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Publication Date: 2018-09-11

Behind the Design

Studio Visit: Paper Mills

Despite designing for the background — wallpapers — Amy Mills of Paper Mills, Inc. thinks big when it comes to her handpainted and block print designs. With a comprehensive fine arts background, Amy attributes her skills in drawing to her ability to create a variety of handmade paper designs inspired by everything from Japanese prints to nature. In this installment of our Studio Visit series, she talks about two of her patterned wallcoverings — Kyoto and Olivia — as well as her perspective on her vibrant work and practice.


Q: Could you talk a little bit about your process?

A: Paper Mills is an artisanal workshop where we bring designers' visions to life using hand block print and hand painting techniques on our wallpaper substrates. We create unique custom wallpaper by hand for the trade. 

Q: What were your inspirations behind Kyoto and Olivia?

A: For Kyoto, I was looking at antique blockprinted indigos from Japan and thought it would be cool to blow up some of the details I liked best from those textiles and increase scale to what our Kyoto is today. The color is my interpretation of the original fabric I had in hand. For Olivia, the picholine color came about at a time when green was all the rage. It’s a leafy pattern so we wanted it to be green. We were going for a kind of raw olive color when you have an uncured green olive... the image itself refers to damasks but with a painterly asymmetrical twist.

The Kyoto print in studio and the final product

Q: How do you imagine these designs being used? In what type of spaces?

A: Both of these patterns have surprised me. When I’m designing a pattern I always think huge! I think everything in my designs belong on grand-scale outlandish installations, like any hotel in Vegas. We’ve never been used in Vegas, hilariously, but Olivia was used in a hotel setting in all of the guest suites at Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, a boutique hotel in the hip city along the spice road. Kyoto is a quieter pattern — it’s been used in residential spaces from coast to coast. In those installations it’s been showcased in dining rooms and most recently a grand foyer and stairway. We seem to be favored for powder rooms across America, which I think we blogged about once. Humor is a big part of what I do. I take the work very seriously, probably too much so, therefore I need all the jokes I can get.

Paper Mill's Olivia print in a guest room of the Rooms Hotel Tbilisi.

Q: What is your favorite detail of these designs?

A: In both, they are block printed and they show it. The block background adds a textural element to each pattern and I love that about these. It’s why I prefer the medium and they both let you know how they are made. It’s sweet to me. It’s a texture I’ve been working with for thirty years in one way or another.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background and your skills as a maker?

A: I’m a printmaker and studied blockprinting almost exclusively with an American master printer. Beyond printmaking I have studied drawing from life and landscape and use this background all the time when I’m in the designing phase. Drawing is perhaps the most important skill I have learned in life. The scope of what I can do is infinite because I have classical training in the fine arts. I worked for years in the trade making hand-painted custom wallpapers for retail environments. This was like doing forensic design because people would just hand over fabrics or sheet metals and ask me to “do this”... it was probably the best education I could get in how to make things — anything. Then, seeing that work in the shopping malls of America was a real kick. You name it, I can faux finish the life out of it. Turns out I’m good at copying mother nature.


Detail of the Olivia wallcovering

Q: How would you describe your design style and the range of works you create?

A: I think my style could be described as “bold, graphic interpretations of classic motifs." Mix in a little punk attitude and you’re getting there. I’ve really been able to come into my own space by keeping what I do in-house and handmade. The range is as endless as the imagination. I prefer the bold “notice me” kind of attitude my work has. The goal is always to make someone’s home beautiful, but you can be beautiful with a little punch! What I do is expensive to make: why be shy?

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?

A: I love what I do and when I'm able to help designers bring an idea to life in the custom color or custom pattern creation; it's the best feeling on earth. The work is really about them! I prefer to be in the background, hence wallpaper, but I've had decades of experience listening to designers and can facilitate their vision in the final creation. It's where I've been most successful and most proud of; helping others is really the whole point.


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