Off the wall

Posted on 19 Apr 2007 at 11:33am
By Steven Lindsey

John Prince Originals takes wallpaper to an entirely new level of design elegance



Jim Coomer displays the vast array of custom wallpapers in his portfolio. Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones

Wallpaper. Wait! Keep reading.

Because it’s more difficult to hang than to slap up a coat of paint, wallpaper is the redheaded stepchild of home-improvement shows. And when you’re talking about the ornate crushed velvet stuff of the “’70s or the padded fabric walls of the “’80s, it’s easy to see why.

But what about cutting-edge, hand-painted art? The term “wallpaper” seems pedestrian and inadequate in describing the work of Dallas’ John Prince Originals.

Founded by John Prince in 1985, the company literally began by accident, and a fiery one at that. Prince’s partner, Jim Coomer, laughs as he remembers how it all started.

“We had a cold front come in and it was getting down to ten degrees at night and we had an outside dog,” Coomer says. “John put a bun warmer in the dog house to keep the dog warm. The doghouse was close by and it caught fire and burned portions of our house.”

To cover up the smoke damage, Prince applied his art techniques to paper and put it on the walls, Coomer explains. “A few weeks later a gentleman came in who had a showroom and asked if we could sell him some. Pretty soon it was selling like a controlled substance!”

The rest is wallpaper history. Clients were flying Coomer in private jets to install the handmade paper in their homes and businesses. Today, with 20 showrooms across the nation (and one each in Paris and London), there are other people who now perform the installation. (In Dallas, Coomer still enjoys doing it himself.)

So what makes this wallpaper so spectacular?
Unlike the type of stuff you pick up at the Home Depot, which comes in long rolls of patterned hideousness, John Prince Originals’ hand-painted paper comes in panels or torn sheets. Every inch is hand-painted, dyed and laid out to dry. They even make some of their own custom dyes.

The torn sheets are applied to the wall, overlapping to create unique effects that look like natural stone. Or the panels can be positioned over a painted wall to look like tile and grout. But even though the final result mimics other materials, don’t use the “F” word.

“We don’t do faux,” Coomer says. “It’s our own design and our texture.”
In 1991, Prince passed away and Coomer inherited the business. Today, he runs the operation out of a large warehouse studio and continues to create original papers with the help of an additional artist.

He and his partner of nearly 16 years, Carter Lowery, live in a fantastic loft-style apartment housed in the same space. While Lowery stays busy making improvements to their kitchen or performing other remodeling projects, Coomer is a few hundred feet away, creating wall coverings for those who are in-the-know, including many celebrities. Of course, most of them use pseudonyms when the interior designers place orders on their behalf, but eventually the truth is revealed.

“We did Oprah Winfrey’s bathroom in Chicago,” Coomer says.

Having just done “The Color Purple,” the paper used in the powder room stayed true to the film’s title. While showing off her home on an episode of her show, she told the cameras that it was her “Prince bathroom.” And when someone suggested it was called the “Prince bathroom” because of the singer’s signature color, she quickly made sure people knew it was John Prince Originals she was speaking about.

“That was a huge boost,” Coomer says.

Their client roster reads like a who’s who of everyone from entertainment to politics. Sally Field, Sonny Bono and even Richard Nixon had the custom paper in their homes. In the business arena, look no further than Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus and the Dallas Cowboys headquarters.

The National Guild of Professional Paperhangers named the John Prince line the “Wallpaper of the Nineties,” an honor that came complete with a fabulous trip to San Francisco to receive it.

One of the main reasons the paper has been so successful and timeless in an industry full of trends is the simplicity of installation and the stunning look of the final product. According to Coomer, it gives texture and depth without distracting from anything else on the wall, such as artwork.

“We like to say it’s the backdrop for gracious living,” he says.

For information about John Prince Originals, contact their representative showroom, William & Wesley, at 214-752-0236.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2007.

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