Designing with Grasscloth
by Jackie Stelzer, Intern Summer 2016
Today, in our hyper-cyber “one click away” market, shopping for our homes has changed, as well as designing them. We can “pin” and buy décor online, from mirrors to pillows, to ordering light fixtures and furniture, we are fortunate to live in an era where we can shop from our computers at home or as we sip a latte at our local café. But what about shopping for fabrics and wallpaper? It’s simply not the same. The reason; touch.
This is especially important in the revival of wallpaper and wallcoverings in the world of interiors. For those who have fallen for the treasured texturized trend of designing with grasscloth as I have, this tactile experience is actually a treat. Sure, it means leaving your computer, spending a little more money, and physically engaging with different samples and colors, but it allows you to run your fingers along the weaved strands, examine the color variation, and appreciate its organic appeal.
What is Grasscloth?
Grasscloth is an organic and sustainable fiber, that varies from mixes of Raw Jute, burlap, hemp, Sisal, reed, arrowroot, boodle, reed, cork, java/triangle grass, (and even silk), woven together using sea grass and thin cotton strands, and is then backed with thin rice paper. Although the process of making Grasscloth is long and tedious, it bridges the gap between nature and the indoor confines of one’s home. In fact, Grasscloth invites nature into the home, which is why many designers pair Grasscloth with materials such as bamboo and stone. Grasscloth is known for its Asian influence and naturally fresh ambience. It commonly used as wallpaper, wall coverings, and room partitions by high end designers including Tom Felichia and Burnham Design.
How to get Grasscloth:
As I learned through my research both in person and online, the best way to choose your Grasscloth is by having an actual sample in your hand. Listen up cyber-creatives! It is possible to order these samples online. However, granted that Grasscloth is expensive and comes in various shades and hues, it sometimes helps to contact an interior designer and visit a showroom or fabric studio. I chose to do both. I began searching on Houzz.com to get a feel for who the top selling grasscloth manufacturers were, and from there I found “similar” or “related” products which lead me to other websites and manufacturers. My journey began with BN Wallcoverings, Schooner Prints, Inc., Brewster, Twenty2 and more. I then made my way over to Ann at Urban Source Chicago, a walk-in design studio with an extensive collection of new, chic, and exciting fabrics, patterns, wallcoverings, and wallpaper samples displayed on racks to facilitate the design process, and allow for mix and matching. This still is a retail showroom, with employees dedicated to fostering creativity and providing design solutions, which is why I went back multiple times to get more samples and information! Anne walked me through their entire collection, provided me with information about the difference between the products, suggested Grasscloth providers and their sample books. Thanks to Anne, I discovered Aztek, Inc., Zoffany, Symphony, and both Kravet and Ronald Redding and many more Grasscloth Manufacturers.
Choosing a Color
Another one of the main reasons why people need to have a Grasscloth Sample in their hands is because no two strands within the Grasscloth weave will ever be the same color. This fiber does come in vibrant colors (for those with an eclectic style), such as bright Yellows, Hot pinks, and other Metallic pallets shown to me at Urban Source. Many prefer a cool green, blue, navy, ultramarine, or Indigo to emulate that environmental aura. Another “trend” is to choose one of grasscloth’s multifarious neutral tones, including beige, brown, grey, cream, charcoal, silver, tan, etc. Why are interior designers currently enamored by these hues of Grasscloth? The main reason interior designers and homeowners gravitate towards these neutral tones is because they help bring out pattern and texture without taking away from the overall color or features of the room. Decoist.com refers to this as “understated texture” (Nothingham, “20 Living Rooms…*). Note: when searching through pallets, not all colors are named, and many have names quite more simple than “grey” or “blue.” On my “Grasscloth Journey” I found colors with Nuanced Titles, such as “Heron” (Twenty2), “Wisteria Blue” (Schooner Prints, Inc.), “Metal Black Dud Sisal” (Astek, Inc.), “Juan Grey” (Brewster).
When you take home a sample of some of these Grasscloth colors, you will notice hits of other colors. Interesting enough, you might see a shimmer, or shine, or a reflection that has you ask yourself “What color is this again?” There are specifically Metallic collections sold (Astek, Inc.), making certain spaces appear more glamourous and stylish, especially with hints of silver or gold. The key to analyzing your samples and coming to a decision on which Grasscloth to use in designing a space is to use lighting (both natural and artificial) as much as you can. The lighting evokes the color and texture, and reawaken your senses. Often, I see people holding up their samples above their heads, squinting, and experiencing an “ah-ha” moment of clarity. It is also helpful to hang a grasscloth sample up on a wall for a few days, and try and imagine what the space would look like with that choice. This is definitely something I would recommend. The process is similar to picking out paint swatches; bring home paint chips and samples and compare. In fact, invite friends and family over, hang up each grasscloth sample on the wall within the space you are designing, and seek their opinions too! Yes, in design preference and aesthetic is relative to the viewer, but once they touch the grasscloth, they too can share in that sensory connection with the texture.
How Grasscloth is Sold
Unlike standard wallpaper, Grasscloth varies in measurement and its sheets are much wider. Grasscloth is sold in double rolls and commonly per 8-yard roll. These double rolls measure out to be 36 inches wide by 24 feet long. BE SURE TO CHECK IF YOU ARE BEING CHARGED FOR A SINGLE ROLL OR A DOUBLE ROLL.
Designing a home is costly, and so is Grasscloth. According to the findings on my “grasscloth journey,” the range in pricing for designer grasscloth can start at fifty dollars and reach three to four-hundred dollars. I would honestly say, reasonably, that it depends on how much grasscloth you plan on purchasing, but expect to pay about 200-250 dollars per single roll. Now, this is a pricy number, but if you are someone that appreciates value and quality, this is a “worth it” expense.
If you are wondering why Grasscloth is so expensive, take a look at the the long and hard working process of picking strands, of mixing sea grass and cotton, followed by the various raw materials mentioned above. The intensity of such a process, the labor of hand weaving delicate natural plant fibers, not to mention the decrease in natural resources is worth the cost. Many eco-friendly and green products on the market tend to cost more, as do internationally imported resources. For more information on this process, check out TotalWallcovering.com’s Absolute Beginners Guide to Grasscloth. http://totalwallcovering.com/blog/the-absolute-beginners-guide-to-grasscloth-wallpaper/ .
Things to remember when installing Grasscloth:
- Be Gentle! This is a precarious and expensive material- if you can, I highly recommend employing a professional installer.
- Plan out the placement of your grasscloth on the wall and remember to center the panels. I recommend choosing a focal wall.
- REMOVE ANY NAILS, BOLTS, Etc.
- Clean and prime the walls, and be sure to use a special wallpaper primer or shellac.
- Grasscloth does not come with an adhesive backing. A Specialty wallpaper glue is most efficient.
- MANUALLY APPLY THE GLUE ONTO THE WALL, INSTEAD OF THE BACK OF THE GRASSCLOTH. Why? This is not like installing regular wallpaper, when you can wipe off access glue that got on the wallpaper during the process; with Grasscloth gluing, THE STAIN WILL REMAIN.
- Grasscloth expands when it is wet. This does not mean you should directly apply water to the grasscloth, rather, presoak the material.
- Seamless seams are easier and apply smoothly, so be sure Trim the edges of the grasscloth. All you need to do is use a razor and some type of straight edge, and cut an inch from the left side and the right side of each strip of Grasscloth.
- Avoid installing Grasscloth in places where there is a lot of potential “foot traffic” or activity- moving furniture around can increase the chance of damaging the grasscloth, as well as people rubbing up against it, or children “rough-housing.” Also avoid installing Grasscloth in bathrooms; not just because of humidity, sanitation and frequent stains, but also because the Grasscloth is too absorbent.
- Yes, Grasscloth can be cleaned, but not with the standard bathroom cleaner. Such products have way too much moisture. The best way to maintain the grasscloth and keep it clean is to lightly dust or vacuum the material.
I know what you might be thinking: What about those people who don’t want the hassle? Those who don’t want to pay that much? Those who want an easier installation? And those who want a material less precarious?
