• Chicago Coach House Goes Global

    Custom Wallpaper Makes a Huge Impact

    all photos copyright Dustin Halleck

    This Chicago coach house rents for $300/night all summer on a timeshare website. It’s owner, a globally inspired, former retail shop owner has transformed every room into a funky creation full of color and texture. Her fabric collection from all over the world was the inspiration for this custom wallpaper. We wanted to make a strong impact in a small space by using 5 different patterns, all in a blue colorway. We had to create repeating patterns for each of these  steps, since the fabrics were just snippets of pattern, not print ready files.

    Once the images were set up for print, we used a type of vinyl for the application. Common uses for this material are prints that adhere to the sidewalk for advertising, or the floor of the bus or train. It’s meant to walk on, and we wanted something that would withstand the test of time, since it may get scuffed quite a bit from long-term use. Our manufacturers helped us select this material for its durability.

    We really love seeing these patterns make an impact in the space leading up to the guest bedrooms. It’s such a fun and welcoming environment th Bring the World Home.

    Custom wallpaper is not something we typically promote on our website, but it’s a big part of what we are capable of at Relativity Textiles. If you’ve always imagined a wallpaper but don’t know where to start, contact Erin at [email protected]




  • Destination: Libya

    One of the countries affected by the recent No Travel Ban is Libya. Of the African countries, Libya is the fourth largest, laying along the Mediterranean Sea to the North, and neighboring with Egypt to the east. Most western people have never been to Libya or ever dreamed to, since the Middle East has been a relatively volatile place since 2011 when the Arab Spring caused every day people to rally against political regimes who were failing to rule their countries peacefully and democratically. Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1973 until his demise in 2011, that we all watched  in gruesome detail on television.

    As much as the unrest and upheaval we’ve witnessed in recent years may turn us off to Libya as a valuable cultural leader, we should not dismiss the value of its heritage as a place and it’s people as contributors to a world full of beauty.

    The city of Ghadames is a sight to behold. Inside it’s earthen buildings, the decorations around windows and doorways have been painted with a red lattice pattern on white washed walls. Truly a textile lover’s dream come true, these rooms inspired by the maker’s imagination and traditional motifs are incredible.

    {See the Pinterest Board}

    The Romans found value in Libya during the 5th century. The Italians colonized Libya in the early 1900’s and left behind some Italian linguistic traits and cuisine (in the west of Libya, pasta is a common dish to accompany meat). But, moreover, in a place where rainfall can happen less than once in a decade, Libyans learned to farm in patterns and thrive in a desert climate. The largest irrigation system in the world, called the “Great Man-Made River” consists of over 1,300 wells and 1,750 miles of aqueducts which supplies fresh water to most of the country! My obsession with images of pivot irrigation systems begins:


    From a textile design perspective, these manmade patterns are fascinating. Normally, nature has a wild way with the land, growing in patterns which are organic and free (called a “field”). But farming generally goes in opposition to naturally occurring patterns; having organized rows, or in this case being dictated by the way the water covers the ground (called a “stack”). I wanted to create a stack pattern using these hexagon shapes, and remembered the drawings of M.C. Escher in my sketchbook.


    A mathematician and also an artist, Escher was famous for his optical illusions. His hyperrealistic drawings and his agility with regards to creating tessellations. WHY AM I SUCH A NERD? Because my dad is a math teacher. I used to do tessellations for FUN as a child. This lead me to a career in textile design, though I didn’t know it until graduate school while I was TA’ing a print class and suddenly yelled “A tessellation!” when the professor was explaining designs that are complex and “puzzle piece” together.


    To get back to my point, Escher had never been to the Middle East, as far as I know. But, he did study Moorish architecture and Islamic tile patterns. Much of his work reflects a commitment to and understanding of geometry, which originated in the Middle East. With my BA in Middle Eastern Studies and Art you can now see where much of my love for pattern is closely tied to cultural traditions from the eastern regions of the world. It’s also why my heart is heavy when hearing that Muslims are not welcome in my country— That regions of the world are banned at all alarms me. I wonder how to combat the omission of the value and worth of these peoples as citizens of the greatest melting pot on Earth…… Can an artwork summon compassion and/or change? Can this design be a place holder? Once we use a wallpaper, inspired by Libya, and welcome it into our powder rooms and kitchens– could it symbolically be a white flag of surrender to the rest of the world?

