Dina Bauer and her team know what it takes to turn a creative vision into reality.
As a senior stylist at York Wallcoverings, Bauer has been involved in many design projects during her 13 years with the company, helping turn patterns and motifs into wallpaper that hangs in homes and offices across the country and around the world.
So leading the team that created a new wallpaper line for Texas-based entrepreneur and HGTV television star Joanna Gaines was not an unusual task. But Bauer admits she was a little nervous about the high-profile assignment.
“The pressure was not knowing what she would like and what she wouldn’t like,” Bauer said.
York Wallcoverings has worked on licensed products before, notably its RoomMates line of peel-and-stick decorations, especially those depicting characters from the hit Disney movie “Frozen.”
But Gaines is considered the company’s biggest individual celebrity who has partnered with them to date.
York Wallcoverings approached Gaines about the collaboration in June 2015, and she agreed to the project, known as “Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines.”
The first set, known as a book, made its national debut in January, but has been available in York’s factory store since last fall. It includes patterns inspired by Gaines’ ideas in collaboration with the York team. One notable piece is slate-colored wallpaper with delicate white patterns and room to draw using chalk. The background motif was created from sketches by Gaines and the York team.
“I think the most innovative (item) is the chalkboard,” Bauer said. “It was the first time we had actually done that. Our R&D people figured it out.”
Such collaborations proved easy because Gaines — star of reality series “Fixer Upper” on HGTV — was a pleasure to work with, Bauer said.
“Fixer Upper” features interior designer Gaines and her husband, Chip, a contractor. They became famous by helping clients buy and remodel homes while running a Waco, Texas retail store, Magnolia Market, which opened in 2003.
It took some homework for the team at York to begin translating the star’s aesthetic sensibilities into marketable paper and ink.
“I’d better watch a lot of TV. That was the first thing that went through my mind,” Bauer said of her reaction when her team was assigned to the project.
The team includes three designers. But shepherding the project to reality also required collaboration with the graphics, marketing and sales departments at York Wallcoverings, as well as Gaines and her staff in Texas.
And, of course, there was the company’s manufacturing department, where vintage 1890s equipment is still part of the production process.
“These things are hand-tooled to keep them running,” said marketing manager Carol Miller.
“But there has been innovation to inks, and the way they are applied,” Miller added. “It literally puts on 12 colors at once to make the product look hand-painted.”
Screen times pays off
Bauer said she had watched “Fixer Upper” before, “but not to the point where I was like studying it.”
That quickly changed.
“Because you want to get in her head, see what she likes and what she doesn’t like,” Bauer said.
The screen time paid off.
Patterns based on shiplap — a kind of wooden siding — quickly emerged as a favorite, along with brick. Stripes and polka dots, too. The consensus: clean, simple and very marketable, Bauer and her team observed.
Then, early last year, Gaines came to visit the company’s factory and design studios in York.
That was where assistant stylist and archivist Jackie Deveney’s expertise came in.
“We started compiling before she came here — things that, through watching her show, we thought she would like,” said Deveney, who has been with York Wallcoverings for about three-and-a-half years.
What is the physical process of interpreting items and translating them onto wallpaper?
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Bauer said.
“This was scanned in, re-drawn and laid out,” she said pointing to one design.
Another design used blueprints from the Magnolia Market, scanned and reprinted. In another, vintage Texas newspapers were sampled to create a newsprint wallpaper.
For a black-and-white buffalo check design that Gaines liked, artists at York Wallcoverings did the painting in watercolor, Bauer said.
But many wallpaper themes take their cues from the past. York Wallcoverings’ extensive archival collection is one of the keys to its broad and eclectic range of designs, and so it proved with Gaines.
While the company dates to 1895, some of the prints, swatches and samples tucked away on the shelves of its library date back to the 1820s and — in the case of a delicate Chinese tapestry on display during a recent visit — even into the late 1700s.
As tastes and fashions change and cycle back again, York’s storehouse of antique wallpapers and textile designs offers reference points for creating updated patterns inspired by vintage motifs.
Gaines did not look through the archives during her first visit last March, but the samples chosen for her to review by Deveney and Bauer hit their mark. One distinctive wallpaper pattern, depicting a rural scene, was a direct result of Gaines’ love for a vintage image from the archive.
During a subsequent visit in November, Gaines spent some time browsing the archives herself.
“She was like, you know, a kid in a candy store,” Bauer said. “You know, sometimes you’ll go in looking for one thing and find something else that’s pretty cool.”
Even the most obscure corners of the company’s shelves provide inspirations, Miller added. “Peacock print, tiny floral, anything can be re-used and re-interpreted. It’s endless,” Miller said. “Some things come out of the archive and are used verbatim. Others are changed so much that if you were to see the original, you wouldn’t believe where the inspiration came from.”
Gaines liked the results of the collaboration so much that a second set of designs is already in the works.
The partnership also took Bauer and her team to Texas, where they visited Gaines in her office. They also toured Magnolia Market.
The store was packed, the office was well-decorated and Gaines was enthusiastic and “hands-on” as she reviewed samples for color matching and to see how they looked in her home environment, Bauer said.
About 30 patterns were finally narrowed down to 15 for the production book, Bauer said. The entire creative process took about nine months from conception to completion.
“It’s literally like giving birth,” Deveney said with a laugh.
And as Bauer said, that labor was not without some anxious moments.
“There’s a lot of pressure for it to sell. But you also want to do what’s best,” she said. “You try to do something that you would hang (at home) yourself — but sometimes you also have to think outside your own little square and do something more creative.”
Gaines’ seal of approval would seem to indicate the endeavor is on the path to success.
But creativity and innovation are key to all the products designed by Bauer and the staff at York Wallcoverings, and the juices don’t stop flowing when employees clock out for the day.
“I love shopping,” Bauer said. “That’s where you get ideas and inspiration. Just looking at things, whether in stores or at shows or online.”
“You’re looking for clothes, and the next thing you know, you’re thinking, ‘that would make a really great pattern,’” she added. “Your mind just doesn’t stop.”