The Sky’s the Limit!


The Sky’s the Limit!

Ask any designer: Have you ever fantasized about being free to really stretch your creative muscles, solve intriguing problems, and show off your most artistic digital design skills? No doubt the answer will be some version of the following: “Of course I have—who hasn’t!” Well, the Street Level Studio designers who work on our Beyond the Surface™ custom wallcoverings just had that kind of dream come true.

It all started when…
The ABL Group—a leading Chicagoland contractor and remodeling company—was selected to participate in the 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious designer showcases. The biannual Infant Welfare Society of Chicago fundraiser is a must-attend event on area social calendars, offering tours inside a recently redecorated North Shore mansion where each room has been transformed by a different designer.

The showhouse is also a coveted professional opportunity allowing a select group of interior and landscape designers to pull out all the stops and show off their creative expertise. The ABL Group, including its affiliate companies DP Home Design and Dovetails Custom Cabinetry, was tapped to reimagine the kitchen and adjoining breakfast room in this year’s historic locale—an elegant 23-room estate in east Lake Forest purchased and renovated in the late 1920s by William A. P. Pullman, the grandnephew of railroad car magnate George M. Pullman.

Then it was discovered…
One of the mansion’s most dramatic and enduring features is a hand-painted French panoramic wallpaper mural Pullman installed along the 25-foot grand center hall. The still-intact scenic panels depict a romanticized version of 18th century India, including the natural elements like lush botanicals and local wildlife European chinoiserie designers appropriated from traditional Eastern decorative arts.

Under the influence of this monumental mural, The ABL Group commissioned Street Level Studio to create a custom Beyond the Surface wallcovering for the breakfast room. The primary request? It had to echo the aesthetics of the home’s historic panoramic wallpaper but reinterpret the painterly feel of classic chinoiserie in an unexpected way by using digital technology.

What happened next was…
The project presented an exciting, “sky’s the limit” kind of creative opportunity, along with some intriguing and unique design challenges. The Beyond the Surface wallcoverings design team immediately began brainstorming ideas, eventually envisioning colorful birds in an early morning sky. In concert with ABL’s designers, they settled on a stylized rendition of magpies—a traditional symbol of joy in Chinese culture—soaring past wispy, creamy clouds.

After finding inspiration in Audubon illustrations, centuries-old Chinese screens, and elaborate kimono embroidery, surface designer Jennie Dembowski used a demanding “digital hand-painting” technique, building up hundreds of layers with thousands of computer-generated brushstrokes to recreate the luminosity of clouds at sunrise and the iridescent blues and greens of magpie feathers in flight.

Another design team member, Chris Gach, created a detailed digital schematic of the breakfast room design—indicating windows, doors, artwork, furniture, and fixtures—to ensure precise placement of the graphics on five floor-to-ceiling panels, each one unique. Going digital meant the designers could not only push their creative talents and computer skills but also collaborate easily with The ABL Group and shift graphic elements as the final interior design plans evolved. Up on the breakfast room wall, the finished panels would meld seamlessly into a light, ethereal skyscape reminiscent of timeless Asian artistry, but with a decidedly modern digital backstory.

And because of this…
It was all for a worthy cause. Street Level Studio not only completed this incredibly creative project pro bono but also enlisted support from several business partners. Canon Solutions America generously donated the luxurious matte paper imported from Germany that was perfect for reproducing the texture and softness of classic chinoiserie. RPM Digital Imaging printed the panels using the state-of-the-art Canon Colorado large format digital printer to ensure just the right color intensity, quality, and panel-to-panel consistency.

Right now, you can actually see this dream-come-true creative project in place and lend your support, too. Following safety protocols, the 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens is open daily through August 9, with a restricted number of tickets being sold online. For a limited time, Street Level Studio is also making the Beyond the Surface custom mural available for purchase, with 15 percent of the price donated to the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago. Just click here to let us know if you’re interested.