At Home with WallTawk's Batya Stepelman
For our series Closet Confidential, we interview interesting and uber cool people in their homes wearing outfits from their closet. Esther Lee Leach caught up with Batya Stepelman, owner of WallTawk at her home in Congress Park.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ESTHER LEE LEACH
Esther Lee Leach: Batya, you founded your company WallTawk, a wallpaper boutique and design consultancy, in 2017. Tell us more about WallTawk and why you started the company.
Batya Stepelman: I started WallTawk because I love wallpaper! I mean I really love it as a design category. Between 2013-2017, I worked (telecommuted) for a Brooklyn-based boutique PR firm. That firm specialized in telling the stories of independent designers making smaller batch goods and products made with integrity and craftsmanship. Wallpaper companies were in the client mix, too. I would attend the big trade shows for that job, including ICFF, Wanted and Sight Unseen Offsite, and over the years I noticed a big uptick in the number of wallpaper companies represented at the shows. It made me so happy! We had bought a home around that time too – our space was a blank canvas so I started filling it up with wallpaper! At that time there was an independent wallpaper store serving Denver, but they closed their doors and sold their online presence to a company in Atlanta. I knew a lot about wallpaper by that point, and I thought there has to be a market for it. I was armed with passion, determination and I decided to go for it. It’s been two and a half years since I started the company and I’ve completed almost 400 projects! It’s incredible.
ELL: Before you moved to Denver, you lived in New York. What brought you to Colorado?
BS: Yes, I’m from NYC. We were burnt out on the city and even though I knew it would be hard to leave our support system, friends and family – I had two babies in tow – I just couldn’t see a future in my hometown. My husband had lived here in the 1990s. He loved it and a group of his friends still lived here. We were looking for a progressive, growing city. We wanted museums, great food, major league sports teams, a sense of community, proximity to nature and we found it in Denver.
ELL: What was your career background before starting WallTawk?
BS: . I was a lawyer, but now I’m fully recovered! When we moved to Denver I fell into PR, writing artist profiles and product pitches. I transitioned from that job into my work at WallTawk.
ELL: Describe the process that new clients go through when they work with your company? How do they choose wallpaper, install, etc.
BS: I hold one hour appointments at the “showroom” – which is located on the bottom floor of our heavily wallpapered19th Century home in Congress Park. Those appointments have a $50.00 fee for non-trade clients, i.e. the residential homeowner. I work off of photos (multiple angles inside the same room) or floor plans, and then I pull out samples and books that make the most sense for the project based on color, pattern preference, budget, etc. I have thousands of samples but I only pull out the ones I feel will work with the space. I also try to pull in designs that tell the homeowner’s story. For example, a couple that met in Berkeley and loves Alice Waters’ restaurants is getting the Bay Area Toile for their kitchen.
But back to the process: At the end of the hour we line up all the swatches the client liked and we walk through which ones are the favorites! From there I send the client a digital PDF, which has images of the patterns they liked and in-situ shots (something that gives a sense of the paper’s scale like a table, bed, chair, etc.). I work with a talented group of WIA (the wallpaper guild) installers and they reserve spots on their calendars for my projects. I make an introduction and they set up a time to measure the client’s space and calculate the paper totals. The quote goes out, the paper is ordered, it can drop-ship to the client or they can pick it up from me. I also offer offsite consultations but those are not necessary.
ELL: Your home is also a showroom for WallTawk. How did you choose the specific wallpaper designs for each room? Does a certain style, design or texture go better with certain areas of the house?
BS: Yes, the showroom is my home! It’s nuts, but it’s working out so far. I select papers that make me happy, plain and simple. I tend to stick to a color scheme, but I’m not a super matchy-matchy person. I think the aesthetics of your home should match your story; no two homes should look alike. The papers I picked for my own home resonate with me. For example, there’s a New Orleans themed paper in our master bedroom because that’s where my husband and I met. I love space and the Milky Way galaxy, so I put the Cosmos wallpaper in our entryway. The living room features a wallpaper with a botanic pattern from Australia; the pollinator garden we built and grew is right outside. I put a whimsical paper in the powder room because it reminds me of the Unicorn Tapestries inside the Cloisters in NYC, which isn’t too far from where I grew up. There’s a mountain mural in the family room because it reminds me of our love for the great outdoors. Clay coated papers are great! They are durable and they hold up well. I wouldn’t put delicate papers inside a kids’ bathroom. There are some substrates/grounds that are better for high-traffic areas.
ELL: What are your top three tips for homeowners who are interested in wallpaper for their homes? How do they go about choosing the wallpaper that works for their homes and lives?
BS: 1. Go for it!
2. Pick a pattern that speaks to you.
3. Be realistic about your budget – have something in mind and if you don’t know where to start or what the typical range is, just ask!
ELL: A recent trend in wallpaper is the temporary peel and stick. What are your thoughts on this trend?
BS: . Peel and stick are fun and practical for temporary spaces, rental units and if you want to experiment. Some of the brands I offer do have them as an option, but they aren’t as long lasting (or in my opinion as interesting) as the real thing. The ones that came out in the beginning weren’t very well made, but peel and stick has definitely improved in my humble opinion. On that note, as the design category of wallcoverings explodes, be mindful of quality and the materials used to make the wallpaper. At this point the vast majority of the companies that I represent in Denver use FSC certified (or the like) paper, vegetable dye inks and are PVC-free (even the commercial grounds).
ELL: How would you describe your design style for interiors?
BS: It’s hard for me to say because I’m not sure there’s a box for my aesthetic, but I can rule out what I’m not. I’m not very transitional or traditional, personally in my own style, and I’m not MCM or a collector of antiques. I would say that I probably have an east coast sensibility. I love modern furnishings and lighting inside historic homes, but I also love innovative new builds too. I’m definitely someone who gravitates toward well-made, modern, independent design. I love the work of Studio DB in NYC, Talia Roth, and Arent & Pyke in Australia.
ELL: How would you describe your fashion style?
BS: My fashion style has changed a lot since I had kids. I wear jeans and boots more often than I used too, I eschew wearing high heels. I don’t own any fleece, and I don’t own any sweatpants, not like there’s anything wrong with it! I like independent labels and smaller brands. All of my outer coats are really bold and colorful, but I still have a lot of black, grey, and navy in my closet. Growing up in NYC I would wear black-on-black-on-black, but now I try to inject color every now and again! I definitely don’t dress up enough, but I’m not super casual either.
ELL: What are your top three places in Denver to shop for interiors?
BS: Homebody, that place is a gem! Sacred Thistle, I love their plants and vessels. Mod Livin on Colfax.
Cherry Creek Fashion TV’s My Design Life with Batya Stepelman