Words by Hannah Tapping
An eco-conscious design and print studio in the heart of Cornwall has stepped into the world of interiors with a kaleidoscope of sustainably-made luxury wallpaper.
I have to confess that I really wasn’t sure what to expect when paying a visit to the headquarters of Bobbi Beck. Wallpaper shopping for me has always been at a local DIY chain, where rolls of cellophane-wrapped paper sit clinically in batches on metal shelving – all rather uninspiring both in terms of design and experience. Browsing the Bobbi Beck website prior to my visit, I am drawn into a wonderful world of wallcoverings that reaches every gamut; from art deco and floral to geometric and tropical, each pattern is exquisite, exuding quality and style. I can’t imagine how all of these papers could possibly be designed and produced from a warehouse in Cornwall, but how wrong could I be?
Greeted by co-founder James Mellan Matulewicz and his wife Becky, the air is very much that of a design studio although I know that the wallpaper is physically produced here so I’m intrigued to step into the heart of the manufacturing area to find out more about the process. Beyond the office doors is a large warehouse space; immaculate in its presentation and almost clinically clean. Two vast printers sit against the far wall, one gently humming as its print heads float across wide swathes of paper, while a state-of-the-art cutting machine takes centre stage.
With the murmur of a printer in the background, James and Becky tell me more about how Bobbi Beck came to be in existence. Both were working in a travel company in Liverpool when a brand marketing job opportunity for James presented itself at a leading wallpaper manufacture. James made the move first, closely followed by Becky, with both spending many years in the industry. A chance meeting with an investor at a business conference, plus a realisation that the traditional wallpaper industry is far from good for the planet due its use of chemicals, dyes and toxins, saw James and Becky make the move to set up their own studio. Joined by fellow colleague Jason Arrowsmith, and with financial backing in place, it was imperative that the ethos for the business was one of sustainability and ethical practices.
Challenging industry standards is never an easy task, but with years of combined experience, Bobbi Beck was able to launch using only sustainable materials and technologies. But why Cornwall? Becky explains: “I’m originally from Cornwall and knew at some point that I wanted to move back here and wherever we set up the business it had to be place where we would be for a long time. One of the reasons being that our cutting machine has to be installed with such precision, that even moving it a few centimetres costs thousands of pound and to relocate it completely, a small fortune!” and so Scorrier became the home of Bobbi Beck.
The company runs on a made-to-order basis, negating the need for vast warehouse storage facilities or surplus stock, both of which are bad for the environment in terms of their energy use and landfill. Bobbi Beck paper is sourced from sustainable forests and is chemical and PVC-free. Inks are water-based and non-toxic, while the wallpaper packaging is plastic-free and fully recyclable. The office and warehouse runs on 100% renewable energy and they have even selected their courier for its eco-credentials; as a DHL Go Green Partner this means they pay a premium for shipping. These are not easy or simple choices to make, especially with rocketing paper and fuel prices, but for James and Becky they feel right. Taking a less sustainable route would, of course, result in lower costs and ultimately a cheaper end product, however the couple strongly believe in reduced consumption driven by making informed quality buying decisions – and the quality of the product is undeniable.
The feel of the paper is rich and luxurious, both with the velvety satin surface of the premium paper and the light sand texture of the heavier weight luxury option. As we chat, I can see a pattern evolving as the printer works its magic, transferring a digital design to long rolls of paper, which are then dried as they pass through the machine. Becky tells me that this is one of their murals – a recent development within the business that allows for a non-repeat pattern to be printed to a bespoke size – and as we watch lemon-coloured fronds of the tropical leaf-themed Cabana print come to life. The printer is set to produce two rolls at once. Guides printed onto the reams of paper allow for micron precision as the behemoth cutting machine guillotines the sheets. These are then hand-rolled and wrapped ready for their final destination in homes, offices, commercial and retail spaces.
The ordering process is reassuringly straightforward, especially when it comes to specifying the murals. Simply measure your wall area, add the dimensions and then you are able to select the crop area to suit. Similarly, when ordering traditional wallpaper, a pop-up roll calculator will optimise the quantities based on minimal waste. When it comes to designs the choice is endless, facilitated by the fact that they are printed to order. In-house designer Leah Trengove hand draws bespoke illustrations that are then digitally coloured for print and these make up the Bobbi Beck catalogue alongside external artist collaborations, as well as a selection of bought-in designs and some from James himself.
Current collaboration, ‘Exploring the metaverse’, includes work from award-winning French designer and printmaker, Diane Bresson. Now living in London, Diane develops her patterns through various mediums, including screen printing, animation and visual merchandising. ‘Metaverse 2.0’ from Nicholas Baker, a Brooklyn-based industrial designer with an experimental and playful approach to design and with a range of NFTs to his name, brings an exploration of mechanical drawing systems, with designs created using custom 3D-printed gears inspired by the classic Spirograph toy. Los Angeles-based @candycolouredhome’s self-declared ‘Retro boho meets desert sunset’ style introduces an eclectic and stylish edit with bohemian retro and vintage hints, while Jay Jennings of @paintthetownpastel creates ice-cream inspired stripes that are joyfully nostalgic nods to a bygone seaside era.
Referring to themselves as a digital design and print studio, from the outset James and Becky were keen that Bobbi Beck was more than just a wallpaper retailer. Yes, the end product is ultimately a roll of wallpaper, however their eye for design goes beyond the roll. An example of which are the room sets that exist for each and every design. James tells me that to physically dress and paper a room set can take months and has large costs involved and so, true to their agile and innovative approach, Bobbi Beck’s sets are created digitally by talented 3D artist, Ross Gosling. They are so exquisitely detailed that it’s nigh-on impossible to tell they’re not real and they bring to the site an elegance and style that sets it apart.
Once my open-mouthed incredulity that these room sets are digitally drawn has subsided, our conversation circles back to their ethos. James tells me that: “although we know that we have made every attempt to be as sustainable and eco-conscious as possible, it is something which is very hard to quantify.” With that in mind, a soon to be made visit by SWMAS will help James and Becky to measure their carbon footprint with the ultimate goal for the business to be net-zero. With new innovations always on the horizon and a growing global audience, Bobbi Beck is truly leading the way in producing premium wallpapers without damaging the planet.