    Perhaps it’s an artist’s dream that her work can be a micro-revolution. That the personal is the most political decision we make on a daily basis. But, if I were to sneak these ‘ideas’ into a beautifully designed space, and the homeowner could see it’s beauty then in turn she would be saying “I embrace the culture of a foreign place. I welcome it into my home.” If that is possible, then my work is done.


    This morning I was faced with one of life’s most important decisions…

    Whether to click on a Facebook daily quiz.

    What I love about social media is the ability to feel connected to people who you’ve lost connection with, whether physically, geographically or emotionally. It makes me feel like I’m not so alone. It makes me feel like I have support. And it’s a way to vent to the universe the things that I need answers to. Sometimes my virtual community comes through. As in the case of Kickstarter, they REALLY CAME THROUGH! So, I don’t want to discredit the power of this platform. But, I do get a little weary of getting on Facebook, because it can be a time suck and often, while reading news articles or opinions of my peers I can get really depressed.

    But, this morning, Sunday, while I told myself to write a blog post about something meaningful; while I am trying to stick to some social media calendar that I set up for myself; while I’m trying to prove that I really do know how to write, even though I somewhere along the line told myself ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not good at it’, I realized that this could be the content I am searching for. This. Stupid, pointless, Facebook quiz.

     Like a fortune cookie, this little exercise in self-examination gives a tidbit about my life without knowing me at all. As if five or six questions can get to the bottom of who I am and what my personality type is! But, we read our fortune cookie, we listen to the psychic, we take a daily quiz to feel surety about the future. To be validated. Or to have reassurance that we really are who we thought we were (or be surprised that we are NOT who we thought we were!)



    Here’s who I am:
    “You’re the explorer! According to Jung we can find this archetype in many myths and fairy tales. You’re a restless nomad, always full of wanderlust. You see life as one big adventure and you’re always planning your next move. This archetype thirsts for new experiences and new people. You’re independent, adaptable, ambitious and true to yourself. Your sense of adventure is your greatest strength, but you may risk wondering aimlessly and you may find it difficult to choose a direction. Channel your adventurous spirit into something productive!”
    And so, if I must summarize the way this Jungian survey completes me, I must say that I like being labeled the explorer. Though, I don’t consider myself a leader or expert or the first to have done anything. People have been designing wallpaper since the 16th century. Women have been running businesses to support their families since the dawn of commerce. I’m not Amelia Earhart or Marie Curie- I wish I was! That said, I do love the idea that my wandering spirit needs channeling and though “productivity” isn’t my goal, I do love meeting new people and experiencing new things. That is a part of this brand. It’s a part of what I love about getting to meet interior designers, showroom reps and other textile tribe members. I love when we support each other and share information. I love when another creative person promotes me (I joke that they are “spreading the wallpaper gospel!”) I love knowing more about the industry, since I’m the new girl at the party. But most of all I love sharing what I know with you. Taking you to a place you may never see firsthand.

    photo credit, Carolina Mariana Rodriguez c. 2017

    When I have more energy to complete the blog post I started last week about Sudan, I will share it with you. The happy and the sad. (okay, a society who has suffered as much as Sudan has a lot more sad than happy). The beautiful and the ugly. The power of an image. The strength of a people to persist. I hope you’ll come back and read it, once I finally close my eyes and hit “PUBLISH”.
  • Culture Maker: Karen Azarnia

    Karen Azarnia is a Chicago-based painter, curator and culture maker. She has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and ran the Riverside Art Center’s Freeark Gallery for several years. Her accolades include being the recipient of the Illinois Individual Artist Grant and the CAAP Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs + IL Arts Council. She is in my mind a total badass, though her demeanor and poise is that of a truly graceful creature. Karen is a supporter of the arts in many ways and a champion for other female artists through her work as a curator, juror and educator. She is the mom of one majorly cute little boy and lives in a cute bungalow in Forest Park, IL.

