At twenty2 wallpaper’s headquarters in Bantam, Kyra and Robertson Hartnett are pushing the boundaries of wallpaper by creating innovative, bold designs, including a 3D collection.
Husband and wife duo Kyra and Robertson Hartnett love to talk wallpaper. After all, they have been designing wall coverings for over a decade and have developed a style featuring bold patterns, textures, motifs, and colorful combinations. Their first business was in brand development where they created concepts for retail stores, which eventually led them to furniture—and ultimately to walls. They launched a collection of hand-screened papers and grasscloths and the rest, as they say, is history. Fast forward to their offices in Bantam where today twenty2 wallpapers is making waves with eye-catching designs that are in high demand. Kyra and Robertson are now focused on producing papers for other designers, architects, and artists. We caught up with them and here’s what they had to say:
Where are you originally from and how did you end up in Litchfield County?
I (Kyra) am from Baltimore, MD, but moved to NYC when I was 20. Robertson was born in D.C. but lived in many places growing up and moved to NYC when he was 22 years old. We were introduced to Litchfield when Rob’s parents moved to the center of town in 2000. While we were housesitting for them in early 2007, we found a little 1846 farmhouse with a second building that we knew could make an ideal studio space. Our business had outgrown our Brooklyn apartment and we desperately needed more space. We jumped at the chance to spread our wings a bit and bought the little house. We moved here in the summer of 2007.
What are your backgrounds? Did you attend design school? Did you study interior design?
We are both self-taught designers. I (Kyra) was a drama major at Syracuse University and Robertson begin working in clothing retail at the age of 18. We met working for a clothing retail brand in NYC and had the chance to work together to create seasonal in-store brand visuals. Neither of us went to design school of any kind but had a shared love of design and a similar aesthetic.
Was there anyone in your families who was artistic and had an influence on you?
Robertson’s mother and my (Kyra) grandmother both influenced our passion for design. Both loved decorating and we grew up influenced by their passion for textiles, wallpaper, and antiques.
How did you both become wallpaper designers?
We soon realized the impact and potential of applying graphics and images to walls. We quickly got married and decided to venture out on our own, establishing twenty2 in 2001 as a multi-disciplinary design firm. We did everything from brand identity to websites to retail and residential interiors. As we were designing an apartment in New York for actor Taye Diggs in 2001, we became immersed in high-end home decor and, specifically, mid-century modern design.
We continued to play with wall graphics for this and other interior projects, through bold decorative painting techniques. After the prevalence of clean, stark design philosophies of the 1990’s, we could sense that trends would move toward a more layered and personalized aesthetic. We felt strongly that wallpaper could become a part of that shift and were intrigued to consider how we could play a role in bringing that category back to the fore, even though there was very little new wallpaper being made in the US at that time and even our manufacturers thought we were crazy!
In that spirit, we created our first collection of wallpapers, inspired by mid-century design principles, but hand screen printed in the traditional method of wallpaper. We loved this idea of the marriage of bold, modern graphics with age-old techniques. We debuted our first collection in NYC at the International Contemporary in the spring of 2003.
How would you describe the vision behind twenty2?
We share a clean, minimalist aesthetic and early on we sought to apply that look to a variety of design disciplines.
What have been some of your most popular wallpaper patterns over the years?
Do you create single pattern designs or do you create groupings, a collection of patterns? How often do you launch new products?
We launch collections/groupings. We used to launch a new collection every year, but our focus has shifted away from our own designs, as we now specialize in private label and custom printing of wallpaper for other designers and artists.
Where do you get your inspiration from? What are your influences today?
We are inspired by the shapes and textures of the world around us. We constantly capture photographs that we translate into patterns.
Tell us about your latest direction for custom wallpapers, your private label?
About 4 years ago, we bought our first wide format digital printer as a means of having more control over the production of our own designs, as well as the ability to explore new concepts more freely. Our early work with retail wall graphics was all printed digitally, but, at that time, the look and hand feel of the digital printing were not suitable for high-end residential. More than a decade later, digital technology had progressed significantly and we knew that we would be able to produce a product that we could be proud of and that we would have the ability to push the boundaries of wallpaper using this new technology.
After buying our first printer, we mentioned to a few colleagues that we could produce wallpaper for them and they leaped at the chance. Since then, through word of mouth and referrals, we have quickly expanded our customer base and shifted our focus to this side of our business.
Can you tell us about your in-house digital printing division?
We now specialize in working with artists and designers to create their wallpaper collections or site-specific custom wallpapers. We offer a full suite of services from design consultation and development, to printing and drop shipping.
Do you collaborate with other artists?
Most of the work we do is private label, but we do some co-branded collaborations with artists, including a collection of 3D wallpapers in collaboration with Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of the 3D designs, called Bloom, is now in the permanent collection at The Cooper Hewitt design museum in NYC.
Who are your customers and where are they from? Private residents? Corporations? Local? Across the country? International? Do you sell directly to customers or only through the trade?
We work with designers across the US. Some of our digital printing customers are established artists who want to create wallpaper for the first time, others are textile designers who now want to make wallpaper and some are well established in both textiles and wallpapers, but are looking for a new manufacturer. Our customers typically sell their papers to both the trade and retail, as do we for our own designs. We also work with design or architecture firms to create custom designs for hotel or restaurant applications.
Do you have certain guidelines or rules about how to use wallpaper in a home and what not to do?
We don’t like rules! The great thing about home design is that it is truly personalized and is an accessible way to make your space reflect you. We do love wallpaper in unexpected places, like ceilings, or creating an immersive jewel box effect by wrapping the walls and ceiling in paper.
What is your favorite part of the process?
We truly love lending our 15 years of expertise in the wonderful world of wallpaper to our customers. It is a pleasure helping to bring new designs to life, especially ones that originate from unique starting points like original fine art or antique textiles.
Have you considered adding fabrics or rugs to your business?
We have had both textiles and carpets in our product line years ago, but found that we quickly became known as “the wallpaper people” and enjoyed having that narrow focus.
What are your hopes and plans for the future of twenty2?
We have rapidly expanded our printing services over the last four years and have moved out of the little studio behind our house to a 5,000-square-foot factory space in Bantam. We are looking forward to continued expansion and growth as the niche wallpaper market is really heating up. We are working on lots of new collections and custom projects and are excited to help bring more beautiful wallpaper designs into the world.