When Liz Dunn walked into the elevator foyer of the State Hotel downtown, the walls stopped her short—a hand-drawn array of produce, seafood, and Pike Place Market souvenirs. It was the fall of 2019, and the redevelopment maven and owner of lounge and coworking space the Cloud Room had sought the right wallpaper for her master bedroom for months. She soon had Kate Blairstone’s number in hand, prepared to woo the Portland-based designer into taking on her first residential project, Dunn’s newly renovated houseboat on Lake Union.

Blairstone took little convincing and dove into researching the marine flora and fauna of Puget Sound. The result: An art nouveau kelp forest featuring an entirely local cast of characters, from the unfurling tendrils of the Phacellophora camtschatica (more commonly known as the fried egg jellyfish) to the stylized fronds of kelp greenling, with strategically placed anemones, crabs, and rockfish floating throughout.

“I couldn’t include just any fish. It was important for the design to have a distinct relationship to the place it would be installed,” says Blairstone, an artist who prizes specificity. She created each motif with ink on paper, but advances in digital printing allow her to experiment with color and scale.

Blairstone’s hand-drawn, screen print–style illustrations yield the rare kelp forest that can play off the rustic glam look her client carried throughout the two-story bungalow. Dunn says she was going for a late ’60s vibe, “with plenty of brass, bronze, and wood floors and paneling.”

After installation, Dunn appreciated how her bedroom’s walnut paneling appears to frame the floor-to-ceiling aquatic tableau. It’s fitting, she says. “This isn’t just wallpaper. It’s a commissioned work of art.”

Tips for Bringing Life to Your Walls

1. Pacific Specific Create a distinct sense of place with a design that incorporates patterns and objects from your locale. 

2. Background Check Consider how much light the space sees when picking a background color—you may want to choose a slightly darker shade if the room is well lit. 

3. Color Match Paint heater vents and light switch plates a color that complements the design (and do so before installation). 

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