    Karen and I were in a show together about 3 years ago called Graft, at Comfort Station in Logan Square. We had both recently had babies; our sons are one month apart, and it was cosmically aligned that the show was about motherhood and female artist identity. I knew of her work for some time, since she graduated from the painting department the year I started the Post-Baccalaureate certificate program at SAIC. We have a lot of mutual friends and she started a successful exhibition record right after graduating with her MFA. It’s no wonder I follow her work. Her paintings are dreamy and soft, subtly illustrating the human condition with moments of dark and moments of light. They are moody and earnest and I can stare at them for days and always see something new. I included her work in the powder room install at the Lake Forest Showhouse, as you may remember, from visiting or seeing the posts on Instagram. I am now the lucky owner of the blue piece in this photo.

    Lake Forest Showhouse (photo by Dustin Halleck), “Heart On My Sleeve”, 2017, 24″ x 20″, Oil and acrylic on canvas.

    This is why I chose Karen as the first artist in a series of posts I’ll be doing called Culture Maker. The following interview is a series of questions I asked her because I really wanted to pick her brain and see what makes her tick.

    EMC: How did you get to here?

    KA: While I have many interests, I was born a maker. Early on I developed a keen sense of observation of the world around me and loved world-making, so it was a natural step to become an artist. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design for my undergraduate work, I worked as a graphic designer for an educational company. All the while still painting, I ultimately pursued an MFA at SAIC to hone my painting practice and teaching skills. I currently exhibit my work, curate exhibitions, and am a Lecturer in the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    EMC: What advice do you have for other female artists/makers?

    KA: Follow your passion. Find your voice and stay true to it. Especially in the creative field, there are many different paths to achieve your goal, and no two are the same. Find the one that’s right for you and work hard. Say “yes” as often as possible. Embrace the unexpected. Drown out the naysayers. Be generous and help fellow creatives. Above all, take time to celebrate milestones and enjoy the journey.

    EMC: What drives you/motivates you?

    A love for making and culture. A love for expression of our shared humanity. Small gestures of intimacy between people. Light fragments abstracted through hazy panes of glass. My family, husband, and son. Especially my son, as I want to provide a strong role model for him, and to teach him empathy. My amazing students, who continue to inspire. Poetry by Neruda.

    EMC: I love Pablo Neruda. His work has always resonated with me for embracing the insignificant. What do you love about his poetry?

    KA: His imagery is incredibly rich, through a lens of unconventional beauty. There’s an honesty to his work that speaks directly to the human condition – including love, longing and loss. I especially love his descriptions of landscape, and have often considered making a whole series of paintings based on that alone.

    EMC: What is your work about? How does that relate to you and who you are?

    KA: My work explores the dialog between memory and painterly gesture. Based on an archive of personal photos and videos, the paintings fluctuate between abstraction and representation, a reflection of the fluid nature of perception. It’s a way of processing memories and emotions I have related to my childhood, motherhood, the mental illness of a family member, and my relationships with family and friends.

    EMC: If you had to quit being an artist, what would you choose to do instead? (Imagine there was no limit to money or certifications or geographic restrictions).

    KA: First off, it would be impossible to quit. But if I had to, I would likely end up in scientific research and development or psychology. And I’d travel everywhere.

    EMC: You know I love to travel. Where would you love to travel?

    KA: My father is an Armenian immigrant. He came to this country in his youth with his family. I grew up visiting them almost every summer absorbing the history, foods, language, and music. I love the rugs! Great pride is taken in having beautiful woven textiles in the home. While I know some of the basics, I wish I was fluent in the language. I do consider myself fortunate to have experienced the best of both my Armenian and American heritage, which has given me a rich sense of identity and broad worldview. As I’ve never been, I’d love to visit Yerevan and the Armenian countryside.

    EMC: Okay, I want to ask the expert this question: What’s your favorite art gallery in Chicago?

