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Designing Walls of Wonder and Imagination

Designer Sofia Willemoës brings fantasy to life at The Assemblage John Street

by Simone Spilka

July 4, 2018


In the heart of Financial District, amid banking institutions and high-rises, one might say it’s nearly impossible to find or to connect with nature. But that’s where art and fantasy come in.

To introduce more green into The Assemblage John Street, our second House, we collaborated with designer Sofia Willemoës on eight large, lush wall installations that welcome visitors with a surreal sense of nature.

The custom-designed wallpapers brings Willemoës’ love of fables and tales from childhood to a modern, contemporary setting. Her work depicts the hustle and bustle of New York City life as bicycling squirrels and ballerinas, and offers large-scale vistas of a fantasy-inspired Mekong River with geishas floating above butterflies. Certainly, these depictions accomplish her creative goal of awakening fantasy and imagination in the viewer.

Willemoës has taken inspiration from the wetlands of Argentina, to the childhood classics of Hansel and Gretel and Alice in Wonderland, as well as looking at old estates from a bygone era. The wallpapers offer a montage of fantasy and natural landscapes, fused with nonconformity and unconventionality to create a stunning range that’s whimsical, elegant, and arresting.

We talk to Willemoës about her creative inspirations, love of nature’s superpowers and making an impact through art.

How would you introduce yourself to a stranger?

I am a self-taught designer. I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by flowers, animals and insects. I believe that being in contact with nature and fantasy makes us more creative. I design tools to give the different interior spaces that touch of nature all we need.

I create sensory experiences that combine paper murals, wallpapers and fabrics stamped with illustrations of flora and fauna. Some of them scented and some painted with flowers, fruits and true indigo pigments.

Can you tell me about your collaboration with The Assemblage?

I believe in the strength of collaborative work, and the importance of the experience as a main factor in a space, where the key is to conquer the seeds in each corner, causing good feelings in everyday life.

The wallpaper at John Street is unique — colorful, full of live and humanness. How did you get involved creating this?

I feel comfortable bring my designs to life in nature because it was my closest environment in my childhood and because I believe that human beings need to surround ourselves with nature. I design each detail of the murals and I have a team of graphic designers, illustrators and interior designers who develop what I imagine, what I dream, what I suppose will emotionally mobilize people to connect them with nature and fantasy, one of my purposes as designer.

What is your relationship to your work? Do you feel it’s your life’s work or purpose?

I see the design as a method of expression with purpose. I have designed murals with animals in extinction, as a way to generate the emotional need to care for them. With the murals I really like to generate an illusion in the viewer through the fantasy and the connection with childhood sometimes. I just like to make people feel good through a beautiful landscape in a kitchen for example, a quiet reindeer on the side of the river in the lobby of a hotel or a relaxing mist over the mountains in a workplace where people spend many hours a day.

How do you hope to make an impact on the world through your design?

I think that when people choose our murals, they choose to take a little illusion to their house, to their office, to a kindergarten. Generating small satisfaction in people does a lot for me. What causes me very strong feelings was the case of a mother who chose to apply one of our murals on the ceiling of her daughter’s room, who due to a physical problem spends most of the day in her bed looking at the ceiling.

What is the feeling that you want viewers to see when they engage with your design?

Illusion and innocence. Illusion because we need it —human beings live off of illusions; innocence because it is something that we unfortunately lose with the passage of time, where we stop seeing everything so clear.

What’s your superpower?

Believe that nothing is impossible.

Who are your teachers?

My parents, who taught me that I can do what I want in life with only one condition; do it being a good person. About designing; I have been very self-taught and I really like it.