Joyce Romanoff, wife of Chicago-based textile artist Maya Romanoff and president of his interior furnishings company, describes her 64-year-old husband as a visionary who will go to great lengths to perfect his craft of transforming wood, vinyl, kimono fabrics, and other matter into what he calls “texturally rich surfacing materials” and what others might describe inadequately as wallpaper. Fortunately, Maya did not have to brave the depths of the sea to obtain the basis for his latest, and perhaps most sophisticated, wall covering. The mother-of-pearl that he uses for his natural- and gold-colored decorative papers named Mother of Pearl, is farm-cultivated.
“We love making genuine materials accessible for design,” says Maya, who gives the hard, iridescent substance the flexibility of paper by cutting it into tiny squares that he applies to a sticky substrate. The process is time-consuming and complex, Joyce adds, “because you have to place the pearl in a precise configuration to prevent it from having any one direction and to disguise the seams.” The papers, which are available from decorators at $45 per 12-by-24–inch tile, have a protective polyurethane coating.
Decorative papers became a fascination for Maya 35 years ago when he was a delegate to the World Buddhist Conference in Japan, a country where virtually all goods for sale are elaborately wrapped. One particular paper, a copper rayon embossed material, captured the imagination of Romanoff, who envisioned the squares as wallpaper, and ultimately led him to create Weathered Walls, his line of handmade paper that is infused with dyes to present a striated, lacquered effect previously attainable only by the passage of time.
In 1993, Maya developed his process for manufacturing flexible wall coverings (a patent is pending) in response to a designer’s challenge to make wallpaper using only tiny glass beads. The result, a microbeaded paper called Beadazzled, earned Maya international recognition in the interior design community and a permanent place in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. He has since parlayed Beadazzled into a series of beaded wall coverings that share the original moniker.
Both the beaded and mother-of-pearl wall coverings reflect light for what Joyce describes as a “dazzle effect,” but Maya points out that mother-of-pearl is more difficult to work with than are beads. Yet the effort is rewarded when he sees designers use the temperamental material to wrap everything from architectural columns to furniture. “Anywhere a piece of fabric can go,” he says, “whether or not it has ever been there before, is where I put my textiles.” Spoken, Joyce might say, like a true visionary.