    KA: It’s a tough question, there’s so many! I love the programs at 65Grand, Andrew Rafacz, and the Mission. Some of my favorite alternative spaces include Goldfinch, Adds Donna, and the Franklin.

    EMC: Who is a cultural producer that you wish more people knew about?

    KA: Lindsey Hook. She is an amazingly talented artist and consummate craftsman. I have huge respect for her painting, textile, and text-based work. In 2014, she mounted a stunning two-person exhibition at the Riverside Art Center with artist Altoon Sultan that has stayed with me. She also runs her own business for calligraphy and hand-made pens. Check her out at www.lindsey-hook.com

    EMC: You two have a show coming up, right? Can you share the details?

    KA: The show is called “A Life Lived” and it’s a two-person exhibition exploring the intersection of experience, memory, storytelling and mark-making. In today’s cultural climate we obsessively document public events and personal moments through photographs, video, and social media; presenting curated facades for ourselves and the people around us. Here, both of our work serves as a vehicle for deeper, more reflective interpretation and expression of personal life experiences.

    August 27 – October 7, 2017
    Reception: Sunday, August 27, 2 – 4pm
    Abryant Gallery, Mana Contemporary #607
    2233 Throop St. Chicago, IL 60608

    Facebook Event Page here


    EMC: What is one book that you think all artists/makers should read? Or, what is something you’d wished you’d learned early on in life (or in school) but only found out later?

    KA: I highly recommend Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists by Sharon Louden. It has honest narratives from working artists about what it means to commit to being a creative.

  • Entryway in Gold and Black

    Gold is the New Black.

    One of the defining color palettes of my first collection was black and gold. Our original packaging was made in black matte Neenah paper with a gold foil letterpressed logo. And the first wallpaper I ever made was Kilim Black. It makes sense then that people relate to me as a black and gold girl. Though, often I consider the palette too glam, I do always wear black and I love gold and brass colored accents in jewelry and in a home.


    Images courtesy of Carolina M. Rodriguez, Bryson Gill studios and Aimee Mazzenga.


    As some of you know I have a small crush on a very famous designer. I met Nate Berkus in Los Angeles in May of 2016 and it felt like my long standing goal had been achieved. But, I know for a fact that he doesn’t remember who I am as he had been bombarded by a dozen fangirls like myself after his panel discussion at Stark Carpet. But, having met him at Legends made him feel a little more human. We shook hands and he said “I hope you’re enjoying the conference.” Since we both started out in Chicago as a one-person design firm, I aspire to build an empire like he has. Someday. I do share a kinship in another way. His sense of style is simple but elegant, and often combines black and white with brass accents.


    Images courtesy Nate Berkus and Aimee Mazzenga


    It’s no surprise to know that when NB’s Creative Director reached out to me for a lunch date in Chicago, I jumped for joy! Her name is Tara Shade and she is a creative powerhouse. She helps the NB brand launch their line of products at Target as well as curate their selection of printed fabrics for JoAnn’s Fabrics. I’m pretty sure that if I could have any other job than the one I have now, I’d like to have Tara’s job.

    On our first girl date, I nervously showed her my first collection of wallpapers and spec sheets for the not-yet-produced Second Collection. I told her a bit about the impetus for designing these 6 new patterns and we talked about the Chicago design community. On our second date, she and I plotted and planned how to create a custom colorway for her entryway in her beautiful home in Lincoln Square. She offered me some assistance with branding and photoshoots in return for a quick installation by yours truly.

    GAAR – Black

    photos by Aimee Mazzenga


    And thus this lovely room came to life. Tara chose Ebony paper, a matte black clay coated paper for the ground, with metallic gold ink. The pattern is called Gaar and it is inspired by a tattoo process from Sudan. The motif appears at first like a bunch of tiny brush strokes, but there’s a pattern within a pattern. Islamic scalloping tile shapes pop out from the wall and call attention to their half-dropping goodness. This pattern has newly come to life and there will be many more colorways launching when the whole collection goes live. But we love how it turned out in Tara’s Entryway.