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Interview. Turning Hobbies into Commercial Success with Jean Pelle

Interview. Turning Hobbies into Commercial Success with Jean Pelle
Jean Pelle. 'Memoir' wallpaper by Jean Pelle. Courtesy of Calico.

Jean Pelle, a Yale-trained architect turned designer, blends imagination and risk in her pioneering landscape-inspired artworks.

A relentless imagination and a willingness to take risks are the qualities that appear responsible for New York City-based designer Jean Pelle, a Yale-educated university-trained architect becoming a veritable contemporary Renaissance master of the arts. This past May, Calico Wallpaper debuted a new collection called Memoir, which features an enormous bucolic landscape, available in different hues, that is based upon a painting by Pelle of the rural region in South Korea where she spent her early childhood.

A Yale-trained architect, Pelle began her career working in the office of the prominent firm Todd Williams Billie Tsien Architects but left the firm in 2008 to start PELLE Design with her husband Oliver Pelle after buying a lathe and other tools and teaching herself how to make furniture through watching DVDs and reading manuals. Pelle started selling her wares on ETSY and became commercially successful after she designed the Bubble Chandelier, which was featured in Readymade magazine. 

Rediscovering Roots: Jean Pelle’s Artistic Journey and Design Evolution

Now with her foray into landscape painting with oil pastels, Pelle, who stopped her formal art training after high school, is reviving a childhood passion and paying tribute to her Korean heritage and to her father, an artist who took photographs of the landscape upon which Pelle’s paintings are based.       

“It just like one thing leads to another thing and then you make connections in your mind and then you make new work,” Pelle explained about her design process during an interview with ArchiExpo e-Magazine, at the Zen-like studio illuminated by chandeliers shaped like plants and bubbles in the industrial Red Hook neighborhood of New York, where she and her husband Oliver Pelle manufacture most of the products they design.

Pelle began incorporating painting into her work several years ago with her Nana Lure Lamps that feature plant frond shapes brush ink painted by hand in sunburnt umber, yellow ochre greens, and chartreuse, colors that are related to the California landscape where Pelle lived after leaving Korea. The Nana Lure Lamps have been included in the Biophilia: Nature Reimagined exhibition currently on display at the Denver, Colorado Museum.  Pelle has also incorporated an oil pastel landscape drawing of the Carrizo Plain in central California into the new Carrizo Cabinet, a unique oak cabinet that according to the product description represents “a singular place within the memory landscape of the artist.”

With the new Calico Wallpaper Memoir collection, Pelle made an oil painting 3 feet by 25 feet of an impressionistic montage of images of a nostalgic landscape from her childhood that no longer exists, having been replaced by the sprawling city of Cheonan-Si. The painting was then blown up by Calico into a sheet of wallpaper 18 by 72 feet in a non-repeatable pattern that is generally sold in sections.

“It is a stitching together of the different areas that I grew up in,” says Pelle, and there were these pine forests and dirt paths lined with Cosmos flowers that must have been planted, but that feel wild.”

As with so many signature design moves, the Memoir collection proceeded from openness to experimentation and Pelle’s ability to incorporate what had once been amateur hobbies into commercially viable work. 

“I think anything that you enjoy doing you try to do more of,” she said, “doing these landscapes is just another way of evolving the studio’s practice.

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