Katie Deedy: A Modern Scheherazade

Katie Deedy at home.

Talk to a designer who specializes in narrative-inspired wallpaper, and you’re bound to get a good story about her life. Katie Deedy, 34, grew up in Atlanta with ambitions to be a freelance illustrator. Struggling to build a career in New York, she scanned a drawing into her computer one day and accidentally created its mirror image.

Having stumbled onto an interest in patternmaking, Ms. Deedy combined it with an inherited love of storytelling (her mother is a Havana-born children’s book author). She began to design wallpaper that is guaranteed to start conversations, founding a company in Brooklyn called Grow House Grow.

Typical of Ms. Deedy’s work is Captain Smith, a flowing pattern of octopuses and jellyfish that she named after the doomed commander of the Titanic, and a motif of sloths, manatees, American woodcocks and other slow-moving creatures called Ode to the Unhasty.

Also, a panorama of monkeys in Victorian beachwear inspired by a 1909 New York Times article about a primate found in a bathhouse in Queens (Ms. Deedy quotes the headline in her catalog description: “He Wore a Red Bathing Suit and Rockaway Police Suspect Yale Man”).

At the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this month, she will introduce Nacht, a pattern derived from “Das Wunderzeichenbuch” (“The Book of Miracles”), a 16th-century German manuscript that caught her eye, she said, because it “depicts bizarre and magical celestial phenomena, from meteors and eclipses to locusts and torrents of blood. It’s pretty wonderful.” Mindful of the market, she toned down her interpretation to sprays of stars rendered in metallics against skies of dark blue, slate gray or lavender.

Nacht will be the third and final wallpaper in her Codex collection, which also includes patterns referring to the Alexandria Library in Egypt and the Voynich manuscript, an early-15th-century illustrated document executed in a writing system no code breaker has ever been able to crack. Then it’s on to her next subject, her mother’s homeland, Cuba.

“My family had tremendous difficulty, like so many refugees who left,” she said. “This is a major endeavor for me, and I want to make it amazing.”

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