When Carol and Al Kemery struck up a partnership with Country Living magazine in 2007, it raised the entire profile of their Mechanicsburg-based interior design/paint business.
The deal came about after Carol wrote a spontaneous letter to the magazine.
The letter recounted how, in 1991, while reading Country Living, she saw pictures of dining room walls that had been rag rolled — a technique that involves using rags to manipulate wet paint or glaze.
An emergency room nurse at the time, Kemery, article in hand, visited at least seven paint stores in a bid to duplicate the look.
“(I) purchased many quarts of paint that didn't work,” the letter reads. “After numerous attempts, I created a look close to the walls I coveted. It was these walls that launched my new career.”
The wall attracted the attention of a designer friend, who asked Kemery to redo some walls inside a show house. That led to offers for more interior design work as word of mouth spread.
Before long, Carol Kemery left nursing behind and established Great Walls, a high-end decorative painting company. The couple was settled in Mechanicsburg by then, moving from Philadelphia after Al accepted a nonprofit leadership position.
Within a few years, he would leave his career as well, joining Carol in their highly successful interior design/decorative paint companies. The couple created a unique business entity through partnerships and creative design services aimed at an eclectic audience.
From a warehouse on a Mechanicsburg side street, they established a Pennsylvania teaching studio for The Finishing School, a New York school for decorative painting. Carol studied at the school in 1994 and credits her success to the experience.
“We got the idea that we could not only teach professionals, but homeowners themselves would want to learn this stuff,” Carol said.
Sue Wiest hired Carol to redo her two-story brick home in Hampden Township. During the past several years, Carol restyled one room at a time, Wiest said.
“She really talks to you about where your lifestyle is,” she added. “When she started with us, we had a couple kids at home. She wanted to know all of that so we didn't have to change the rooms in a year or two.”
Meanwhile, the Kemerys' work drew attention. They did commissions for famed interior designers Albert Hadley and Donald Kauffman. The latter work appeared in a 2006 issue of Architectural Digest.
The Kemerys' creative designs and teaching methods coincided with the trend toward “McMansions” and showplace homes among the upper-middle class. According to U.S. Census data, new single-family home sizes hit a peak average of 2,500 square feet in 2008, double the 1960 average.
Carol Kemery's innovative subscription program allowed her designs to be used across the country. She develops custom decorative finishes, along with step-by-step photo instructions, that professional designers sell to clients.
Her Custom Subscription Series has been used by more than 600 professional decorative painters.
But the Kemerys do not just funnel products and ideas to other designers. Homeowners regularly pop into their shop at 13 E. Main St. to ask design questions or for tips on redoing an old piece of furniture to make it look new. Carol is regularly solicited for private home designs. The services rendered vary.
“We can do a little color consultation, or we can sit down with the architect and build it from the ground up,” Carol said.
After the 2007 letter, a Country Living editor summoned the Kemerys to New York City. As a result, the couple's paint business, Caromal Colours, became an official licensee of the Country Living Artisans Collection paint.
Their work is featured in the magazine, including a feature spread from the Kemerys' Silver Spring Township home in Country Living's 30th anniversary issue.
“Country Living really helped us with credibility,” Al said.
The Kemerys soon added the Reclaim Beyond line of paint and the Botanicals Collection, a new offering. Caromal Colors, the couple's second business, is now taking up as much of their time. Carol appears on the Home Shopping Network to sell the paints, and a deal is being discussed to export paint internationally.
And Mechanicsburg officials are happy with the work the Kemerys did to revitalize a previously dilapidated storefront. The Caromal Colors store is now a bright spot on the block, said Jeff Palm, executive director of the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce.
“People are more apt to go into a place that looks nice from the outside. That's curb appeal,” he said. “When one person cleans up their storefront, it has like a snowball effect.”
The Kemerys' future plans include more partnerships that grow their brand, and more creative interior design work.
“We love what we do,” Carol said. “Al will ask me if I'm ever coming to bed, because it's 3:30 in the morning and I'm still shopping for a client.”