Describing wallpaper as jaw-dropping sounds excessive—until you browse a Porter Teleo lookbook. The friends who founded the Missouri company and still design every pattern open the doors to their creative process. 
Pattern: Floral Graffiti / Design: Verte Fonce and Jackson Paige
Pattern: Floral Graffiti / Design: Verte Fonce and Jackson Paige
| Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo

Kelly Porter and Bridgett Cochran met at a Kansas City coffee shop. Porter is a fine artist, Cochran an interior designer. They bonded instantly, recognizing a shared zeal for hard work and creative risk-taking. Within a year, they launched Porter Teleo, a hand-painted wallpaper company. A darling of designers and the luxe stuff of Pinterest fantasies, their work has redefined the wall covering category.

Pattern: Tangled Gris / Design: Elms Interior Design
Pattern: Painted Plaid / Designer: Hardenburg
Pattern: Geo / Designer: Kenneth Brown
Left: Pattern: Tangled Gris / Design: Elms Interior Design | Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo
Center: Pattern: Painted Plaid / Design: Hardenburg | Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo
Right: Pattern: Geo / Design: Kenneth Brown | Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo

So, why wallpaper?

KP: Not long after meeting, we were looking through my portfolio, and Bridgett was asking me about different kinds of printmaking—intaglio and etching and lithographs. I had an art perspective, and she had a product and interior design perspective. We realized we had skill sets that were different but could combine to create something to meet both of those worlds.

What makes Porter Teleo wall coverings different from typical wallpaper?

BC: The human eye can quickly pick up on a trackable repeat. Even when our wall coverings feature repeatable elements in a pattern, each panel will be a little different because they're painted by hand. So they feel more like a large-scale art installation.

KP: Right. A person doesn't need a background in art or design to pick up on mass production. If you see something rare and special, you know. When you're in a room with one of our wall coverings, you see how the light and shadows fall on it. And you can touch it. The quality—it's just breathtaking.

Custom Mural / Design: Johnny Valiant
Pattern: Ink Blots / Design: Mike Schwartz
Left: Custom Mural / Design: Johnny Valiant | Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo
Right: Pattern: Ink Blots / Design: Mike Schwartz | Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo

It does feel completely different. More tactile. Tell me about the paper you use.

KP: If you start with the best materials, the quality is immediately better—like the ingredients for a recipe. Wall covering companies have tried to mimic the hand and sensibility of fine-art paper, but nothing matches the up-close nuances. This paper comes from the mountains in Japan and has been made the same way for so long. It's beautiful before we touch it with any ink.

Where do new patterns start?

KP: We never look at the industry or our collection and say, "We don't have a plaid, so we need a plaid." There's a process. You find one little thing that's the first spark or glimpse of the idea. Then you investigate it—sketch it and think about it in different ways. Then you think about scale, and color at the end. Scale is a big step. When you look at a little sketch, it's very different from deciding what its ultimate expression will be.

You compared your wall coverings to art installations. What artists or periods inform your work?

BC: Our range of inspiration has broadened over time, but Abstract Expressionism underlies everything we do.

KP: Specifically, I love Francesco Clemente, Cecily Brown and Cy Twombly. You can see some of that influence in the pieces.

A team of fine artists— many women and alums of the Kansas City Art Institute—executes your designs. Describe your studio.

KP: Our culture is so emotionally and intellectually intelligent. Our team is always listening to podcasts and books on tape. That's the culture in here, to be a creative explorer. It's very compassionate and very real.

BC: We're very protective of it. 

KP: Because it is really special. It's great to come to work every day where the energy is positive, and people support each other in their jobs and also in their lives.

Pattern: Kintsugi / Design: Regan Baker
Pattern: Kintsugi / Design: Regan Baker
| Credit: Courtesy of Porter Teleo

Pros often suggest using wallpaper in smaller spaces, due to cost or nerves. Make the case for going big.

BC Even though our patterns are large-scale, I've seen small spaces done so well with our coverings—like an installation of our 36-inch-wide ink blots on the ceiling of an entry. A small space like a powder room is an easier commitment. But there is no substitute for the boldness and bravery of a designer who does all four walls in a dining room, with drapery to match, and hangs a beautiful artwork on top of it—it's an amazing pushed-to-the-limit look.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.