so its silver and soft pink. It got a little too girly so I peppered it with earthy accents of walnut wood. The whole space feels very glamorous but warm and grounded…what’s more inspiring than that.
If you could paper someone’s walls, whose would you choose and which design might you use?
Diane von Furstenberg
an Obama White House
…all custom designs of course!
I crave an opportunity to experiment with wallpaper, but I also fear it because: 1.) Of the expansive range of possibilities 2.) It is wallpaper and I don’t trust myself to be able to successfully apply it to my walls. But, I want to try so badly! What do you suggest for someone who is venturing into this arena for the first time…especially if the possibilities are as customizable as your wallpapers?
I think all the options available actually make it easier to find something that will work with your existing decor or serve as a jumping off point for a revamp. I understand the fear of installing yourself, many of my clients feel similarly. Wallpaper is really not that hard to put up and there are so many DIY sites out there with step by step instructions… in the end there is very little guesswork. I hung my very first Femme Fatale strike offs so I could learn how to do it and see how the paper performed, not the easiest, but definitely not hard. Having said that, if you are still hesitant, hire a painter or wallpaper installer. Many professional painters have experience hanging papers and the necessary tools in their arsenal. The most important thing is to be bold and experiment! Most of my clients are like you, saw it in a magazine and wanted to try it for themselves. All of them have been thrilled with the results. And remember nothing in this life is permanent!
Travel, travel, travel. It is the single most inspiring thing I can do. Floral Femme came together after a trip to Shanghai, Animalia after spending time in Holland. Places seep into me and become creative output.
What is next for SUM?
More wallpapers! I have one in the design stages that looks like painted canvas on the wall and another that is very male. I don’t see a lot out there for the boys so I thought it the perfect thing to design. SUM is now available in Utrecht, the Netherlands at Springers Wonen, in Malmo, Sweden at Tapetorama and we are looking to expand further in Europe and of course stateside. We are also moving into Fabrics and are looking to add other designers under our moniker… more parts to SUM total.
Photograph: Alain Levitt
Makeup: Melissa Silver