Innovations in Interiors

Three interior design leaders showcase digital printing’s influence on customized products.

I celebrated my five-year-anniversary of working in the digital print industry last year. In just this short amount of time, I’ve witnessed quite a bit of change. I began my digital print journey by consulting photographers and fine artists for their in-house print needs, allowing me to use my art school education. What I remember enjoying most was helping clients discover possibilities with digital print and strategically develop new business through collaborative diversification. It was easy to encourage and re-energize all types of creatives in this way because that’s naturally how they think, myself included. But there was often skepticism about how exactly to develop business in new markets. I quickly learned an invaluable and fundamental principle; one simply cannot create in a vacuum. 
 
It became apparent I wasn’t alone in thinking: “Let’s start inspiring traditionalists and sign-shops to print more creatively.”  There was an influx of print service providers eager to venture beyond signage and wayfinding, which I believe was a direct correlation to the decline of brick-and-mortar retail. OEMs were also promoting improved equipment and inks, allowing for far more exciting applications than previous generations. Plus, consumers began shifting trend authority away from retailers and manufacturers through social media, ultimately triggering an onslaught of bloggers and influencers keen on branding, cool aesthetics, and long-tail marketing. 

Along with the expansion of print technology, the crashed housing market in the mid-2000s birthed the DIY home improvement rush and big-box home stores thrived while most retailers began to tailspin in competition with e-commerce. The interior décor boom happened shortly after and design shows bubbled up from HGTV, creating a new pastime for consumers and design junkies. And let’s not forget Pinterest or Houzz, too. Designers gained celebrity status. (Admit it: you all know Chip and Joanna Gaines.) Soon after interior design became widely commercialized, the digital print community had an aha! moment, recognizing décor as the hottest growth market and the gateway to on-demand customization. 

Here, I’ll be sharing three inspiring and entrepreneurial women in creative and technology industries, all leveraging the power of digital print and interior décor through collaboration.

Collaboration Is Key

I recently spoke with Belgium designer Annemie Van de Casteel about her surface design studio and learned about the level of collaboration necessary in her discipline – an important piece of the décor puzzle. As a surface designer, Casteele’s role brings a unique set of technical design skills and the ability to develop in collaboration with clients. The wide range of customers she serves is equally, if not more impressive, than where her final designs live. 

She creates wide-format scans, layouts, and color separations (or colorways) of digital print content often replicating wood, stone, and other natural elements. Her specialties include digitally printed flooring, such as carpet via roll or flatbed printing, LVT (luxury vinyl tile), roll-printed PVC foil laminated and cut into any shape, vinyl or paper wallcoverings, panels, furniture surfaces, and flexible substrates like fabric or canvas wall art. Clients include manufacturers, printers (digital or cylinder), engravers, design studios, architects, interior designers, and decorators – by demand only. Each design project is made exclusively per client, from scratch – the true definition of bespoke.       

When asked about initial materials, Casteele says, “It can be a creation from scratch or perhaps buying a material and reworking it, sometimes just using the material as is.” I must admit, at first I assumed the role of a surface designer sprung from a sketchpad or vector files in Adobe Illustrator, but, as I learned with Casteele, that’s not always the case. A project scan can be made in studio and just like art, it’s painted, distressed, and given structure; then digitized into a layout, color separations, and colorwork. Print setups differ as well., “Some digital printers do not use color separations, in that case they are limited in creating new colorways.” Not an easy feat for developing digital print content. 

Although her job appears to end after delivering RGB or CMYK design files, in many cases, it doesn’t. “I also assist the customer in making the colorways in their lab. (Digital or analog colorways.) I don’t leave before they are satisfied and we have the perfect color.” The collaboration continues onsite with the digital printer by giving corrections on color, balance, and contrast, then final approval to start production. All of this varies of course from roll media to direct-UV printing onto panels, mirrors, flooring, and doors; most popular with architects in the hospitality sector. 

While neither analog nor digital print methods are perfect due to costs and speed, Casteele says if you can develop a skill for collaboration, big things can happen. She encourages the print channel:

Make beautiful products together with your customer, instead of for your customer. Be the expert in technique because they are not. You have to help and be there to assist. With your expertise and their creativity you can make the most beautiful, creative, inventive, and exclusive products ever.

About the future of digital print through collaboration, Casteele says, “Printers and design studios will have to develop an enormous amount of designs in the very near future. Interior designers and decorators will be able to print their own objects for the interiors they design.” The future is bright at her studio with plans in the upcoming year to compose a large inspiration book with pictures of personal and professional travels and interesting ideas. For now, visit annemievandecasteele.com to see more of her work. 

Print for Social Change

Depending on how much home décor is in your browser history, you may have seen a Facebook ad or two pop up from a Google Ventures-backed e-commerce company called Vida. Beginning with the incredibly compelling story of Umaimah Mendhro, founder and CEO, her visionary global platform for creatives and manufacturers with a mission for social change led to infusing digital print technology at its core. Originally from Pakistan, Mendhro graduated from Cornell and Harvard, eventually leaving a high profile job in the tech field at Microsoft to pursue her original passion for art and fashion. 

