Meet Flavor Paper! And the man behind the studio: Jon Sherman!
We have been excited to work closely with Jon Sherman, owner and creative director of Flavor Paper, throughout IndieCon and interviewing him for our blog. When it comes to the world of wallpaper, Flavor Paper is a game changer. With their bold and often provocative patterns, Flavor Paper has been setting major trends in wallpaper in a big way.
We were able to get a sneak peak into the history of this company at IndieCon. Jon explained that, on a whim, he decided to save the screen printing equipment from an out-of-business wallpaper company. While the materials were in the process of being destroyed, Jon rushed in to salvage the historic machinery. With a few modern upgrades, this same equiptment became the foundation for the grassroots efforts of what grew into Flavor Paper. And lucky for all of us, because the innovation that has blossomed out of this studio continues to revolutionize wallpaper today.
Friendly and engaging (not to mention, incredibly charming) Jon sat down with us to share his thoughts on screen printing, business ownership, and the future direction of Flavor Paper. Take a look…
Urban Source: When you made the decision to save Ted’s equipment, what was it like to transition from real estate to wallpaper design?
Jon Sherman: Well, I was already doing some interior design and I’ve always been both a left brain/right brain guy. So.. I’d work in food, then I’d work for a lawyer. I’d work in music, then I’d work for a computer consulting company. I’ve kind of jumped back and forth between both creative work and business work. So, for me it was nice to merge both of those worlds. That part of it was easy.
(Jon saving the silk screening equipment!)
US: What was the toughest part?
Jon: Not knowing how difficult it was going to be to make wallpaper. It was kind of this ambiguous process that had to be refined to the point where we had something that was aesthetically pleasing that would line up and was installable. That was a tough road.
(A Flavor Paper display, showing the developing aesthetic direction of the studio)
US: Because you didn’t have initial training in wallpaper design, did you feel free to do whatever you wanted? You never really learned the rules, so it didn’t matter if you broke them?
Jon: Yeah, we didn’t do any trend research or worry about what any other companies were doing. We did only what pleased us and we continue to work that way.
(Wallpaper installed in the Chicago hotspot: The Bedford)
US: In recent years wallpaper has gone from a mass produced, commercial product back into the hands of the artists – which is really exciting. The wallpaper industry is now merging art and (commercial) design. For example, Flavor Paper’s wallpaper are now part of a few art museum’s perminent collections. What do you think Flavor Paper’s role in that transformation was?
Jon: Well, there always has been an artistic angle to wallpaper throughout history, but I think it did get mass produced in a terrible way where patterns were made only to disappear into the background of a room. That became the big trend in wallpaper for a long time. I think that’s what killed it. No one wants to pay for something that is just going to disappear and be innocuous. People really want something that is going to be visually stimulating and full of joy.
I think we definitely helped kick that back into gear because there wasn’t a whole lot of bold patterning going on when we got started. But now, I think artist wallpaper is back in a big way and it’s only going to be bigger and bigger. You will see more and more of that.
US: Flavor Paper is most known for the use of traditional pattern structures, like toile and damask, combind with subversive subject matter. Can you talk about that design decision?
Jon: Something that I always found intriguing is sort of playing with history in the way of when you first glance at it you don’t absorb the fact that it is subversive. It has this traditional feel, which makes someone feel a certain way. Then there is this second level of discovery that adds a whole different element to the experience. That’s one of my favorite things about wallpaper, or our wallpaper at least, we really try to make things that you can experience on a multiple levels.
(City Park Wallpaper)
(Brooklyn Toile Installed)
Jon: The pattern Secret Garden is a good example. From far back it looks like this intense, crazy kaleidoscopic geometric. Then you get up close and its this frilly, nature based design that then doesn’t read at all how you thought it was. I love the contradictory nature of what you are looking at. It is very aesthetically pleasing from both sides but completely dichotomous, which is cool.
(Secret Garden Wallpaper)
US: what is your favorite part of running Flavor Paper?
Jon: Hmm… The first time you install a new wallpaper pattern and see it in the space. You hear people’s reaction on how it transformed their world. We get so many great letters and emails from people after they install their flavor paper. The joy it brings them is huge. It’s very simple, very traditional thing but it really does make people very happy. It’s a conversation piece for them. And if Flavor Paper can play a part of that- its great!
(Onda wallpaper installed in a bathroom)
US: So what is a typical work day like for you?
