THE CREATORS: In a longtime pattern of collaboration, Dirkse develops a new line of wallpapers, fabrics and area rugs.
WE’RE DETECTING a pattern here. More than one, actually — from the purely conceptual to the sumptuously touchable — but one at the core of it all: Michelle Dirkse is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool artists’ ally. And quite the artist herself.
Dirkse launched her own interior-design business five years ago, after “working with a high-end construction company and other interior design firms that I was not connected to,” she says. “I was doing a lot of work to make something happen that I wasn’t passionate about. I couldn’t fake it anymore.”
From there, authenticity — and opportunity, and inspiration — helped fashion that foundational pattern.
“In my old space, in Belltown, I also had a retail storefront, and I wanted to take advantage of that,” she says. “I housed Art Walk for two years and, in doing that, was supporting local art. … Because of that history of Art Walk, and always being on the hunt for client artwork, we developed relationships.”
And now, Dirkse has developed a new line of textiles based on her mutually beneficial relationships with more than half-a-dozen local artists: one-of-a-kind wallpapers, fabrics and area rugs that fill her new workspace on Capitol Hill, her own city-chic condo and the music room she remodeled for a couple of clients, for starters.
She started building her colorful, collaborative collection in March 2017.
“Part of why we did this is that when the opportunity calls for a wallpaper, pattern or rug that’s a statement, I felt like there weren’t a lot of resources,” Dirkse says. “I wanted to make something as a team that is different and hadn’t been seen. I wanted something that’s a statement. That’s how it started, but then it became a collection.”
It is an incredibly creative collection of scaled, varied, mesmerizing patterns — and not just a pattern, but repeating patterns that Dirkse discovers and (sometimes painstakingly) pulls from each artist’s original work.
“From the start, there’s collaboration with the artist,” she says. “We bounce ideas back and forth. I get the pieces from them, digitally scan them, play around with the cropping. A beautiful artpiece doesn’t always translate to a good pattern. With [artist] Dana Mooney, we’ve commissioned several pieces. We asked her for something with little blotches of white space and a limited palette for blues and grays. She was like, ‘What about a touch of gold or silver?’ I took it to a place that does hi-res digital scans in Bellevue, and in Photoshop played around with cropping it: What happens with a step and repeat? If I take one and put it next to itself multiple times, that’s kind of boring. What if I mirror it and flip it? What does that look like? Where does it stop and start? How much of the original piece am I going to use? I start with a piece I’ve asked the artist to create, or a piece I’ve selected. With the scale and cropping, the repeat is the hardest part.”
Once the perfect pattern appears, Dirkse designs the textiles; the fabric and wallpaper are printed on the East Coast, and the area rugs are hand-knotted in Nepal.
“It took about a year to get all the contracts in place with production and the first set of patterns,” she says. “Dana Mooney, Jeff Gerber, Mya Kerner and Jennifer Gauthier were the first [artists involved].” Since then, even more have jumped on board: Corrie LaVelle; Joey Bates; Noël Fountain; and Kevin Cox and Kitri Wood, “who make their artwork together,” Dirkse says.
“I reached out to the artists,” she says. “I felt like I was asking a lot. I was surprised everyone said yes. … I give them a bit of direction but don’t want to take away from the artist. How do I take their artwork and make it fit our collection while still honoring their work as an artist, and their vision? I feel each piece truly represents the artist and also represents us. I feel like it’s an honor that they’ve trusted me — they’re their babies, and they’re letting me change it.”
“Sketches” wallpaper, a rock-star-bold collaboration with Gerber, lines the walls of a supercool music room for musician clients who hired Dirkse to remodel the main portion of their basement — it’s the first place the collection was installed other than Dirkse’s home and office, she says.
“We looked at a lot of wallpapers,” she says. “Vilma [Garshae, one of five team members in Dirkse’s office] said, ‘I think we should show them ours.’ I was nervous. But it felt right for the space.”
(Also just right: a neon-and-steel David Bowie artpiece Dirkse and her team designed, crafted by Western Neon, on one wall.)
Dirkse’s textile collection received considerably broader exposure — and accolades — at the September IDS West event in Vancouver, B.C., where she used her wallpaper and fabric (lots and lots of it) to design the 20-by-80-foot VIP Lounge, which was one of the winners of “Best Exhibit Space Design.”
“It was such a big space,” she says. “Instead of filling it with furniture, we filled it with patterns. We have so many aesthetics and styles. The way we had it displayed, the outside wall featured the literal pieces of art, framed; we wanted to highlight them.”
Six temporary wood-panel walls, each 8 feet tall, were covered with the fabrics: a pink Mooney pattern, polka dots by Kerner, a pattern from Gerber’s art at the entry.
“We hired a three-person wallpaper crew,” Dirkse says. “My sister flew up from Walla Walla to stretch fabric over the wood panels.”
There’s yet another consistent pattern: collaboration. There will be more.
“It feels cool to make something new and different with people you know and respect,” Dirkse says. “I’m not done. They’re not done, either.”