Yes, it exists! There are Thousands of Faux Grasscloth and Vinyl Grasscloth wallpaper and wallpaper coverings sold throughout the world. I briefly sought this option out during my “Grasscloth Journey.” These Vinyl options are usually sold by the roll or by the bolt at 27 inches wide, and sometimes somewhere between 52-54 inches wide. Houzz.com and Urban Source (Chicago) have an abundance of Vinyl Grasscloth. I found colorful and exciting options sold by Brewster, Schooner prints, Source One, as well as Seabrook Wallcoverings.
If you are on a budget, or you want to “grasscloth” a high- traffic area, I would recommend vinyl grasscloth. But when you finally feel the walls and look for that genuine natural texture, the Vinyl or Faux just doesn’t compare to the real deal. The prize just never goes to the “stunt- double.”
The Essence and Function of Grasscloth
No one says it better than luxury wallpaper designer, Erin Chlaghmo: “What I like to tell people is to imagine the grasscloth as the supporting actress on the stage,” she explains. “Grasscloth is not the “star” or the main focus of this space you are designing- but it brings out all of the architectural features of the room and your unique objects and furniture. The walls will give a feeling to the room, not draw your attention.” I couldn’t agree more with Erin. The supporting actor holds everyone together, just like the wallcoverings, and sets the scene.
Hi It’s Kelsey, intern at Relativity Textiles. Here at RT we are committed to the process. Our wallpaper is designed for easy printing, easy install and easy maintenance– We think about our Printers, Wallpaper Hangers and You every time we design a pattern!
Though our wallpaper is made to be easily installed and can be done by just about anyone, but we do recommend you hire a professional.
If you are in the Chicago area we recommend:
If you are elsewhere we recommend:
But if you want to learn from experience, below are a few tricks I gathered last week while installing a wallpaper for Claire from Centered by Design. Here’s what I learned about how to hang a perfect paper that I didn’t know before.
DO’s & DON’T’s
1) Use Wallpaper specific primer, sometimes called Prep Coat.
2) If the background of the wallpaper is colored, a tinted primer can help disguise inevitable gaps.
3) Never wear red nail polish, it’s the most noticeable and likely to scratch off the onto the paper!
4) Remove all blemishes and scotch tape from the wall before installing. You will notice it later.
5) When trimming panels: always cut an inch or two extra on top and bottom of each panel- in case the wall is not straight! But make sure you have enough on the roll. Measure the whole roll before you cut it!
6) It’s more important for the wallpaper to match at eye level than anywhere else. So, start at the middle of the panel and match the seams together, then work your way up and down. Never begin at the top of the ladder/wall.
Wallpaper Hanger Toolkit:
Box of Sharp Razor Blades
Wallcovering Prep Coat
Plastic Wallpaper Scraper
Seam Roller (specialized tool to make seams less noticeable)
We are very excited to release this feature with Style Me Pretty Living blog. For any of you who don’t follow this blog, you have to get on there and see some really amazing projects from up and coming interior designers all across the country.
As you may have read on my last email newsletter, Meg Piercy and I have been collaborating a lot lately. Meg is the founder and owner of MegMade, a local Chicago furniture company. Her claim to fame is that she started out in her garage, painting dressers she’d found in alleys and re-selling them on Craigslist. Five years later, she houses hundreds of antiques and vintage items that you can have painted any color under the sun by her team of highly trained craftsmen.
Meg recently refinished one of my dressers from home and it turned out amazing. She asked me to come to her home and wallpaper two walls in her master bedroom. This feature catalogs the dreamy space now covered in our Peacock Gold wallpaper. This patterns has turned out to be our most popular design of all. We’re so excited to see it up in this space and know that it’s a part of Meg’s collection of amazing decor and objét. Her side tables in the photoshoot are of course her own work, and her pink velvet headboard was upholstered by a local Chicago craftswoman.
Check out the full feature HERE.
For those of you following Relativity Textiles on Instagram, you know that I spent an exciting and exhausting four days in Los Angeles at the beginning of the month. I am just now sitting down to write about my favorite moments from the LEGENDS 2016 conference in the La Cienega Design Quarter in West Hollywood.
