Digital Divide

getting creative in the age of e-commerce


How many conversations have you been privy to about how the interior design industry is changing?  Suddenly there’s One Kings Lane, Joss & Main, and  Rest ashored the field of resources is only going to multiply.  Anyone can buy anything online.  You can’t blame the vendors, they’ve got to stay alive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.  So I’ve been thinking – what will set interior designers apart from the e-commerce fray.  An education in the decorative arts, a refined taste level, and adept project managing come to mind.  Lots of designers I know also think specifying more custom furnishings will become the norm.   I’ve got some experience on that subject which you might find interesting – and while I’m not likely to make friends in the fabric showrooms with this post – I’ll share it anyway.

Digitally printed fabrics have been around for nearly a decade.  In that time the technology’s been almost the exclusive realm of 7th avenue – because the printers themselves could only successfully print on poly and poly blend ground cloths.  Things have changed.  The technology is evolving rapidly (as all things do these days) and now it’s possible to print on cotton, linen, and silk.  Designers can specify a custom print fabric unique to a project.  Here’s the how and why.

First, with a software program like Illustrator or Photoshop anyone can produce a repeat.  If you’re looking for help, you can hire a CAD artist to produce a print to your specifications with very little investment (CAD artists are everywhere.)  Second, understand you can have as many colors as you like in your design without crippling yourself financially.  Screen printed fabrics require a screen to be cut for each color.  Digital printing is done in a single pass printing all colors at once.  Third, digital printers rarely require minimums.  Historically when a designer created a custom screen print there was a 200 yard minimum.  Add to that the cost of each color screen ($250-$750 each depending on complexity) and the printers fee for labor/ground cloth and suddenly a custom print was out of the question.  With digital technology you can have as many colors in a design as you’d like, you can print on good quality grounds, and minimum runs are a moot point.

I’m going to make a bold prediction.  Within 10 years textile showrooms will stop producing prints, because designers will be creating their own as part of the service they provide.  The showrooms will enlarge and diversify their woven collections – likely including new fibers – as there’s little chance they’ll lose that market.  The cost of loading a loom means shouldering at least a 200 yard minimum.  It’s also unlikely an individual would find a mill willing to work with them on weaving a single run.  I also predict that textile showroom will do more exclusive, limited runs of their wovens, and they’ll speed up the cycle in which they offer new designs to accommodate our ever-diminishing attention spans.


Interested in the idea of a one-of-a-kind print?  Here’s a road map.

Create a design and have it digitally mastered.  I’ve used The Style Counsel, who are really great, and if you’re looking for help with the design, they’ve got CAD artists who can help.  Then check out for your first printing.  It’s a crafter’s resource, but they got 10 ground cloths for you to choose from, and they print minimal yardage for about $18-$30 per yard.  Their printer technology is cutting edge.  If you’re looking for a more sophisticated ground cloth, do a little research of your own.  Digital printers are popping up everywhere.

My Irish grandmother used to tell me to be thankful for my problems, as they were opportunities to learn.  Custom designing a print for each project, moreover perhaps for each room on a project, would also give you an opportunity to do what interior designers do best.  Be creative.


7 thoughts on “Digital Divide”

  1. i’ve found that Jamie has an ability to listen to the needs of a consumer and refine that need, incorporate it into a project and make a happier end user. I think this ability will help bring a better esthetic the the on-line consumer.

  2. Interesting idea Carl, and I must admit that I feel a bit like Kate. Having been the color and textile fashion director for AMC in the late 80’s I handled product development for our stores from the color and fabric point of view. It’s harder then it looks and yes, color is different when it comes together with other colors for a successful pattern. Way different then picking colors for paint, and putting a great array of fabrics together. But for those with that talent, I can see the overlap. Personally, and probably because of where I live, my overlap is with architects as I take on more interior renovations. Moving walls and relocating baths and kitchens that was once the domain of an architect. But that’s because it’s hard to get permits to build here, and many, many of the homes need to be renovated and updated to the lifestyle we live here now. As an ex trend director I am really curious to see how it all plays out. The thing I think we all agree on is that times, they are a changing!

    1. I agree with you on many points Irene. Both you and Kate bring up the idea that not all designers may have the ability to assemble colors for a successful fabric pattern. I’m of the idea that as the pool of potential clients continues to shrink in age of internet decorating, the only designers who’ll survive are the ones with that innate talent, and the ones who work hard to acquired it. I think we’d all agree this is no time for the status quo, we need to become smarter, faster, and leaner to compete.

  3. An interesting perspective and you make some great points. What comes to mind for me is the thought that not all skilled interior designers have the ability to be skilled textile designers. The interaction of colors is considerably different between working on the scale of a room and that of a textile even with a pattern at the grandest scale. I”m sure many interior designers will be able to make the leap but I bet just as many won’t have the depth of knowledge of color to do so successfully.

    It may result in a repeat of history and look something like the problems that resulted when people were specifying color for their Gobelin Tapestry. The colors that were carefully selected often looked different when they were brought together in the tapestry. It was actually the many people dissatisfied with the results and their complaints about the final product they specified that prompted some of the very first research on the interactions of color by Chevreul.

    It is now 200+ years later but my own observation with the few hundred interior designers I have trained on color is that not many understand enough about how colors interact to specify colors that will result in a finished product that matches what they have in mind. I think your suggestion of getting help is a great place for most designers to begin. It will be interesting so see how interior designers handle this new medium. A crash course in surface design, anyone?

    1. You make some very valid points Kate, and I very much appreciate your background and expertise. I believe there are many factors at play here, and that as the design community responds to problems brought on my a flailing economy and the proliferation of e-commerce, that customizing resources will be the norm. You know far better than many that understanding color theory is complex.., but it will become as necessary as a scale ruler and a floor plan. Adaptation is the key to survival.

      1. I do agree that adaptation is key along with preparing to do so by adding the skills necessary. Only a subset in any industry has got the tenacity to keep moving forward and adapt to the ever changing business landscape. I appreciate your ability to look out beyond the current norms and venture a prediction on what that will look like for designers. Well done!

Leave a Reply