Mixing Business and Interior...

Dennis Shah Makes Print Work

Artist John Mahoney may never had turned his art into wallpaper had it not been for Dennis Shah.

Bombay born, New York-based Shah currently presides over Studio Printworks: a creative collective that wants nothing more than to beautify your walls. We recently sat down with Shah to get a closer look at his business, artistic vision and bedroom…

Andrew Belonsky: You and Temo Callahan founded Studio Printworks three years ago, correct?

Dennis Shah: Yes. We both were in the field and didn’t see too many wallpapers that we would use. There were a lot of things – floral elements, birds, historical monuments: wallpapers. We saw that there was a need in the market for something fresher, younger that could revive the whole market.

AB: Yeah, a lot of people think wallpaper and they think of their granny.

DS: That’s exactly what we’re about – turning that on its head. Taking things that your grandmother did and upgrading them: taking things that are old, that look old, so our wallpapers be in a mid-century home, so when you’re buying furniture from some very modern place, it can fit with that, but it can also fit into a very traditional home.

AB: How do you guys select your artists?

DS: People have been coming to us – The first one came to us – we were putting a collection together and two different people approached us. One was a woman who had a single design and she wanted to print it and then she was trying to market it. I said, “You know, I’m putting a collection together, why don’t you just work with us?” And she was amenable to that. Now we’ve started getting a reputation for working with artists…

AB: How about John Mahoney?

DS: I was working with another artist and we were doing an exhibit at a gallery and he was going to be exhibiting in the gallery the following week and we became friends. I saw his work and loved it, but kind of put it aside. Then, six months later, I was driving back from Newark Airport and I heard him on NPR being interviewed, so immediately I picked up the phone and I called him, “You remember when we were turning your art into wallpaper? Why don’t we do that?” And so that’s how John and us started collaborating.

AB: Do you have a favorite artist or is it like your children: you can’t really have a favorite?

DS: All of them are great. All of the people we’ve worked with are great. I love working with John. I think everyone has brought something different. When you work with different people, you get different ideas. Even as diverse as it is, we still feel it’s under the umbrella of Studio Printworks.

AB: Do you have a unifying aesthetic that you like the company to represent?

DS: What we look at is the reaction that we have when we look at the work. We have a look and if it pleases us – that’s pretty much it. There should be something interesting, whether it be an interesting angle, a reinterpretation or something just makes our hearts go pitter-patter.

AB: You guys manufacture in Hoboken, NJ. How – do you use a printing press? How is that done?

DS: It’s all hand screen printed on long tales by artisans – with silk screens. We have a huge space – 60,000 square feet tables, long tables on which we lay out the paper and it’s our employees, artisans who have been working with us for 30 years – who walk down the tables do the printing with templates, basically a stencil. They do it by hand with one color at a time. If you see paper with five or six colors, or twenty colors, even, each color is put down one at a time.

AB: What’s your house look like? Wallpaper in every room?

DS: [Laughs] Not in every room… We’re trying to pick a third one for the living room. In my bathroom we have one of our naughty little designs called “Lock and Key,” which lays out like trellis, but it’s not, it’s a chain with locks and keys hanging from them. And we put it in the pink color way. We color them in different ways and this way kind of look likes channel, but if you pick it in the black color way, it’s very S&M.

In our bedroom we have one of my favorite wallpapers in the collection, our first one, which is called Syrie, which is named after Syrie Maugham – she was an interior decorator and the wife of Somerset Maugham – there’s a Persian tree of life design, but it’s a very modern take on it and we printed it in a custom just for our bedroom: white on a black grass cloth. We offer that in a very limited market, but it’s something that I really wanted in our bedroom. And we stained the walls chocolate brown – it’s very – you walk in – it’s very rich and very warm, very inviting.

AB: Where are you from originally?

DS: I was born and raised in India – Bombay.

AB: When did you come here?

DS: 1983.

AB: For school?

DS: Yes – I studied Computer Engineering and then I got an MBA. I don’t really have an art background.

AB: Were you always interested in art and interiors or did this sort of happen?

DS: I had an interest and this was a family business where we have a company that manufactures wallpaper and so I got involved in it and I really enjoyed it, because it pulled together my business background and my interest in the arts. Temo was a client of mine and I used to work a lot with him and that’s when we started talking about these ideas. I learned a lot from him. We thought we were crazy when we put the first collection together because it’s so artist-based and also the kinds of things that you wouldn’t see in the market. We seem to have caught a moment.