My showroom, Harbinger LA, was gracious enough to invite me and the other vendors out to California to speak about our brands and meet some of LA’s top designers and architects. I had a blast with the crew from Merida rugs, Coral & Tusk, Krane wallpaper, ALT for Living and the HLA showroom staff. Parties, lectures, galas, dinners, dancing! It was a whirlwind!
Joe Lucas with Analisse Taft from ALT for Living (My two showroom owners from both LA and NYC). Analisse also has her own line of textiles that are represented by Harbinger, which is why she and her showroom manager were also in town.
The amount of networking I did in three days was insane. I got to meet a few important people who have been formative for me as I’ve grown up in the design biz in only a few short months. First off, I met Justina Blakeney for the first time. She and I worked closely on producing the line of wallpapers with her artwork for Hygge & West and we had only ever “met” on Skype. So, it was pretty awesome to get to give her a hug in person.
Of course, I also waited in several long lines to attend lectures with celebrity speakers from the design world, notably Nate Berkus. Any of you that know me know that I have some kind of strange fascination with Nate. Perhaps because our aesthetics seem to mirror one another’s or that he made his start in Chicago, IL. But, I admire his tenacity and demeanor and sense of style and I made it one of my 2016 goals to meet him. So, like an aspiring actress who waits in line for an autograph from Julia Roberts, I waited patiently to shake his hand after his talk. More and more people approached him and pushed their way to the front of the line. You’d think he was Adam Levine. So, I gave up and retreated.
I thought, “this is silly.” Every single person who went up to him handed him a postcard, a brochure or a catalog. As if he would ever read it!? So I left, feeling deflated. As I walked out of the front door of Stark carpet and got out my iPhone, guess who snuck out of the showroom? “Nate!” I said, as if we were old friends! He looked at me and I introduced myself, and before I knew it we were shaking hands. He almost waited for my sales pitch and I told him, “I just wanted to meet you…” he cordially told me that he hoped I was enjoying the week’s events and walked away. I was so shocked and star struck it took a while to wipe that grin off my face.
Whether talking about “How to Avoid Nightmare Clients,” “Following Trends of Not?” or “Repurposing Vintage Furniture” I found all of the lectures to be very relevant to my field as a wallpaper designer. The vibes in LA were edgier and more straightforward. People were carefree, and just said what came to mind without worrying. They were blunt and funny. The design aesthetics were more adventurous and unafraid of color! The drinks were endless and the bartenders were really handsome. Everyone was high fashion and my midwestern self needed to step up her game!
Big thanks to the team at Harbinger who made it possible. The Relativity Textiles wallpaper installation looked amazing and the final dinner, hosted by Moore & Giles was absolutely stunning. Cheers!! To next year (and to not being the new girl at the party again!)
all images courtesy of JL Photographers
In collaboration with Meg Piercy at MegMade, we began offering our wallpapers to her clients as a way to spruce up a dresser or hutch with pattern and color. It’s a way to personalize a piece of furniture and also to add a little decoration to an otherwise traditional piece, making it a little more modern.
Check out the amazing selection of dressers and other furniture at MegMade located at
You can also have Meg’s crew pick up a piece of your furniture and they will custom paint it and deliver it back to your home within a few weeks. I am looking forward to sharing with you a before and after image of my own two Midcentury dressers that Meg is doing up for me this month. They will be truly transformed!
This feature was really fun to shoot because I got to work with some of my closest friends in Chicago. Check out the article that RUE Magazine wrote up about the project, called “A Bohemian Bedroom” styled by Claire Staszak at Centered by Design.
To shed some light on our process, like we normally love to do, I made a video that highlights the labor and people involved in the shoot. From start to finish, we spent about 7 hours to make this one magazine-ready image come to life.
It’s not easy.
But, it’s worth it. And I can’t stress it enough– the importance of working with people who you trust and who have the skills. These are the best of the best. My furniture showrooms who donated the pieces for the shoot are good friends, Beth Berke from South Loop Loft and Meg Piercy of MegMade. The photographer, Carolina Mariana is one of the best. My interns helped carry furniture, iron bedding, etc. Claire helped me to shop for the right pillows, lamps and staged up this room to the nines. Ian caught it all on film. The homeowners were so gracious to let us take over their space and bring in a crew of people and objects and photograph their most intimate room in the house.