How exactly does the platform work? Sign up free to be a Vida artist and your art content will be digitally printed and manufactured by a Vida maker throughout the world, from scarves (the original Vida product) to apparel essentials and now home accessories such as pillows, wood, wall tapestries, and printed glass trays. Through the concept of zero waste and no inventory, every piece is made to order with a one-to-six week lead time, and passionate Vida shoppers are happy to support the purpose. It’s a feel-good experience, knowing each product is not only one-of-a-kind but supports Vida literacy, financial, and other educational programs to better the future of factory workers throughout Pakistan, India, China, and Turkey. Small manufacturers, often shortchanged for their work, can take control of their lives and businesses through meaningful Vida partnerships. 

Collaboration, content, and storytelling are truly what makes Vida so unique. It’s also led Mendhro and her team to impressive heights. “We've proudly partnered with the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, launched an exclusive collection with the iconic Cher, collaborated with Steve Madden and Iris Apfel and showcased our collections at the Golden Globes,” Mendhro says. While Vida currently touts more than 100,000 artists, in 150 countries and over a million pieces of art, there are big plans to add new products to its home collection. Vida is currently expanding with US-based manufacturing and welcomes makers, digital print providers and material partners in its exploration of new home décor applications. The e-commerce company launches new products every two to three months, so be on the lookout for the next big thing at shopvida.com.

Customizing for Consumers

What if there was a place where designers could partner with one of the most influential women and early adopters of home décor e-commerce? Now, there is. If you aren’t familiar with Christiane Lemieux, founder and CEO of The Inside (among a plethora of other accomplishments), at least start following her on Instagram. Her entrepreneurial repertoire includes DwellStudio, eventually selling the brand to Wayfair, design books “Undecorate” and “The Finer Things” and a role as the executive creative director of Wayfair. Launched in September of 2017, Lemieux’s newest endeavor, The Inside, is a direct-to-consumer e-commerce company providing unique home furnishings from designer collaborations and capsule collections, thanks to on-demand digital printing (for things like wallpaper) and virtual manufacturing methods using 3D models for furniture (revolutionary among traditionalists in home furnishings). 

How revolutionary? Estimated lead times are just three weeks. “I saw an opportunity to leverage the technology of design as a way to really change the way furniture was bought and experienced. I first had the idea for The Inside a couple of years ago at a time when 3D modeling technology wasn't quite ready yet, until now.” Lemieux also points out consumers’ lack of accessibility to custom furniture: “The process is lengthy, complicated, and costly. All of the readily available and cost-efficient imports that inundate the market have made furniture shopping bland and impersonal. We’re here to change that.” The online shopping experience is important to consumers but also to Lemieux’s holistic value proposition, “Marketplaces aren’t design-first and until now, there hasn’t been a way to expand the offering. With The Inside, we are taking the best practices, working with high profile guest designers, and creating a first-of-its-kind experience that’s made for the consumer.”

I asked Lemieux what makes a quality manufacturing (or digital print) partner when aiming to build a stellar e-commerce site. “As a company that’s committed to innovating interiors and transforming the way consumers shop for their furniture, it is imperative that our partners are both design-centric and technology-first. We want to work with the best in the business, starting all the way at the backend and ending with the customer.” Lemieux’s company extends further, beyond content and product curation, encouraging total consumer control. 

With our newly launched customization capability, we’re also allowing the customer to customize and really own the design process for almost any piece of furniture by choosing from a robust selection of colors, fabrics, textiles and more. Our only rule is that there are no rules because the best interiors are truly personal.

If you’d like to collaborate with The Inside, Lemieux says anyone can inquire about creating a capsule collection. They’ve even partnered up with Kellogg’s to design the furniture in their latest cafe in New York City’s Union Square. The team recently launched The Everygirl, a collection inspired by The “Everygirl” herself–a creative, driven woman who is privy to stylish living and has an appreciation for the classics–includes a chaise lounge, a modern bench, two headboards, a skirted chair, and two ottomans. How else will digital print influence upcoming product assortment? “Digital printing is so flexible - it’s amazing. We are launching digitally printed wallpaper soon,” Lemieux says. Stay tuned to what’s happening on The Inside and exciting collaborations with a wide range of creative people; from designers, brands, and companies. Get the full scoop at theinside.com.

If you want to be part of the digital décor movement, get collaborative, creative, and, most of all, diversify your network. Diversification strategies for business development tactics in new markets have been implemented throughout many industries and the digital print community has much to offer. The interior design industry is at a tipping point and is seeking new technologies and ways to reach both commercial and consumer markets, so why not team up and put innovation in interiors, through digital print.

Rachel Nunziata is a digital print business and market development specialist with an undeniable enthusiasm for interior and home décor segments. She is a graduate of Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida, and has a knack for enabling synergies between artists, interior designers, and industry experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter @RachelNunziata.

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