to the trade | Aug 17, 2021 |
This watercolorist is bringing a delicate touch to floral wallpaper

A former elementary school teacher is translating her talent for watercolors into a debut collection of wallpaper and textiles.

While watercolor artist Riley Sheehey’s nearly 70,000 Instagram followers may have rejoiced when she announced her debut textiles and wallpaper collection, there was one person who remained skeptical of the venture: her mother. “When I told my mom, she was like, ‘Wallpaper? We just had all our wallpaper taken down a few years ago—I thought it wasn’t cool anymore!’” she says with a laugh. “I had to tell her, ‘No, people like wallpaper again! I promise—it’s having a moment.’”

This watercolorist is bringing a delicate touch to floral wallpaper
The artist at work in her Virginia studioAbby Grace Springmann

In 2017, Sheehey left her job as an elementary school teacher to become a full-time watercolor artist. From her studio in Falls Church, Virginia, she creates dainty illustrations of flora and fauna, often painting her signature blooms on items like seashells, satin ribbons, champagne bottles or even vintage handbags. It wasn’t long before her work caught the eye of interior designers on Instagram, and she started accepting commissions for watercolor room renderings. “That’s when I started to get really interested in interior design,” she says. “I was obsessed with reading about textile designers and realized how many of them started as artists. I’d always loved creating patterns in my work, and decided that it was something I should explore.”

The resulting collection, which launched in late May, features eight soft-hued designs, ranging from classic stripes to a floral inspired by antique plates. “I love antiques and archival patterns,” says Sheehey, who researched vintage textiles in the digital archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum while creating her line. “Going into this, my mind was so all over the place. Looking at archives helped me home in on the common threads of what I was drawn to and shaped my concept of traditional wallpaper design.”  

Left: The Larkspur Green wallcovering by Riley Sheehey highlights her characteristic whimsy. Stacy Zarin Goldberg | Right: Sheehey’s Chamomile wallpaper Stacy Zarin Goldberg

While developing the collection, Sheehey has been pleasantly surprised by how helpful other textile designers have been. “Breaking into a new industry, I had worried about people being really competitive and not wanting to share their sources and vendors, but that hasn’t been the case at all,” she says. Connecting with another textile designer via social media is how she ended up finding her manufacturer, and one interior designer she has worked with put her in touch with a sales representative to explore carrying the line. “There’s still so much that I have to learn about this industry, so it’s great that everyone’s been so welcoming.” 

Though her debut collection features the pastel tones that have largely defined her work, Sheehey envisions her second collection, which she aims to start designing in the fall, moving toward a more vibrant palette. “I’d love to eventually incorporate some options that are punchier and bolder,” she says. “With pattern design, I just keep pushing myself a little further with each one.”

Homepage image: Pillows in fabrics from Sheehey’s debut textile range | Stacy Zarin Goldberg

This article originally appeared in Summer 2021 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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