Scott Flora on interior design, what colors look good indoors, and how to blend affordable art and high style
A decade ago, placing stickers on walls was considered tacky. But since Blik blazed the trail for the use of wall decals as alternatives to posters, paint, and wallpaper, these sticky decorations have won over the hearts of homeowners and design enthusiasts alike. Now, the company is introducing another innovation: eco-friendly, disposable wall tiles.
In this Q & A, cofounder Scott Flora discusses Blik's design processes, how its wall graphics have evolved with technology, and how he convinces top artists from Nintendo and Threadless to render their works in his beloved decal—or tile—format.
How has your understanding of the home, particularly where decals are useful, changed since Blik began in 2002?
Blik is used in tons of different spaces. When we first started, children's rooms, honestly, were not the biggest draw for us. Blik was really developed more for adults. When my business partner Jerinne [Neils] and I came up with the idea, we wanted something we could use in our own space. We didn't want to spend so much money on art, and we wanted to bring into our own space something that wasn't so repetitive like wallpaper. We wanted something punchy, something with a relatively cost-effective price and some touch of art, form, color, shape, or geometry. It's really intended for everyone, since our products can be used in various ways, from filling a certain space in a room to putting a little detail in it.
How do you choose the artists you'd like to work with?
We don't have any kind of formula for it. We either seek out artists that we feel kind of makes sense for us, as in the case with Keith Haring when we first started. He was one of our inspirations, so it became kind of an awesome thing for us to contact the [Keith Haring] estate and have them be interested to work for us. We did the same thing for Nintendo and Atari. Threadless was kind of a mutual thing. We both sought out each other.
Artists can be a finicky bunch. How exactly do you collaborate with them?
They are finicky, and we like that because we're finicky too. One thing people may not realize is that we are an art and design studio with very high-level graphic designers and artists that work in-house. It's not just from the artists' standpoint. The art and design that goes into all of our projects gets very, very intense.
We work with the artists to really refine a piece that they've already created or a new piece that they've created specifically for us. Our designers work diligently to give it our take on what we think it could be, while at the same time staying true to the artists' original work. Our canvas, which are walls, happens to be very big, so we scale their work differently than they're used to, and tweak colors and proportions. Then we do some prototyping. It's a lot of back and forth. It really is a process that can take anywhere from a month or six months or more depending on the level of collaboration. Some of the stuff we did early on took a year to finish.
After we get the products right, we do product photography, all the marketing stuff around each of the product, then we place the design on our website. We also try to do individual packaging design for each of our products.
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How do you know when a design fits the Blik aesthetic?
We like designs that are sophisticated, but I think it's really the way people use them too. We're not always into creating things that are bold for bold's sake. We like to have a sense of humor as well. We don't necessarily like to think of these as overly serious. That sensibility as a child of putting stickers on the wall kind of makes its way into what we do.
But if you look at the evolution of our products, we don't necessarily have an aesthetic. And we love that fact. We began with simple one-color shapes and forms like dots and Haring, which was very simple, appealing, and relatively easy to translate. We moved forward with fine artists and illustrators like Jeremy Fish, David Bray, and Craww. The pieces we're working on now are somewhat more photographic. Really, it can almost be anything. Over the years, the printing technology we started with was not something we felt was appropriate for what we do today. The quality level wasn't there or the materials weren't right. Now we're taking advantage of technology.
What about colors?
Although we do have a color palette on our website, it's actually generated from the materials that we use, because we are our own manufacturers. We can't do anything and everything under the sun or something that just doesn't fit. We don't mass-produce products.
In terms of what colors do really well, it's a home product at the end of the day. Homes are generally made up of things like walls that have wood, furniture made of wood or fabric, carpeting. The tones tend to be earth tones, reds, browns, tans, grays, and we see a lot of those colors making their way to products people buy. But because color is sometimes a scary thing, we do also see another segment of people who really want to bring those colorful pieces that are really about making a statement. It's really split.
How does your background as an architect contribute?
It contributes in a major way. What I learned about design, scale, proportion, environment, the three-dimensional aspect of a room, graphics, and color are a constant help for me on the product side and also the custom side. Close to half of our company is invested in doing very high-level custom work where we will design, manufacture, and install custom projects, so it helps to be able to walk custom clients through how the graphics can impact their space. When you walk around a large environment, you kind of think of things a bit in a narrative form. Maybe there's a story that can be told. Really that stuff we think of as architects takes on an interesting life when we do the kind of environmental graphics that we do.
Do you still design for Blik?
Jerinne and I designed the very first designs, but now we're really so fascinated with the artists that we work with. We could sit around and design stuff all day but our designs wouldn't touch the level of what some of the artists in the world are doing right now.
Why did you decide to go green with your new line of pattern wall tiles?
If it were up to us, we would go green with everything we do immediately. It's just, honestly, we're at the mercy of the industry that manufacture the materials we use. We could invent our own material, but the cost of that is not something we're prepared to do right now.
For two and a half years even before we made the wall tiles, we experimented with recyclable materials, inks, substrates, and adhesives. Although some of that green technology has been around, it's just something that didn't function properly for us. There may have been something you can print out that was green, but the ink that needed to be printed on it wouldn't be green. Or the adhesive wouldn't work properly. They will kind of destroy your wall or fall off your wall. It's only in the past few years that all this stuff came together.
Tell me more about the process of making the pattern wall tiles.
The idea of the tiles themselves came from this concept that we wanted something easy to apply as opposed to wallpaper. We like the idea that it's self-adhesive and repositionable. It's non-toxic. It uses a water-based adhesive, and is made from polyester and wood resin that's free of both phthalates and PVCs (polyvinyl chloride, a type of plastic). It doesn't require messy glue. It comes in tiles of squares or close to squares so people can accent spaces and do things they might not do with wallpaper, which is more of a floor-to-ceiling kind of material. I really see a lot of potential in the patterns. We'll see how it does.