Paper Route

From her studio in Amagansett, Elizabeth Dow delivers some fine designs.



In Elizabeth Dow’s studio, artists create more than 250 wallpaper designs, 15 of which are included in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Passion for Paint | In Elizabeth Dow’s studio, artists create more than 250 wallpaper designs, 15 of which are included in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
 

Even before her handmade papers started gracing some very impressive walls—President Obama’s private residence, the Oval Office and the homes of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Steven Spielberg—Elizabeth Dow’s formidable talent was no secret.

As a 16-year-old freshman studying fine arts at the University of Michigan, she fell in love with collage and painting, and later worked as a studio painter and restoration artist, mainly of Victorian wall paintings. After moving to New York in the mid-1980s, she became the artist-in-residence for Saks Fifth Avenue. While there, an interior designer asked her for a custom wallpaper featuring the “crumpled” look so in vogue at the time, but Dow found that her paper stock was too heavy and ripped constantly.

The community-minded company donates all leftover paint to Habitat for Humanity.
Creative Spirit | The community-minded company donates all leftover paint to Habitat for Humanity.
 

So she started experimenting with rice paper to make her repairs. The layered look sparked an idea for her own line of wallpapers, and in 1992 Elizabeth Dow Ltd. was born. But “as much as I loved living and working in the city,” Dow recalls, “I missed nature—the grass and the trees and the ocean.” Five years ago, when offered a position as the director of the Applied Arts School in Amagansett, she leapt at the chance, and now she continues to create handmade papers in her 12-person studio above the school.

Dow and her staff always use low-VOC, water-based paint to produce the more than 250 different wallpapers in her line—ranging from the natural fibers of the woven Basket Case collection to the Flora collection’s grass cloths to gilded and bur-nished metallics. She also makes striped, combed and striated patterns, and papers with silver and gold leaf or high-gloss lacquer; some designs even feature real plant material embedded between sheets of paper.

Vice President Katie Corcoran, Elizabeth Dow and Textile Coordinator Aileen O’Neill in the fabric room.
Fabulous Fabrications | Vice President Katie Corcoran, Elizabeth Dow and Textile Coordinator Aileen O’Neill in the fabric room. Dow is director of the Applied Arts School in Amagansett.
 

Typically, Dow uses at least three layers of paint to make her wallpapers. A paper might get a first coat in the morning, be hung up to dry, and then get a second coat by lunchtime. Though there is a different process for each paper, the real design is often created with the third coat, which sometimes comes in the form of a patina or a special coating to change the overall sheen of the paper.

Though she left the city to get back to nature, Dow says, “I’ve never been busier in my life!”

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