We’d like to introduce you to Steve Abrams - owner and founder of Designer Wallcoverings.
Steven, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up around the design business – my father was CFO for Sinclair Paints, a well known local wallpaper and paint chain. I visited the factory often when I was a kid. In 1988, when I was in high school dad bought Enterprise Wallcoverings and I began my journey during the summers. By 1994, after college, my parents and I created a 1200 sq ft luxury showroom at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood called Jeffrey Stevens at PDC. In 2001, We expanded the showroom to 6,000 square-feet and proudly serviced the interior design community offering over wallpaper, fabric, lighting, and outdoor furniture products as a multi-line showroom showcasing products from JAB, Stroheim, Stout Brothers, Fine Art lamps, Exclusive HandPrints, Mosaic Tables, hand-blown Murano chandeliers, and more. After the recession began, the Jeffrey Stevens showroom at the PDC was closed forever. The family wallcovering and fabric showroom experience is something I intend to bring back. In 2007, I went on my own to start Designer Wallcoverings and Fabrics with little support from the industry. It’s 2019, 12 years later, and we are thriving with over 80,000 current customers!
I started working with my family in 1994, right after I graduated from UCLA.
In the mid-1990s, very few people in the business understood the commercial potential of the Internet. I was fascinated by what the Internet offered, and not just for advertising. We were one of the first companies to catch wind of digital printing, and choosing to explore that possibility opened a series of doors for us. Most folks in the industry couldn’t believe that people would buy high-end wallcoverings online, but I was sure that if it was marketed the right way, they would. The industry would eventually catch up and understand the potential.
One of our first big digital printing clients was Juicy Couture. In the mid-2000s, we were the retailer’s preferred wall covering company, generating different, custom wall covers for every one of their 150 outlets. We had hibiscus flowers in their Honolulu store, polo horses in the store on Rodeo, and so on around the nation. Working with Juicy opened other doors for us, and we were soon producing custom wallcoverings for hip, upscale companies like Westin, Google, and Ritz-Carlton. It was a very exciting time. Other wallcovering companies followed us into the custom digital printing world, but I don’t think many grasped the potential before we did. We now focus on better backgrounds and superior printing.
At the same time that we were creating this new, innovative approach, I was very conscious of building on our heritage. We weren’t just creating cool new looks for Juicy – we were also bringing back one of the most classic wallcoverings ever, the Beverly Hills “banana leaf” wallpaper. We even created a website in 2001 to help promote. This had been the wallpaper in the Beverly Hills Hotel for over 50 years, but by the early aughts, we had celebrity clients like Nikki Hilton who wanted it in their own homes. Growing up in Beverly Hills, I have come to learn quite a bit about this iconic wallpaper and fabric, some lore and some facts remain. Learn more at BeverlyHillsWallpaper.com
We’re a uniquely L.A. company in the way in which we balance the future and the past. Our offerings are deeply connected to this city’s heritage, particularly this iconic banana leaf wallcovering. At the same time, we’ve spent more than 20 years on the cutting-edge of technology in terms of how we deliver these heritage products including purchasing hundreds of vintage wallpaper catalogs from every decade.
Since 2006, Designer Wallcoverings has been our sole focus. I say our because since 2006, my partner has been my wife Natalia. From 2006-2012, we ran the company out of our house while Natalia finished her degree at UCLA, both my mother and my alma-maters. We believe in female empowerment as such my wife, she owns over 50% of the company – making Designer Wallcoverings a majority-female-owned.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Does anyone ever say it’s been a smooth road? No, it’s been difficult. We took a risk to go out on our own. When we started selling high-end products online, no one was doing it – and almost everyone thought we were crazy to try. In the early 2000s, people thought it was crazy to put your business online. They said the same thing at the time about people who were trying online dating – and look how that turned out. Fun fact, Natalia and I met on AOL.
It’s easy to forget in 2019 how much risk there was associated with the Internet back then. I’m proud we took that risk early, and we took it often.
It’s different now – while everyone takes an online presence for granted now, the contemporary struggle is to stay ahead of the curve, with a robust and evolving social media presence, live video, and above all, excellent customer service in the digital age. It’s a constant battle, but an exciting one. We love helping customers whether it is on the phone, online chat, or in our Sherman Oaks showroom at 15442 Ventura Blvd.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Designer Wallcoverings story. Tell us more about the business.
We are the experts in luxury, specialty, and custom wall-coverings. We’ve had a long history with luxury brands, not just the Beverly Hills Hotel, but the Ritz-Carlton, Kimpton Hotels, Westin Hotel, Google, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cosmopolitan Hotel, James Perse, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Henri Bendel, Tiffany, and countless others. We’ve created and supplied distinctive, memorable, elegant designs for the hospitality and commercial industry for years. Of course, we also worked with residential and commercial clients of every size as we are well known for natural textures, silk, glass bead, flock velvet, and other specialty wallpapers.
We don’t just sell wallpaper. We treat every inquiry as though it is “our” project. We’re experts at working with our clients to create a result that matches their unique needs and expectations. We have interior design experts and graphic designers on staff to work with clients through each step of the process. Everyone on our staff shares our philosophy of offering a timeless product with cutting-edge innovation. As a purchasing agency for wallpaper and fabric, we have access to the entire interior design industry.
Our brands are world-renowned, including Versace, Missoni, Phillipe Romano Naturals, Thibaut, Wallquest, Roberto Cavalli, Cole & Sons, Hygge West, F. Schumacher, Innovations, Hollywood, as well as the leader in lifestyle living Ralph Lauren. We are not just known for our own Beverly Hills banana-leaf paper and fabric although customers love us for this product. It’s not just what we sell, though – it’s how we work with clients through every step of the process.
We have what we think of as a deep commitment to doing three things: celebrating the designs of the past, honoring our commitments in the present, and innovating for the future.
We’re a lot more than the banana leaf wallpaper. At the same time, we’re proud of having brought back a product from the dustbin of design history.
I’m proud that we have a small, local staff that works on projects all over the globe. Our products meet the level of luxury that Los Angeles demands from silk to custom murals. We work with clients on projects large and small, but with the same commitment to superb customer service regardless of scale. My parents taught me that while a quality product is important, the most important key to success is putting the human element first.
We take care of our customers, we take care of our staff, and we take care of our community. I’ve been doing it for decades now, and I’m proud of the legacy and experience we’ve created.
Designer Wallcoverings is a “double bottom-line” company as well. What that means is we’re in this not just for profit, but for philanthropy. We don’t just donate a percentage of what we make to charity, we make sure that everyone on staff has the time and space to be involved in the community. We love Los Angeles, and we love giving back to it – and the world beyond.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles is the most diverse city in the world. That diversity is an engine for creativity. It’s also a city where it’s routine to make the impossible, possible. You take that mix of diversity and boundless optimism and things are possible here that aren’t possible anywhere else in the world.
More concretely, it’s a city of some wonderful contrasts: rooted in the Spanish mission style, it’s a place where modern and vintage are constantly intersecting, with new “intersections’ arriving every day from across the globe. We’re always “dipping back and forward.” Developers from all over the world come to Los Angeles to create unique homes; we get to work with the greatest concentration of celebrity and creative personalities anywhere. There are a handful of other major design centers in the USA: Miami, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco – but none quite as innovative as L.A.
As for business – 30 years ago, there were 22 wallpaper stores on Ventura Boulevard. Now, there’s one. It’s us. We’re still here because we’ve adapted and survived in this incredibly dynamic climate.