Q&A: Environmental Designer Heather Novak-Peterson


Above: Novak’s streetscapes in the Dock Street Flats acknowledge its  industrial past.

Heather Novak-Peterson, an environmental designer with the Cuningham Group, loves working with architects and interior designers—especially when she can draw on their walls, as she says. The same holds true when she’s working with a homeowner. She designs patterns and décor that can be printed on wallpaper, vinyl, wood veneers, and sheet metal, then cut to size and affixed to walls. You may have seen Novak-Peterson’s work in some of the North Loop’s hippest establishments (Borough, Parlour, Smack Shack, and Shag Sushi). With a new website, and an Etsy store for DIYers launching this summer, she’s bringing her sense of artistic adventure to homeowners everywhere.

What’s the difference between an environmental designer and an interior designer?
In a very modern sense, I am a commissioned artist whose patrons are architects trying to give clients that extra something missing from the usual design process, and homeowners wanting to project their unique personality and identity in a room. Instead of oil paints and canvas, I use printers and wallpaper to create large-scale projects that are unique to each client.

Right! I know what you’re thinking. Wallpaper… that’s the stuff I scraped off in my first house. But today’s technological printing processes allow any type of design to be printed on almost any medium, making wallpaper the new canvas. So instead of making art within a 3-foot frame, I am creating digitally printed versions of my drawings and paintings that can be up to three-stories tall. I can match the substrate to the project needs and budget with a custom design that’s an original work of art, more economically and at a more eye-popping scale than traditional works.

What’s your process for working with homeowners?
It helps that I’m madly in love with how a space can make you feel. I also deeply respect a home’s architecture. My process involves collaborating with homeowners and architects to honor a home’s rhythms and lines, and any existing interior design palette, before launching into a new creative point of view that will add to a space. Some clients know exactly what they want—and it can be as literal as existing building signage reproduced and enlarged. Other clients are seeking an artwork that reflects a mood, a memory, a feeling, or a scene. In that case, I think about how people will engage with the artwork as they walk by; how it will function in and impact the other colors, dimensions, and shapes in the space. I might add more graphic elements to a drawing, a pattern, or one of my photographs by using a stylus on the computer. The technology makes so many things possible.

How did you become so enamored with art and architecture?
My mother, father, and brother are all architects. So I grew up in a house where dining at an Eero Saarinen table and sketching on napkins was totally normal. And I attended art classes before I could walk. I am also naturally inquisitive and find inspiration in everything and everyone around me. My sources are as diverse as my clients, who keep me inspired as I strive to visualize the intangible feelings in a space that a homeowner wishes to manifest in work of wall art.

See more at hjnovak.com

By Camille LeFevre
Photo by Brandon Stengle


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