fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Hitting the Wall

by tori phelps | photography courtesy of Malmberg studio

Photographer Robert Malmberg’s pandemic project, a wallpaper collection based on his popular fine art prints, is being praised in the design world thanks to equal parts ingenuity, instinct, and impeccable timing.

He’s not good at sitting still. While most of us were clocking marathon TV sessions at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malmberg tasked himself with creating a distinctive product for the design trade he’d come to love. The result of his self-appointed artistic challenge is a wallpaper line that has not only garnered commercial success and industry rave reviews but also stands as a blueprint for turning a proven talent into an entirely new enterprise.

And he did it all while making a thousand-mile move (see “not good at sitting still” above).

A Pensacola, Florida, native, Malmberg had lived and worked in New York City since graduating from California’s Brooks Institute of Photography fifteen years prior. He’d recognized photography as his calling since his teens, so he tackled the NYC art scene with the knowledge that, since failure wasn’t an option, he’d better work darn hard. It paid off. He found work assisting fashion photographers and began showing his fine art photography in galleries. After just a couple of years, Malmberg opened a Brooklyn studio for his commercial and fine artwork while also selling photos to interior designers. The latter quickly proved to be more than just a sideline, so he built a website around his fine photography prints where designers could search by theme, color, location, and other criteria to select original images for their projects.

He had achieved a rare level of artistic success. Then came 2020.

Like everything else in New York City, his studio shuttered early in the year. Initially, he intended to hunker down and wait out the pandemic, but paying rent on an unused studio month after month galvanized him to make a plan for the next chapter of his life.

His print sales had spiked during COVID when so many people started revamping their homes, and he wondered what further contribution he could make to interior design. In a lightbulb moment, he hit upon wallpaper as the answer. “It made so much sense,” he says. “It’s basically an endless canvas—artwork in a very real sense. And the idea of incorporating my fine photography into these patterns really clicked for me.”

Another thing that clicked was the decision to go home. As much as he had enjoyed his years spent in New York City, Malmberg and his wife, Wendy, craved both the family and the weather they loved on the Gulf Coast. A return to Pensacola was clearly the right decision personally, and it breathed new life into him professionally as he reimmersed himself in the southern coastal environment. Soaking up familiar yet somehow novel wonders inspired multiple wallpaper patterns, including Man O’ War and Magnolia Wild, an “ode to the region” comprising more than ninety still life photos of magnolia flowers in different phases of bloom.

The same perseverance that allowed him to break through as a successful photographer helped him (eventually) produce the kind of wallpaper to which he was proud to attach his name. After much trial and error, including a peel-and-stick flop that nearly ruined a wall in his new house, he discovered a manufacturer in Connecticut who uses thick, nonwoven vellum paper that feels like a museum-grade print. “It’s stunning,” Malmberg says of the quality. “And I love that it’s printed in the US.”

The initial collection debuted in March 2021, its near-perfect timing landing in the first wave of what has become wallpaper’s comeback story. The line’s striking aesthetics, blurring the lines between photography, mixed media, and interior design, marked it as a standout from the beginning. He describes the patterns as maximal but contends there’s something for everyone. The response so far indicates that he’s correct. He’s partnered with showrooms in New Orleans, Chicago, and Miami to carry the brand, and it’s been featured in Architectural Digest, The Washington Post, and Interior Design magazine. What’s more, high-end designers—even those whose work is typically minimalist—are fans of the wallpaper, too.

Malmberg says he plans to get into textiles in addition to wallpaper as he works on a new collection this year.

The reception has been humbling as well as gratifying. “It was a gamble,” he says of the decision to veer into unfamiliar territory. “When you throw your work out into the world, you never know how it’ll be received. But the number and quality of designers who’ve reached out to me have been really encouraging.”

So encouraging that he continues to design new patterns using the same “working backward” technique responsible for his initial offerings. In his process, Malmberg becomes inspired by a theme and then either searches his archives—filled with the millions of photos and negatives he’s snapped over the decades—or shoots a new series of images to fulfill that inspiration. Then he simply plays in his studio, experimenting with lighting conditions and layering until he’s satisfied with the result.

Photo by Guy Stevens

Although walls were the first target of this new design venture, Malmberg recently announced that his patterns soon will be available as textiles, primed for furniture coverings, curtains, pillows, bedding, and more. The idea isn’t new—it’s been in the back of his mind since the wallpaper launch—but he didn’t want to do too much too soon. With the wallpaper line firmly established, though, it seemed like the ideal time to introduce this second element.

Longtime fans will be glad to know that these additions to Malmberg’s repertoire haven’t edged out more traditional work. Commercial projects and limited-edition fine art prints keep him grounded in the craft to which he’s dedicated more than half his life, as well as push him out of his comfort zone. Portrait sittings continue to be particularly valuable, he says, as they compel him to move beyond the tech-driven aspects of photography and enjoy the increasingly uncommon act of connecting with people in person in a meaningful way.

The artist moved from New York City back to his hometown of Pensacola, Florida, where he now lives, works, and plays along the inspiring Gulf Coast with his wife, Wendy.

This desire to connect with his audience, whether he’s doing commercial shoots or brainstorming a new wallpaper pattern, drives both the mood of his images and the direction of his career. As he discovers more about himself with every project, he also finds a deeper appreciation for his art and the sense of purpose it’s given him. “At the end of the day, being creative for a living is such a gift,” he says. “And I get to share that creativity with the world around me.”

— V —

Visit RobertMalmberg.com to purchase or learn more.

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail