meet the makers | Mar 25, 2021 |
View finder: One photographer’s pandemic project spurred a wallpaper business

Robert Malmberg has never been shy when it comes to trying something new. He found his professional calling when his parents gifted him a 35 mm camera before a six-month trip to New Zealand after he graduated from high school. Back stateside, he enrolled in a commercial photography program in Santa Barbara before moving to New York to start his career. Now, he’s crafting boutique wallpapers, looking to his own archive for inspiration.

After launching his eponymous studio in 2008, Malmberg initially dedicated much of his business to commercial photography, though his passion lay in a more artistic expression. “It was like these two branches on a tree—the commercial stuff is a means to an end, and I love it, but the art is really where my heart is,” he says. “Then I thought, ‘There’s no reason you have to choose one.’”

View finder: One photographer’s pandemic project spurred a wallpaper business
The Man O’ War wallpaper in Seafoam BlueCourtesy of Malmberg Studio

Five years ago, Malmberg started selling his limited-edition prints directly to interior designers as a way to generate income from his creative photography. The response was strong enough that he began brainstorming other ways to engage with the trade. “I’d been thinking about different things, but nothing was really resonating, and I didn’t want to put my work on hooded sweatshirts, stickers or shower curtains,” he says. “Then I started to think, ‘What about wallpaper?’”

As with many creatives, the initial pandemic lockdowns provided Malmberg with time to bring the idea to fruition. “I was unfortunately—or fortunately—forced to shut my studio doors for six months, while paying rent,” he says. “Living in New York, you’re hustling so hard, who has time to really put together a whole side project? You just have to keep rocking. But then COVID hit.”

Shortly after relocating to Pensacola, Florida, last year, Malmberg decided that the moment was right to focus on his idea of exploring wallpaper. He began rifling through his photo archive, looking back at old images of flowers, insects and other natural motifs, along with past travel photos. Soon enough, he was experimenting with different arrangements of each, creating patterns through scale manipulation and repetition. “Working with the interior design trade in mind, it’s made me think about line, shape and form a lot differently,” he says. “Like, ‘A circle would be perfect in this square space,’ or ‘A horizontal line would really break up this room.’ [I’ve started] to think about shape and color in a totally different way than if it was just me shooting photography for photography’s sake.”

After completing an initial flight of designs, he faced the challenge of translating digital images onto wallpaper material. “I had a lot of trial-and-error and I was doing tests—I was even considering a peel-and-stick option, but that felt so flimsy,” he says. “I thought, ‘I want to do this old-school, I want to do this right.’ So I finally found the right paper and combination of ingredients.” Using a nonwoven vellum, Malmberg has developed 11 digitally printed designs over the last year, ranging from Starfish Galaxy—a collage-like pattern made of shells and starfish—to Inkblot Study, a design he created by playing with folded paper and ink.

View finder: One photographer’s pandemic project spurred a wallpaper business
The Rorschach Butterflies wallpaperCourtesy of Malmberg Studio

The final wallcoverings read like high-definition cabinets of curiosity, with each unique design grounded by the familiar colorways of Benjamin Moore—and not only because Malmberg is partial to its hues. As a digitally native wallpaper brand that hasn’t yet found its way into showrooms, opting for Benjamin Moore provides a broadly accessible point of reference for his designs. “It’s a way for the designers to get a paint fan and see the colors so they have something to identify with online,” he says.

The wallpaper is currently sold by the yard exclusively through the Malmberg Studio website, but he is hopeful that as the world opens up, he will be able to get more in-person eyes on his designs, and that the inspiration behind the products will be even more evident. “I feel like it’s a very analog experience, putting together this wallpaper, I can really step away from it all,” he says. “That’s the way I want people to feel when they’re sitting in a room with it—that they’re away, if even for a moment.”

Homepage image: Robert Malmberg alongside his (from left) Inkblot Study, Starfish Galaxy, and Cheetah wallpaper designs | Courtesy of Malmberg Studio

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