Saturday, April 20, 2024 Apr 20, 2024
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A Dallas Artist’s Bathroom Renovation Sparked a Rainbow of Wallpapers

We chatted with Color Kind Studio founder Jill Elliott about her efforts to create calming, joy-filled spaces through wallpaper design.
Color Kind Studio founder Jill Elliott. Christina Childress

No matter what job she has or what she’s working on, a love of color has always been a constant in Jill Elliott’s life. Anytime the artist gets a new set of paints, she starts to play. She’ll swatch the various hues onto a canvas, toying with the combinations to see what looks good together. “Color is really intuitive to me,” she says, “and I love the mix of it.” But starting her wallpaper design company, Color Kind Studio, wasn’t so inherent. 

Elliott studied marketing at Texas Christian University before spending much of her career at Fossil, the North Texas-based watches and accessories brand, eventually becoming its chief creative officer. There, she oversaw creative departments like concept design, visual merchandising, and marketing, but didn’t have much time to anything creative herself. 

So, Elliott turned to art. She had studied art history in college by “accident.” She took a lecture and was fascinated with similarities between modern marketing and how historic artists “branded themselves with certain colors or certain style.” While working at Fossil, she’d draw inspiration from art museum and gallery visits, painting down her thoughts on paper. After hours, she took art classes as a hobby to decompress. 

Eventually, in 2018, Elliott quit her job at Fossil to “find a little bit more balance.” She did some consulting work, but really leaned into art. Two years later, when struggling to find a wallpaper to redo her powder bathroom, she turned to art once again. 

In 2020, Elliott was in the thick of renovating her Dallas home. She wanted something happy and calm to cover her half bath. It’s a small space, she says. “It’s a space a lot of times that guests come in, maybe after they had a long drive, or just to catch their breath in the middle of the dinner party.” But none of the wallcoverings she found fit the bill. Finally, she looked at a canvas where she had recently swatched a watercolor palette. “I was like, ‘Oh, I bet I could make this into a wallpaper,’” she says. 

Elliott says coming up with that first pattern (now the “Color Grid Multi” on her site) was rough. She worked with local designer Kate Thacker* to print it, but “it wasn’t really as scientific as it needed to be later when I ended up going into the business.” There’s a lot of math involved with measurements, scaling art, and arranging patterns for wallpapers, she learned. They got it printed, though, and hung up in the bathroom. After, Elliott’s friends and family flooded her with inquiries of where they could buy the wallpaper themselves. She got to thinking. “Oh, I’ll launch a business around this,” she decided.  

Painting Preferences

  • Color Theory
  • Mix of Mediums

When working with various hues, Elliott asks herself, “how do these colors talk to each other?” Generally, she uses the rule of three to start. She begins with a somewhat neutral grounding color that folks won’t mind seeing repeatedly. Then she’ll slap on a complementing color. After that, she adds an accent color with a completely different value. If she’s painting with a base green and a soft pink complement, she’ll throw in an ochre. After that, she’ll start mixing in other colors. Elliott loves adding in a surprise that can take a while to notice, like neon pink layered under a blush—“something that punches a little bit.”

Elliott’s two favorite paint mediums to work with are watercolor and oil. She’s a self-described perfectionist, so she enjoys the unpredictability and organic feel to watercolor painting. You can’t always control how it looks, she says. “You can see how the water pooled or the pigment bled a little bit in an unexpected pattern.” On the flip side, “you can perfect a mark” with oil paints. It doesn’t dry right away, so Elliott can scrape away strokes she doesn’t like, layer colors, or play with texture.

Because she had a background in product development, Elliott felt this wallpaper business could work. She quickly brought on textile designer Emily McCreight to help. Elliott might have the ideas but McCreight “was the one who translated them all into repeatable patterns that we can get made.” Basically, Elliott paints “marks,” or a series of swatches on multiple canvases, and then scans them into a computer. McCreight will then “deconstruct” the prints, rotating shapes around, until they get a pattern that can easily become a wallpaper. 

It took the women about a year to get the business logistics in order, find a wallpaper manufacturer, set up the website, and develop their first line. Color Kind Studio officially launched in November 2021. 

Elliott was surprised with the slow pace of the interior design industry, especially after coming from the fast-paced fashion world. It takes about six to 8 months to produce a wallpaper start to finish. It begins with Elliott painting, and McCreight developing it into a pattern. That process generally takes a few weeks. Their Connecticut-based manufacturer takes three to six weeks to send them the strike-offs, or a sample print of what the final wallpaper would look like, to approve. After that, it’s another eight to 10 weeks to get the 8-by-10-inch samples that interior designers request before placing an order. The fastest the process has taken is about five months, Elliott says. The longest was the “ginormous”-scale Landscape pattern. 

Color Kind Studio now has 33 wallpaper prints, and Elliott also hand-paints journals. Last year, she brought on Lourdes Martin to the business. The three brainstorm together, then “divide and conquer” based on their skill sets: Martin handles newsletters and Pinterest. McCreight, pattern design and social media. Elliott, pattern creation, designer outreach, and marketing. “We are a really good team,” Elliott says.

As they move into the future, Elliott says she want to keep creating wallpaper patterns, but she doesn’t want the line to get massive. She prefers to keep things small and develop personal relationships. She also wants to do more collaborations with brands and designers to make her patterns and prints more accessible to her audience. Wallpaper can be a commitment for people, in terms of picking something that fits your space, as well as number of the people involved, like designers and installers. Collaborating with other companies for things like a pillow, for example, makes it easier for people to enjoy Color Kind Studio.

But, she says, growth is slow right now—“intentionally slow.” She, McCreight, and Martin all have other things going on, like separate businesses and kids. While Elliott can get sometime impatient with the more measured pace, “I really love it,” she says. This gives her time to be present in her daughter’s life and take on other projects. It fits her life stage. And it stays true to Color Kind Studio’s ethos of joyful, calm spaces, which is how this all started in the first place.

*A previous version of this story did not include the interior designer’s name and some of the photography credits. The story has been updated.


Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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