I can’t thank you guys enough for being a part of this shoot!, Erin
I spent this week in Austin, Texas. A town I used to call “home” in 2007, I was reminded of a curious question. Why do I live in Chicago!? I love the atmosphere of the big city, the bustle and hustle. But, there’s an immediate slowing down once you get off the plane in Austin and an ambience that is unparalleled. People are nice! And you feel like you’re in a foreign land if you didn’t grow up in the south. Plus people aren’t afraid to be weird. You have all strokes of folks in Austin and I like that.
Here are my recommendations for you in case you’re planning a trip to ATX any time soon.
Modern Comfort- the two words that seem apparent when I went out shopping in Austin. Though I spent most of my time at my local wallpaper & fabric showroom while I was there, I noticed a huge expansion of architecture and retail shops in downtown since the time when I left 8 years ago. Austin is really booming. There are now lots of retailers like Jonathan Adler, West Elm and the like along 5th Street in downtown, which I never expected to see.
Supply Showroom is a brand new showroom, converted from an old bungalow by owners/founders Callie Jenschke, Kim West and Kristin Gish. It is open only to the interior design trade, but we celebrated an Open House during Tribeza magazine’s Style Week 2016. Along with 20 other designers, I was invited to come and talk about my wallpaper design inspiration and process. It was truly amazing and inspiring to hear from talented designers from all over the country. There are some really talented people represented by Supply.
Well, I couldn’t leave town before walking up and down South Congress Ave. and check out my old favorite shops. On the top of my list is By George, a boutique which carries many local designers and unique labels of men’s and women’s clothing, furniture and gifts. The jewelry was so beautiful I forgot to take a picture! But the staff was so nice and explained where each item was from and how the concept of the shop came to be. I was very impressed with the quality of curation of all of the beautiful decor and clothing and the natural light that was drenching us inside the store. It’s highly recommended.
Tesoros Trading Company is one of my grandma’s favorite shops, and we used to indulge her taste for southwestern art and decor. I love the mix of global and local in Austin, and this shop has expanded from carrying only Mexican imports to other inspired objects now. I saw Moroccan (Safi) pottery, African Kuba cloths and Oaxacan-Mexican Alibrije (painted animals.) Feasting my eyes on these wonderful colors and fun shapes made me brainstorm the perfect wallpaper inspired by Mexico!
While you’re strolling with your latté, make sure you stop into Allen Boots, on So. Co. They have an array of cowgirl & boy boots that will knock your socks off. I tried on the cutest little gray suede booties, fell in love and then had to break up right away when I saw the price tag. But, they were Frye boots, made in America. So, if you’re going to spend, that’s the right way to do it. I might dream of these boots for the next few months.
A common misconception about Austin is that there are only two types of food: Tacos and Barbecue. I ate both and loved it! The best coffee in Austin is at Joe’s on South Congress Ave. so you can grab an iced coffee before you stroll around to see the shops. They also happen to have breakfast tacos by Taco Deli there, so on a weekend you can grab both and sit in the sunshine and watch the weird go by.
But I also tried out a really nice restaurant with some designers after the Tribeza party called Henri. It was really delicious food and many choices for beer and wine. I highly recommend the burger with a side salad. It was a little pricey but you pay for the ambience.
I didn’t stay at the Hotel San José, since my dad lives in Austin, but this is centrally located and one of the nicest hotels you’ll find. This urban oasis was once on our list of places to have our wedding, ages ago when we were planning our Austin wedding ceremony & reception (which never happened…we eloped to Morocco!) Each room has a charming, calming and modern decor. The courtyard is secluded with large greenery all around the walls of the hotel. It’s truly a beautiful and relaxing environment.
Lastly, I had my hair styled before the meet & greet. I got some cool bangs cut by a very Texan, lovely stylist at Propaganda salon. Knowing me, I chose the salon based on the name. But, this French concept salon was very posh. My stylist used a really luscious volumizing shampoo on my anorexic hair and gave it major body. I didn’t know this until the end, but they also offer you a glass of wine!? I would’ve said yes, but when she asked if I wanted anything to drink, I thought she meant water! I highly recommend this salon. Their staff was unpretentious and so, so chic.