Nanci LaBret Einstein’s sculptures are whimsical, intricately patterned and colorful. Many of them move.
Yet translating them into a 2-dimensional medium — wallpaper — wasn’t as odd as it sounds.
In a collaboration with the Ferndale-based Detroit Wallpaper Company, Einstein’s art — including work she has done with her photographer husband, Allen — has provided the basis of nine patterns for the shop, which turns out gorgeous custom wall coverings.
“There’s a similarity in all of my work in that it deals with layers and textures,” Einstein says. “The wallpaper is an extension of what I do. It’s very thrilling for me to see it in a different light.”
Einstein, a Bloomfield Hills resident whose last exhibit was at the Janice Charach Gallery at the JCC in August (and whose grandfather, Ben LaBret, was a founding member of Temple Israel), connected with Detroit Wallpaper Company through a mutual acquaintance. Last summer, she invited co-owner Andi Kubacki to her studio, he liked what he saw and invited Einstein to submit designs.
“Her stuff fills a space for us in our offerings that we didn’t really have, something in the vein of what we want to do. We treat wallpaper like an art installation. It’s not just a background, and I think that’s where Nanci’s work stands out,” says Kubacki, who does all the design work at DWC.
Extracting the repeating patterns in Einstein’s work in order to create a wallpaper wasn’t all smooth sailing, though, Kubacki says. Some just didn’t translate well.
“I had to henpeck the best things about her work,” he says.
“The things I thought would be wonderful weren’t wonderful,” Einstein explains. “Quite often, I needed [Kubacki’s] input on how this would work in today’s market — not wallpaper a grandmother would put up in her house.”
No, DWC does not print cabbage rose wallpaper — unless you want it. Its offerings veer toward the bold and arresting. They make a statement. DWC also produced patterns inspired by “street” artist Tyree Guyton, creator of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit. Guyton, says Kubacki, blessed the project.
Kubacki’s business partner (and former life partner) Josh Young describes DWC as a bridge between Andy Warhol and Henry Ford — a place where art intersects with mass production.
“We use commercial processes and machines, but we create art and beautiful things at the end of the day,” says Young, 39.
Kubacki, 40, and Young grew up in the Midland-Bay City area, though they didn’t know each other until they were in their 20s. In 2004, they pooled their resources and opened Great Wall custom coverings, which produced large-scale photo and customized wall murals. Their clients began requesting reproductions of out-of-print patterns and then digital scans of their own patterns that could be produced on a large scale. Kubacki, a visual artist, was inspired to create original patterns for DWC and, in 2012, the partners formed Detroit Wallpaper Company.
“The popularity and reach of Detroit Wallpaper immediately eclipsed everything we’d built with Great Wall,” Young says.
DWC and its designs — there are some 150 — have been featured in publications like dwell, House Beautiful and Detroit Home. About half the work is commercial, half residential, and the company has a thriving private label business. The company created an online custom color tool to allow customers to choose a pattern, a colorway and material (the company offers five types, including metallic grass cloth).
Today, there are 11 full-time employees, including Young and Kubacki, a Ferndale resident. DWC can turn out orders in 7-10 days. DWC’s growth led to the purchase of a new building, which it will occupy exclusively, not far from its current location on Livernois, north of Eight Mile Road.
Although it’s not a significant part of their business, DWC has worked with “some of the greatest minds in event planning in the Detroit area” to create themed decor for bar and bat mitzvahs, says Young, a Rosedale Park resident. DWC has also worked with Aish in the Woods to create photo murals on stretched canvas for the Huntington Woods outreach center.
“Now we typically provide print services for other local decorators,” Young says. Among them is Rachel Zimmerman of Huntington Woods.
Zimmerman runs Rachel Zimmerman Design, a boutique interior design company, and she comes back to DWC again and again.
“I use their wallpaper a lot,” she says. “They’re on the forefront of printing digitally. You can do anything you want.”
“We treat wallpaper like an art installation. It’s not just a background, and I think that’s
where Nanci’s work stands out.” — Kubacki
Below: Detroit Wallpaper’s Treehouse. Detroit Wallpaper’s Wonderland.
Detroit Wallpaper’s Penny, an homage to the Heidelberg Project.
Detroit Wallpaper’s Willow by Einstein