Jon: Its starts at about 5:30. I handle emails and then we have a morning meeting at around 9. From there it totally depends on what is going on that day. I could be working on a custom product, working on contracts, doing a site review for upcoming projects and so on… I probably spend half my day working on design and color. Then the other half is spent working on the business side of the company.
US: Do you ever do any of the silkscreening?
Jon: I printed every piece of wallpaper that came out of Flavor Paper for the first 6 years. Now, I’ve given that up a little bit. It’s just not the best use of my time anymore. I still think it’s fun and I like doing it. I did all the digital printing for the first two years. I always engross myself in a process until I really know what I am talking about in order to pass it on. Only then will I hand it off. I’ve never asked anyone to do something that I haven’t done- that’s for sure!
(Silk Screens and a work cart in the Flavor Paper print studio)
US: What’s your favorite part of screenprinting?
Jon: I love watching the color go down, especially on something where we are playing with different layers of transparency, Day-Glo and combining all these different elements to work second, third, and fourth colors into one layer. Just pulling that squeegee and then lifting the screen off and seeing what happened and being like “MAN!! That’s crazy….I had no idea” Those are really fun moments. You think you know what’s going to happen but you really never know until you put ink to paper. I still really love it. My dad was an engineer and I was raised with the engineering angle, so I always love problem solving and figuring out how we can make these patterns work.
(Flavor Paper’s pigment mixing room)
US: Along those same lines, Flavor Paper hand silk screens most of it’s wallpapers. Can you talk more about the importance of keeping that technique current in the industry.
Jon: It is the key to our world and we will never stop silk screening our stuff, that’s for sure. The aesthetics you can get out of it, you would never be able to achieve digitally. Even the digital process they now use to print on mylar- its not the same thing. You can’t get the depth of field, you can’t work with metallic in the same way. You can’t play with transparency digitally, you can’t play with sheen, you can’t do florescence. There are so many limitations in other print scenarios. Plus, the hand feel of it really does come across. You know that two guys pulled that screen and made that wallpaper for you.
(Detail of Meteor Flower wallpaper, showing overlapping colors and textures)
(Installation of Meteor Flower wallpaper)
Jon: We have families that come in and film their wallpaper being made. It goes up in their house and exists as a huge piece of their world for years and years and years. It is important for them to have a connection to it being made. That is one of the main reasons we put our print studio on the first floor instead of the second floor. Usually companies will put the sample office and showroom on the first floor and you hide the manufacturing end. But we wanted our studio to be an open kitchen of wallpaper, where you can come and see your flavor being made.
US: We’ve also heard you say once that the making of wallpaper is a performative aspect, the making of the wallpaper becomes street art.
Jon: Yes, you can run across the street and see it happening. We have mirrors overhead for this reason. You can watch how the layers go down. If you are sitting there looking at it, you don’t really see how it is coming together but if you are looking at a reflection of it and seeing it head on, you really see how with every layer that somebody prints. When they pull up that screen, you’ve got something completely different that changes the entire aesthetic of it. Its such a major transformation and its cool for people to be able to see that.
(Street view of the Flavor Paper print studio)
US: Within Flavor Paper’s designs, we really appreciate how you combined hand drawn elements with digital manipulations and overlap different types of processes.
Jon: Yeah, we work from any and all perspectives. We are getting more and more into combining them as well. So you will see some murals coming out in the next year that are combinations of scans of old maps with photographs overlaid on them. Hand drawn and hand colored pieces mixed in. So it combines different worlds. I think that adds a lot of depth to it, which is also current with what is happening in the world. Media is very mixed up these days and I think you might as well reflect that in your house.
US: What is in store for Flavor Paper in the future?
Jon: We are about to announce The Warhol Project. We are the reinterpretation Andy Warhol’s work in wallpaper. It is a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation. We used their resources and all of Warhol’s archives and pulled together different pieces of his work and are creating our own pieces from it. The result is our vision of his work. That has been kicking our butts and keeping us really busy. We have also been developing our own grounds that aren’t available anywhere else. New textures and funky things. And generally, we are just continuing to push ourselves to come up with the next cool thing. We are always working in that direction.
Like what you see? There is a lot more where that came from.. Our showroom is full of Flavor Paper patterns that you can see today!
(Flavor Paper wallpaper front and center in the Urban Source showroom!)
((Photos were extracted from a variety of sources–Some Urban Source projects, some Flavor Paper images, as well as projects from other sources))