Jamie Reich, a local designer, business owner, and collaborator, pulls his design and business philosophy from his extensive background in theater: The show must go on. Reich and his team work diligently to apply that principle across all three of his design companies: Apropos Studio, Area Environments, and most recently, 5th & Malcolm. While Apropos Studio has made custom decorative plaster, paint, and prints for well-known brands like Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and PINK, Area Environments focuses on creating digitally printed wall coverings from artists’ original works. But at 5th & Malcolm, where local artists are busy creating perfectly imperfect handcrafted wall coverings for interiors, Reich is both pushing forward and looking back.
Tell us about 5th & Malcolm.
5th & Malcolm was born out of the desire of wanting to do something new. When I first started Apropos 30 years ago, everything was hand-painted before it all went digital—I started out painting backdrops for professional photographers in the Twin Cities, and then moved on to faux finishes, murals, and wall coverings for homes and retail stores. Digital work has been very, very good to me—our fantastically talented print team continues to create amazing things that would be out of reach by hand—but after so many years of digital work, I felt a pull back to the craft of hand-painted work.
What do you hope to accomplish with this new business?
By offering this new line of wall coverings from 5th & Malcolm, we are giving a new perspective to handcrafted wall coverings. There are other companies out there doing this, but our goal was to create something fresh and new that we haven’t seen in the marketplace. As always, I want to continue to spread beauty and joy in this world. That’s been my driving force in all three companies I own.
How do Apropos Studio and Area Environments differ from 5th & Malcolm?
Apropos Studio started in 1988 as a decorative painting studio, and over many years, has worked with world-renowned designers and companies, printing large commercial work along with custom sculpting and decorative finishes. Area Environments launched in 2012, and works with artists in creating digitally printed wall coverings of their original art. With 5th & Malcolm, we complete the perfect trifecta by reaching a separate clientele who appreciates a one-of-a-kind handmade wall covering made from our hearts and through our hands.
Why are wall designs so important in interiors?
A wall design brings life into your space in a way a fresh coat of paint can’t, and it sets the subliminal mood of the room. It can either quietly whisper to you or confidently ring out. With all the new wallpaper products available these days, whether for an accent wall or ceiling, surface design sets the stage.
What tips do you have for readers interested in wall coverings for their own homes?
Choosing wallpaper is a very personal choice. What speaks to you? What brings you joy? What do you want your interior to communicate to others about your sensibilities? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself when making that choice.
Tell us a little more about your team.
There has always been a collaborative spirit in all of my companies. I rely on other points of view, which prevents us from becoming stale and keeps us fresh with new ideas all the time. I never would have had the success I’ve had without my employees: Kara Gardiner, project manager; Shona Dockter, production manager; Loren Chantland, senior designer; and Amy Ouradnik, designer. Their input is always appreciated and always brilliant. I am so grateful they are in my life.
How has this affected your design process and business atmosphere?
We’ve created a “design lab” feel where everyone feels comfortable giving input. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We share articles from magazines, blog posts, new product lines, and our own creative ideas on any given day. This leads to a burst of more ideas, support, and rock-solid design concept.
What ignited your passion for design?
Early on, I was rewarded with positive feedback from the adults in my life—be it my parents, siblings, friends, or teachers—but especially my 7th grade teacher who told me I had a special talent and should continue to develop it. It’s amazing how one good teacher can have so much influence in a person’s life. I am still grateful for him to this day. From that small seed he planted, I was determined to develop my gift. I was also drawn to the theater, where I found kindred spirits and learned many skills that I still carry with me today.
How has your background in theater influenced your design aesthetic?
Theater taught me an appreciation of style and period, which has been very helpful in my career as I’ve learned to adapt to various styles for clients. My personal taste tends to be a bit theatrical—bold, daring, and unexpected—but I also appreciate the subtleties of good design.
What does “The show must go on” really mean to you?
I think it really has led to my success. I never said no. I always figured it out by myself or with someone else. In theater you’re given a small budget, so you figure out ways to make things look beautiful and luxurious with a small amount of money. You learn tricks and different ways to achieve that.
Describe your design process when starting a new project.
You have to be open to trying anything. You know the rules, you know what the materials are, and you know what they’re supposed to do. That informs you on how to break the rules. I also look at other things that inspire me (anything pretty) and try to understand why I like it. I can take inspiration from it in my own way.
Tell us about a project you’re proud of and why.
One of the local projects I’m particularly proud of includes the Famous Dave’s Blues Club in Uptown where we were tasked with designing and providing all the finishes throughout the restaurant, including crumbling brick walls, graffiti, and signage. To research the design, I scoured Chicago and visited all the hole-in-the-wall rib joints. I took hundreds of photos throughout the city and those translated into the final design. Plus, I got to eat lots of ribs!