Culture

The Design Duo Painting NYC’s Trendiest Walls

By WILL OWEN

Ever wonder who designed the cool walls in your favorite NYC cafes and restaurants? Meet X Wallflower, the design duo who’s painting the city beautiful. Michaela Landau and Julia McGinley covered the interior of Pietro Nolita in bubblegum pink and collaged Maman’s walls with florals and 3D sculptures. And they’re just getting started with more restaurants opening this year!

In their first exclusive interview, the designers share how they met working at Anthropologie and explain all the details of their unique wall treatments.

What brought them to New York City:

ML: I am originally from Topanga, California and moved to NYC to attend Parsons School of Design. While applying to college I was confident that I wanted to be in a big city and fell in love with the Design & Management program at Parsons. The program emphasized branding and problem solving through design strategies. I knew this was the right place for me. Having Manhattan as my campus was the best teacher and opened my eyes to so many passions I did not know I had.

JM: I am from a small town in southern New Jersey. Growing up in such close proximity to New York, I’ve always had a strong admiration for this city. As a visual artist, I was attracted to the rich arts community and access to so many sources of inspiration including incredible museums and galleries. I knew I’d eventually live here someday, and am so pleased it’s happening now.

How they met:

JM: We both worked on the display team at Anthropologie, in the same position but at different locations, which gave us a bond we didn’t even know we had. We met one day during Holiday Prep 2015 in the fitting room of the Chelsea Market store. Michaela, who worked in Soho, was sent to help support their team. That day we had lunch together and there was an immediate chemistry between us.

ML: I began working with Elisa Marshall, the owner of Maman, as the restaurant was building their Tribeca location. Between knowing that she is someone who loves working with others and the large size of the projects Elisa had in mind, I knew that Julia was the perfect person to reach out to. Julia’s strength as a painter and fine artist was the perfect complement to my background in interior design.   

On starting X Wallflower:

JM: This first project revealed our natural chemistry, similar work ethic and true potential in making this partnership a business. The chance opportunity to work together revealed how much each of our refined skill sets complemented each other.  

ML: When that project wrapped and the restaurant opened, we began seeing our work featured by huge social media accounts such as Martha Stewart and Design Sponge. Between the genuine fun we had working together and the positive response we saw from design influencers, we knew we had something special.

Why walls as a focal point:

ML: We actually do much more than just wall treatments! Working with walls was how we first discovered how well our individual skills complement one another. We were lucky to build a relationship with Marshall who understands the significance of the handmade detailing we bring to a space.

JM: From there, we have explored many different interior elements from wall treatments, to floor paintings, to small installations. We’ve grown comfortable experimenting with a wide range of materials.

The meaning behind the X Wallflower name:

JM: The name is a play on words. We laugh because the very definition of a wallflower is the opposite of who we are as people. The two of us are outspoken, opinionated and driven young women. However, when we initially meet our clients, we believe it is important to take a step back, keenly observe, listen and take in their identity.

ML: The environments we help to create are often a visualization of their distinct brand. After all, interior design is certainly a form of branding. New York is made up of storefronts and restaurants. We want clients who are seeking a way to stand out in the sea of these commercial spaces and we want to make their passions shine.

Their core design elements:

JM: Our designs are influenced by the experience the consumer will have within the space. We strive to elevate interior decor to the next level. We feel this is possible through incorporating unexpected materials into our creations.

ML: The textures we create give not only the surface a story, but the entire space. How did they come to be and what came before? We try to think outside the box and love working closely with our clients to collaborate and create truly one-of-a-kind projects.

The concept behind Maman’s walls:

JM: The concept was to create an environment that conjures the feeling of being in your mother or grandmother’s kitchen. Owners Elisa Marshall and Ben Sormonte compiled traditional recipes from their families to influence their menu.

The dishes, furniture and props within each space were all selected with this concept in mind. We wanted our wall treatments to reflect that. The aged look that we achieved makes the customer feel at home, comfortable, like the environment has been lived in. The blue and white motif helps to balance the more distressed elements, keeping the space fresh and airy.

ML: The wallpaper collage in the Salle a Manger in Maman Tribeca is a combination of three different wallpapers. Candice Kaye Design created four different prints that are used on their iconic to-go cups. We used these prints to express that the space had been lived in and changed over time.

The ripping and layer effect narrates the story of what was there before and what we see now. Over time, as memories are made, spaces change and the treatment is intended to emulate that experience.

How they make their 3D pieces:

JM: We love incorporating 3D elements into our work. As designers, we are constantly thinking about what the next trend will be. We use many different materials to create the different elements.

Our 3D wallpaper installation in Maman Greenpoint is part of the wall itself, as the wire flowers are intended to bring the wallpaper design to life.

ML: We also created another installation at Maman Greenpoint that’s supposed to stand on its own — a green wall inspired by the idea of Maman’s jardin. We created thousands of plants and leaves from different types of paper, each piece done by hand.  

How they got involved with the very pink Pietro Nolita:

JM: We have been very lucky that each project we do leads to meeting more passionate people and new clients! Pietro Nolita is one of our multiple projects with KEVO construction.  

Owners Pietro Quaglia and Mina Soliman “wanted to create a little hideaway that was similar to the pastel-colored restaurants that dot the seaside of Santa Margherita and Portofino, near Quaglia’s native Milan.” (Architectural Digest)

ML: The wall treatment we did for this restaurant is a mild plaster similar to a Venetian plaster. Then, we finished it in fun pink colors and wrapped the walls with a high gloss pink racing stripe. This type of treatment helps enforce the inspiration of Italy.  

Current projects and future plans:

JM: We are currently wrapping up a Chinese restaurant in Soho, said to be opening in early 2017! We can’t reveal too much, but we’ve applied a rougher wall treatment that will create the feel of dining between two factory buildings.

ML: We are about to begin a residential project, which is something new for us. We are excited to see what working in a private space will allow us to do in terms of materials and application. The two of us are always game for a new challenge.

Additionally, we’re in the early stages of collaborating with an outdoor event space in Williamsburg and a concept-bar in the Lower East Side!

Where they hope X Wallflower will be within the next year:

JM: I’d love to be able to hire employees and expand the concept beyond ourselves. As we continue to grow, with the help of a strong team of creatives, we could work on more projects simultaneously.

ML: I would love to do a project in another city, hopefully L.A.! The sky is truly the limit for X Wallflower and we hope to keep networking and collaborating with passionate people in amazing cities!  We are also taking time to truly develop our own business and brand. We hope to have our website live by early 2017.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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