Zady Lady: Meet Artist and Wallpaper Designer Rachel Cope
The #zadylady interview series highlights some of the brilliant and accomplished members of the Zady community. Submit your own on Instagram—tag us @zady and include the hashtag #ZADYLADY for a chance to be featured on Zady’s Instagram or Chronicle.
The next #zadylady in our series, Rachel Cope, is behind one of the most exciting young companies in the world of interior design. Rachel and her husband Nick Cope founded Calico Wallpaper, creating bespoke wallpaper collections that marry age-old artisan techniques with digital processes, Rachel’s unique artwork, and even NASA satellite imagery, which they converted into a series of constellation portraits. Rachel is also mom to the captivating Willow Cope, whose fierce toddler camera poses could give any campaign model a run for her money.
Below, Rachel discusses her journey as an entrepreneur, designer, and mom, and how she incorporates environmentally conscious practices in her personal and professional life. Also, Willow rocks the Veja Toddler Velcro Jazz Sneakers like nobody’s business.
Since you started Calico Wallpaper in 2012, you have released 8 wallpaper collections and received many accolades. What caused you to start Calico, and what was your professional journey beforehand?
The true story is that Calico Wallpaper was born out of a storm. When Hurricane Sandy struck our neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, I was working as an art therapist at New York University hospital, and Nick was running his small design/build firm. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. After the flooding knocked out the hospital’s generators, my unit was closed for six months and all of Nick’s jobs were placed on hold, so we suddenly had a new and unfamiliar resource: time. We then began the journey of creating a collaborative project together, and after Nick discovered some marbleized papers at a curio shop and shared them with me, I decided to create marbled works of my own.
Rachel is wearing The Zady Collection Navy Silk Shirtdress.
There is a lightness and airiness to The Zady Collection that is so refreshing. Since I picked up my first blouse, I have been wearing it almost every day! The pieces feel so soft and comfortable on the skin and the lines are really minimal and classic—they have a timeless feeling.
What is the process for creating your beautiful handmade wallpaper?
It traces back a thousand years to ancient China and Japan; however, it has been modified over the years by artisans in the Middle East, Italy, Turkey and elsewhere. The technique that we have created is drawn from a variety of these historic styles and is a bit of a hodgepodge. In short, we begin with an algae bath that is dense enough to suspend pigment atop it, and then we depress an alum-coated paper on the bath to create an instant print.
You’ve been interested in sustainability from a young age—how has nature inspired your life and work?
Growing up in Martha’s Vineyard exposed me to nature all the time. I remember covering myself in a homemade mud mask at Aquinnah, running through the trees, and working on all kinds of natural art processes (papermaking, creating our own pigments and dyes) from a very young age.
I know that we are living in an age of environmental crisis and it saddens me—we continue to think about how, beyond custom printing, we can make our products friendlier to the earth. Nick is actually researching ways to offset our studio’s carbon impact through Conservation International’s Carbon Fund and other organizations.
Speaking of this, what are some other ways you incorporate green practices in Calico Wallpaper’s day-to-day operations?
Calico Wallpaper was born out of Nick’s previous sustainable design/build firm Dark Green, so from the outset eco-friendly practices were very important to us. The most immediate practice that comes to mind is in the nature of our custom-printed products. Everything is made to order, so there is no back stock that gets sent to the landfill. We also print to specific site dimensions so each order is precisely tailored to the size of the space, so there is limited waste in the trimming process.
We also sell our product primarily through our own studio, so we don’t have to ship out cash-and-carry product to sit on shelves around the world in hopes of getting ordered. We print what we need for our projects. Also, all the pigments and dyes used in our collections are zero-VOCs [volatile organic compounds, a huge contributor to indoor air pollution].
Rachel is wearing The Zady Collection Japanese Gathered Blouse.
We love that you make a weekly stop at the local composting facility with your daughter. What tips do you have for parents who’d like to instill environmental awareness in their children?
That is a ritual that we have instilled from Willow’s first week on Earth. Every Saturday, we take our frozen compostables over to Added Value, which is a wonderful community farm, show her how everything goes into the tumbler with an equal mix of browns, and then we give the compost till a spin. She’s a little young to participate, but over time I’m sure that she will get it. As for tips, I think that food culture is always a good inroad to awareness of the environment, and since we love to visit the farmers market on weekends and prepare healthy meals, we hope that as Willow gets older she will understand the meaning and impact of our relationship to food. Also, just being outdoors and feeling connected to nature is critical for childhood development, especially since more and more of us live in large cities nowadays. We greatly enjoy regular trips upstate, where we take Willow on walks through the parks and preserves.
6. What role does the design community you are a part of play in combatting a culture of disposable purchases?
I think that the design community could do so much more to combat that culture, but there are many precedents of studios working to change the paradigm. I remember seeing a great project at the Lexus Design Awards that explored the use of marine algae as an alternative to plastic for packaging materials—It was designed by AMAM Group and they were actually awarded the Grand Prix for the project. We are also so impressed by the recently launched company OTHR, that is exploring the use of 3-D Printing to create a fully on-demand body of work that is both exquisitely designed and resource-efficient.
Rachel is wearing The Zady Collection .03 Jersey Linen Shirt.
You live and work in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. What do you love about Red Hook, and what are your favorite spots there?
Red Hook reminds me of Martha’s Vineyard. I think that it conjures the feeling of a New England seaside childhood that Nick remembers too. It is also a thriving community for the design scene—many of our design friends operate out of studios just a few minutes away. This gives us the nice opportunity to collaborate in a fluid way. There is also a nice remove from Manhattan and the rest of Brooklyn because of the so-so public transit, but we like that it gives an ‘island’ like feeling and a quiet vibe that lets us focus on our design work and family life.
Rachel’s favorite haunts:
Red Hook, Brooklyn:
Saipua - We have the loveliest downstairs neighbors! Saipua is an incredible floral designer that also makes candles and soaps. They also have a brilliant ceramicist, Julianne Ahn from Obect Totem, in residence. We order from them regularly for shoots, gifts, and just to have a nice arrangement in the office.
Fort Defiance - St. John Frizell is a master level mixologist who opened a bistro in the neighborhood 6 or so years ago. The brunch is to die for and his martini is a work of art.
Hometown BBQ - I love taking Willow to Hometown BBQ because she can throw her cornbread and mac-and-cheese all over the place and nobody cares. It’s a true southern-style BBQ restaurant, and the pitmaster, Billy Durney, was recently ordained Brisket King of NYC!
Pok Pok – This is the Brooklyn outpost to the acclaimed Portland, Oregon experimental Thai street-food restaurant. It’s a favorite for the incredible and famous chicken wings!
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
The Bite - This Menemsha gem is a classic, cash-only seafood shack that has the most fresh and delicious fried seafood on the island. They’re known for their legendary fried clams!
Chilmark Chocolates - I used to work at this little family run chocolatier on all aspects of the business, from chocolate-making to running the cash register. They make the most delicious goodies!
Chilmark General Store - Right near the house where I grew up, this shop truly embodies the feeling of a classic New England mom-and-pop store. They have great coffee, candies, and everything in between.
Larsen’s Fish Market - Since it’s the Vineyard, one fish shack is not enough to mention. Larsen’s was opened in the 60’s by Louis and Mary Larsen (and later run by their daughter Betsy), and sources the best and freshest fish on the island. Great for picking up a fresh catch!
Rachel Cope and Willow Cope were photographed at their home in Red Hook, Brooklyn by Matthew Johnson. Rachel is wearing the black silk shirtdress, Japanese gathered blouse, and .03 linen t-shirt, all from The Zady Collection.