Inside a Historic Brooklyn Loft, a Creative Couple Brings Their Wallpaper Brand to Life
Rachel and Nick Cope give new meaning to the term live/work. In the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy—which took a toll on both their neighborhood and their jobs, leaving projects stalled for months—the couple launched Calico Wallpaper seemingly overnight, making a splash with a series of marbleized designs that are now their signature. Melding traditional craft with modern-day technology, they’ve since expanded their offerings with color gradient designs, as well as buzzy, off-the-wall collaborations that include marble-printed clothing and accessories (with Print All Over Me and Swords-Smith) and marbled candle vessels (with Joya Studio). We visited the Copes in Red Hook, Brooklyn, at their loft in an industrial 1860s warehouse at water’s edge, where Calico all began.
How long have you been in this apartment, and how did you find it?
Rachel Cope: We’ve been living here for seven years, and I was always really interested in moving to Red Hook. I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard so I feel most comfortable by the water, and in a place that’s a little bit more solitary and quiet. I found this place on Craigslist—I Googled: "artist space, loft, Red Hook." Within the first five minutes of seeing it, we completely fell in love and knew right away that we wanted to live here. It’s also a live/work space, which fit our dreams of working together.
How did you first become interested in collaborating? Did you meet through work, or creative projects?
Nick Cope: This is bizarre, but we kind of bonded over our interiors. Before we dated, we had started this funny online distant courtship, and would share photos of our spaces and make these little care packages for each other, with handmade artwork about our apartments. We felt immediate kinship.
As renters, have you altered the apartment in any way, and do you still use it as a live/work space?
Rachel: The space has been transformed in many different ways. We’ve had different artists work here, and our studio used to be set up here (we now we have a separate studio space). Stucturally, it remains unchanged, but we’ve installed our wallpaper in each of the rooms. We actually did our very first Calico installation ever in this living room!
The two of you began Calico here, after Hurricane Sandy hit. What were you doing before, and how did the storm affect your work?
Nick: We had completely different job roles at the time. I was working on interior design work, mostly contracting, and Rachel was an art therapist in an inpatient psychiatric unit, practicing art as a modality for healing. When Hurricane Sandy hit, all of my projects were all put on hold; Rachel’s unit was closed temporarily for six months.
Rachel: It was really traumatic. For a moment, here in Red Hook, it felt a bit post-apocalyptic; everything was flooded and the smell of gas was everywhere. It happened very quickly, and our whole world completed changed. It was a very difficult time, but we decided to use that time to be productive.
What led you to begin experimenting with marbling techniques?
Nick: It was very loose at first. I had found some samples of marbled paper next to the Russian Bath House in the East Village, and we took a look at those papers together. Rachel, who has an amazing arts process background and studio training, said, "I think I can make this." We started researching and went wild with it. We also couldn’t leave the house; the water was too high.
Rachel: We couldn’t run to the art store, so we used the paint Nick had been storing here for his interiors projects. The front room turned into our main studio, full-on. There were all sorts of tables set out, paint everywhere, multiple trays. I had different tests out with varying ratios of pigments in water, washing everything out in the shower. We got really, really, into it. Nick started to scan some of the marbleized paintings and then popped them into some of the interior projects he had been working on. We put a date down—March 2013, our first trade show—and knew we had to figure out how to get it working by then.
What’s your favorite thing about this neighborhood, and how has it evolved since you first moved here?
Rachel: When we first moved here, it was a little desolate. Now, there are so many designers and artists that live out here, too. [Furniture designer] Ian Stell is across the street—I see him every morning having coffee. Fort Standard is out here, too, and Ladies and Gentlemen Studio; it’s a really great community. I think Red Hook really draws people who want a little more space and quiet to be creative, and focus, the ability to clear your mind.