Asterisk co-founders Celeste Coughlin and William Sanders began working with Venetian plaster 25 years ago. They have taken a material that is usually only available as an on-site installation and translated it to a collection of impeccably crafted wallpapers.
Whether they use graphic contrasts or subtle tonalities their designs are always careful studies in color and texture that reveal something new each time you look and touch.
HOW DID YOU FIRST CONCEIVE OF LAUNCHING YOUR COLLECTION?
Our Venetian Plaster Wallpaper is really a direct offshoot of our on-site finishes that we have been doing since 1995. We had developed a way to incorporate pattern into the plaster that no one else was really doing at the time, so our finishes were distinctly Asterisk finishes. One of our clients wanted to use the same finishes for a high-end luxury brand in all their boutiques in Asia and so wallpaper seemed like an elegant solution. We hadn’t done it before and I was skeptical at first but William was determined. And so after lots of experimentation we found a way to do it and we thought we were on to something.
WHERE DID THE ASTERISK NAME ORIGINATE?
We spent a summer playing the name game. Then William and I traveled to Boston to visit friends and we noticed in their home a stack of Asterix and Obelix comics. Asterisk kind of seemed right. As a symbol it is a solid decorative element. And it seemed like good luck to have a star as a logo. It felt like a point of distinction...sort of like take note! There must have been some synchronicity about it because it was around that time that Wallpaper Magazine came out and they used an Asterisk for their logo. I thought, wow, too bad we don’t make wallpaper! Maybe that was a sign of something yet to come.
YOUR WALLPAPERS ARE INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE BECAUSE OF THE UNIQUE MATERIAL OF WHAT YOU CREATE. HOW DID YOU LEARN TO WORK WITH VENETIAN PLASTER?
The first time I was on a job site and saw Venetian Plaster walls I was immediately taken by the mysterious depth of the material and the seductive waxy finish. My first experiments with Venetian Plaster included manipulating it to do things other than how it was originally intended to be used. I wanted to deliberately bury elements within the surface. We had many projects doing our twist on Venetian Plaster before we ever did a job of traditional troweled plaster. Since that time we have become proficient with all types of materials on the market, both traditional and modern.
ASTERISK IS CREATED IN COLLABORATION WITH YOUR HUSBAND WILLIAM, HOW DO YOU APPROACH WORKING TOGETHER?
We met in NYC in the mid-80’s when we both were studying painting. We had very different approaches to our art back then and in some ways we still approach things from different areas of strength now. Ultimately though we both care deeply about the quality of the work we do. Originally I guess I was the face of Asterisk. I met with designers, created patterns and made samples, whereas William figured out how we were actually going to execute the work! He provided quotes and managed our crew. Over the years things have shifted. William is great at finding beautiful materials like wood veneer and powder pigments. Recently he has gotten inspired by thick lime plasters, copper leaf and tarnishing chemicals. Things we shied away from in the beginning we now tackle with the confidence of experience. So the answer is we both do a bit of everything. It’s a lot of togetherness but we make it work.
COULD YOU WALK US THROUGH HOW YOU CRAFT YOUR WALLPAPERS? WHAT ARE MATERIALS YOU USE, WHAT ARE THE STEPS, WHAT PART OF THE PROCESS DO YOU ENJOY MOST?
There is usually a layering of colors. Sometimes it is tone on tone until the last part which will reveal the complexity and depth of color and other times it is bold contrasts that then get melded back together in the top layers. We often finish with a wax that has mica in it since it adds a softness that is so appealing. People love mica! This new set of wallpapers includes striés in rich colors that are physically tactile. The ridges of the strié catch the shine and the valleys are more matte. The added element of gold leaf gives them lots of visual excitement. We use a variety of metal leaf, gold, aluminum, copper and at the moment we are pretty addicted to variegated leaf. In this collection there is a delicate lacy pattern called Oh’s!!! and it comes in a few soft satiny colors. Another new pattern, Wyatt, consists of a grid of stars made by raising the graphic shape surrounding a star. This positive negative pattern play really capitalizes on the three-dimensional quality of our paper. These are wallpapers that are meant to be touched.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS OF CREATING PAPERS BY THE YARD RATHER THAN ON THE WALL INSTALLATIONS?
On site finishes have the monolithic quality that designers love but we can do things with the Venetian Plaster Wallpaper that we could never do on site; delicate layering of color and intricate patterns. The installation is quick and efficient which is really appealing.
We are inspired by organic irregularities that exist in nature; things that are perfectly imperfect. I remember years ago we went to a friend’s house for dinner and I brought her a soppressata from our local Italian Pork Store. My friend looked at this bulbous misshapen sausage and said “That looks like it was made with love”. I thought, She’s so right. I never actually looked at it that way. Our wallpapers are made by hand and made with love. Our clients all recognize that and embrace it.
ALL OF YOUR WALLPAPERS ARE HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE BETWEEN COLOR, FINISH AND TEXTURE. HAVE YOU NOTICE A COMMON TREND OR BEST SELLING DESIGN AMONG YOUR CLIENTS? WHAT PART OF THE DESIGN PROCESS DO YOU ENJOY MOST?
In general people tend to gravitate to the more textural painterly wallpapers. For many of our new finishes we are mining our history of on site finishes and reinterpreting the most popular ones for wallpaper. It’s nice to look back at our vast inventory and reflect on what worked and why. We always want to do more color. For really solid reasons designers tend to use softer subtler colors and textures but every now and again we get to use a bold color palette and it is so fun and inspiring.
I love it when a designer gives me a vague set of parameters; just a color or a mood. That’s when we really get to play. I have done this long enough that sometimes I can actually see the final finish before we get there. I can break down the steps in my mind and anticipate what will work.
YOUR CLIENT ROSTER INCLUDES SO MANY TALENTED DESIGNERS, IS THERE ANYONE YOU DREAM OF CREATING SOMETHING FOR THAT YOU HAVE NOT WORKED WITH YET?
We have been so fortunate to work with really outstanding designers. They are the top of the field. It has been an incredible journey. I could happily design for any one of them for the rest of my career. Of course there are so many amazing designers we haven’t worked with yet. I hope they will find us. We’re here. We’re ready!
WE HAVE HEARD YOUR DESIGNS ARE INSTALLED IN SOME INCREDIBLE SPACES, FOR YOU WHERE IS THE MOSTE EXCITING PLACE YOUR WORK HAS BEEN USED?
Honestly it would have to be the private residences. I am a real New Yorker but when we arrived in Santa Barbara for a project and were greeted by those mountains and glorious weather day after day I understood why people would want to live there. We traveled to California many times for that project and those long visits with our amazing crew of artists were really special. I’m proud of the finishes we provided and proud to have been in the company of other fabulously talented artisans. Everyone upped their game and the results were unlike I have seen before or since.
WHAT'S COMING NEXT?
Liquid Gold! William discovered this new material and we are very excited to start developing finishes with it. We are pretty casual people in our everyday lives but I have to admit I have weakness for anything that glitters gold. Guess we’re in the right business.