BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
After living all over the world, from London and Paris to New York City, Elizabeth Rees, founder and CEO of removable wallpaper company Chasing Paper, says she’s ecstatic to be back in her hometown of Milwaukee.
“My family is here,” Rees explains. “Being in New York was incredible for the time I was there — absolutely amazing. It shaped me as a woman and it shaped my business, but I wanted to own a house. … (I) also just wanted a different pace of life.”
Rees is now the proud owner of a roughly 150-year-old home in Walker’s Point. When asked about her experience with traditional wallpaper in her new home, Rees says she now understands everyone’s fear of the decorative medium. “It took four full days just to (remove the wallpaper from) one 10-by-10-foot wall,” she adds. “I was strangely glad to do it. It was horrible at the time — don’t get me wrong, but it gave me a newfound appreciation for Chasing Paper wallpaper because the process was just such a nightmare.”
Rees grew up in the printing industry, learning about ink and substrate from her family’s Milwaukee-based printing company, Kubin-Nicholson. After graduating with her master’s degree in communication with a focus in branding and marketing, Rees says she was fascinated by brands and storytelling within companies, so she joined the New York-based sales and marketing team of Kubin-Nicholson. After some time, though, she slowly started to realize there was another path out there for her.
“I just felt like there was something else I could do that felt more like me — that felt like something I was passionate about,” Rees explains.
After talking things through with her dad, they came to an agreement: Rees would take on some nontraditional printing projects as a creative outlet. One of the first unofficial Chasing Paper projects was sprucing up the temporary office of Birchbox, a company that curates monthly subscription-based boxes filled with makeup and beauty products.
“At the time, their signature color was hot pink. … We had someone hand-illustrate birch trees because the company is called Birchbox, and we wrapped all of these support poles. (The illustrations) just instantly transformed the space,” Rees remembers. “From the time I walked into that office to the time they were installed, I couldn’t believe how different the space felt.”
From there, Chasing Paper was born. Rees stays connected to the family business by printing her wallpaper through Kubin-Nicholson. The wallpaper itself is a peel-and-stick fabric she likens to a “super sticky Post-It note,” in terms of the tackiness of the glue. The young entrepreneur says using fabric instead of vinyl makes for better insulation, and the material holds up better in varying temperatures and rooms with poor ventilation. Plus, the paper doesn’t harm walls or leave residue when it’s torn down, and is incredibly forgiving if it gets folded or crumpled. “We want it to be something that’s fun and helps change the way a home looks and feels. … We certainly don’t want it to be stressful,” Rees adds. “So (with) everything we do, we try to think about our customer’s experience with it.”
Part of Rees’ inspiration for the removable wallpaper was wanting to ease the installation process — and to empower people and encourage their independence in home decorating. “When I first started, I was a single girl living alone in my little apartment in the West Village in New York City, and something that was so important for me was (the declaration that), ‘I, Elizabeth Rees, want to be able to do this on my own. I don’t want to have (to rely on) a boyfriend or a husband; I want to be able to do this by myself.’”
Not only does Rees hope to empower people, but she is also hoping to grow along with her customers, creating different wallpaper designs for different life milestones.
“We want the Chasing Paper customer to feel empowered, wherever he or she is in life, and we try to create content for all those different milestones, whether it’s your first apartment, a new baby or just a fun DIY project or renting,” Rees says.
With exclusive collections at West Elm and Bloomingdale’s, Chasing Paper stocks a wide variety of designs, from subtle prints to bold colors, as well as chalkboard wallpaper and growth charts to track children’s heights. Rees says she keeps anywhere from 120 to 150 different patterns on the website’s online gallery to give customers a well of choices, but not so many that it overwhelms them.
“Sometimes, if I go somewhere and there are too many options, I have a hard time,” Rees says. “I get stressed, and I have a hard time making a decision. ... The idea of the Chasing Paper website is that it’s gallery-like. You can come and the prints really speak for themselves, but it’s still somewhat curated.”
Living in an artistic community like New York City gave Rees the idea to create what she refers to as “interesting, fresh, modern wallpaper.” She now uses a cache of artist submissions, reaching out to artists she admires, and in-house designers to create the wallpaper patterns.
Rees says one of the best aspects of Chasing Paper, besides the ease of putting it up and tearing it down, is its project versatility. While its technical title is wallpaper, it can also be used as a backsplash, to revamp a dull radiator or give color to a boring refrigerator, or to update end tables, dressers, office supplies and more.
“People are just fantastically creative, and that motivates me to do more and create more because I know how many creative people are out there,” Rees enthuses.
Giving those creative people a voice and a passion is another goal for Rees, who says she hopes opening Chasing Paper’s new headquarters in Walker’s Point will bring more artistic-based jobs to hopeful artists in the Milwaukee area. She’s also excited about the growth she’s noticed in Cream City’s shops since she’s returned home, and how they’re staying true to their Midwestern charm and sensibilities.
“I think that’s what I love about Milwaukee, and Wisconsin as a whole — that no one’s ever trying to be something that they’re not. Everything is done with this authenticity and a genuine passion. … I just find that so exciting.
“I had been away for so long that I’m relearning the city and just falling in love with it,” she continues. “Every weekend (I’m) eating at a new place and shopping at a new store and just chatting with people, and everyone is so friendly and nice here. It just feels like such a great homecoming.”
To learn more about Chasing Paper, go to chasingpaper.com.