Paper Tigers

A couple of accidental wallpaper designers try not to repeat themselves.

Randall Buck and Jee Levin never planned on becoming wallpaper designers. But a few years ago, when the couple couldn’t find anything decent for their Manhattan apartment, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Both had fine-arts backgrounds that, it turned out, provided an ideal combination of expertise: Levin had studied photography, and Buck was an installation artist with stints in interior design and as the creative director of FAO Schwartz.

Now, as the founders and sole designers of Trove—which released its third collection at last month’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair—they approach their wallpaper designs like artists, spending several months photographing objects, then culling from the pile of images to build a collection around a single motif. This year’s theme is motion: in one pattern, moths swarm in what Levin calls a “windshield-splat effect.” In another, Trove pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with a violent flock of blackbird silhouettes.

Not all of Trove’s imagery is so unorthodox—there are plenty of delicate flowers, too—but its digital working methods aren’t traditional for the wallpaper industry. Buck and Levin assemble their images on a computer and print everything in-house on high-quality archival paper. (They also use an eco-friendly ink and a nontoxic wax-based coating.) Digital printing gives them a huge advantage in scale: Trove’s patterns are up to twelve feet high and three or six feet wide, and as a result, they repeat on such a large scale that the repetition can be hard to detect—entire walls appear to be random. “We like a very loose interpretation of pattern,” Buck says. “It’s almost like trying to make sense out of chaos.”

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