on the beat | Mar 21, 2019
How this Serena & Lily alumna brought CW Stockwell back to life

In 1905, Clifton W. Stockwell launched his hand-printed, hand-blocked imported wallpaper company in Los Angeles. In 1942, the brand dropped Martinique as part of its lively Wallpaper Is Art collection, kicking off what would become an iconic decades-long legacy. In the mid-1990s, third-generation owner Remy Chatain Jr. transferred ownership of the brand to the parents of Katy Polsby, former Serena & Lily vice president of merchandising. (Chatain passed in 2013.)

Kate Polsby
Kate PolsbyCourtesy of CW Stockwell

CW Stockwell is known for Martinique, made famous by the Beverly Hills Hotel, and one of the most popular wallpapers of all time. Even when the design world was down-and-out on wallpaper, this paper was still A-OK. Today, Polsby, fourth-generation CEO and owner, is relaunching the brand.

“How do you edit from hundreds of patterns, all of which are so good unto themselves for all these different reasons?” Polsby tells Business of Home of the year-and-a-half-long relaunch process. “How do you think about the color palette? If you only have a small amount to say, what do you say?”

The iconic Martinique in navy
The iconic Martinique in navy. It also comes in black, terra-cotta and dune (a light beige).Courtesy of CW Stockwell

Polsby defines Martinique as CW Stockwell’s point of entry, but strives to go beyond its limitations. “I don’t want the brand to be known only for that,” she says. “In reviewing the archives, that was one note of many.”

A Martinique drape in black
A Martinique drape in blackCourtesy of CW Stockwell

In the color palette, Polsby wanted something for everyone—a way to make the CW Stockwell approachable, not too precious. “The brand did a great job of presenting itself as aspirational, but it also had a sense of humor. I wanted to maintain that balance.”

Polsby has 14 of the original wallpaper and fabric sample books. “I think the books really helped convey what the brand wanted to portray itself as, having this breadth and optimism and cheerfulness,” she says. “I thought about maintaining all of those characteristics, and thought about the brand association with California and bright colors.”

Other sources of inspiration for the relaunch include terra-cotta roofs in Lisbon and tile in southern Portugal from a recent trip to Europe, which ultimately reaffirmed Polsby’s vision. “I started to see things I had already dreamed up,” she explains. “Everything I felt inspired by was confirmation I was going in the right direction.”

Polsby may have inherited CW Stockwell by happenstance (or fate) after Chatain moved in next to her family decades ago, but as of this week, she makes it her own with the relaunch—website and all. And since there’s no original Stockwell to tell her she’s going in the right direction, it’s up to her to trust her own instincts and process.

“I’ve joked that I feel like I’m sitting at the top of a big drop on a roller coaster,” says Polsby. “I’m very lucky to be the steward of this brand in its fourth generation. I feel excited to dust off these books and get these patterns back out into the world.”

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