Maryland designer's wallpapers are on view in children's rooms all around the world

July 26, 1992|By Ginger Mudd Galvez | Ginger Mudd Galvez,Contributing Writer

The world's a smaller place these days, and baby's bedroom proves it.

This is true at least in part because of the work of Upper Marlboro designer Barbara Brower, who creates children's wallpapers for the American subsidiary of a large German wallcoverings firm. Her designs are manufactured abroad and distributed in North and South America, Europe and the Far East. A mother in Berlin, Maryland, now might pick the same border for her newborn's room as a mother in Berlin, Germany.

"The United States actually leads the word in designs for the children's market," Ms. Brower says. "We were the first to recognize the impact of baby boomers, a group which has money to spend on their child's bedroom and is looking for a coordinated look. But children's wallcoverings are truly international. They are easier for people of many countries to understand than, say, such traditional designs as the American country look that I design for the living room."

Designing a collection of wallcoverings (an industry term that includes wallpaper and borders) involves more than sitting at the drawing board. As director of design for Pickhardt and Siebert (USA) Inc., a "daughter" company of one of Germany's oldest wallcoverings companies, Ms. Brower keeps a sharp eye on the latest developments in a range of allied industries. Paint colors, of course, but also children's fashion, greeting cards, gift wrap and disposable party goods all give her clues and ideas for collections. Adding to the challenge is a two-year lead time.

For example, Ms. Brower notes that partly because of how the environment has risen to the top of the public agenda, greens of many shades are now extremely popular and dependable sellers. "As part of this same trend, tropical flowers and images of sea animals are now accepted in wallpaper designs, something you just didn't see a few years ago," she says.

For the juvenile market, Ms. Brower says lavender is an important new color that crosses the gender barrier. "I'm also seeing more black and white designs for children's rooms, which is the influence of children's fashion design -- but one that I'm not keen on," she says.

What Ms. Brower is keen on are warm, cuddly character designs. "While color is the dominant factor in decorating adult rooms, I believe characters are most important for a child's bedroom," she says. "But they have to be characters that are well drawn and very friendly, especially for a younger child. No dinosaurs with flashing teeth."

For infants, Ms. Brower recommends placing borders at crib height, so the child can see the design. In her latest children's collection, called "Mommy and Me," Ms. Brower included a series of playful animal mother/child designs on very large (20 1/2 inches wide) borders. (Her wallcoverings are available at area stores.)

"I was seeing two-career families where the parents were feeling anxious that their children were not always getting the attention that they needed. . . . So this collection consciously addressed those family issues. I wanted images that were warm and happy and that in a small way create a loving environment for a child. I also wanted a design that provides the parent with a teaching moment where they can talk about the characters with their child," she says.

The aquarium-themed border in this collection, with smiling whales and sea turtles, is a top seller in U.S. and foreign markets. "We worked a long time to create the expressions on the animals' faces," she says. "We were looking for a sense of communication. We also had to be very careful that the images has the right association -- that the clams look like clams and not hamburgers, for instance."

Ms. Brower thinks the coming trend for children's borders will again stress the teachable moment, with characters set in scenes that encourage fantasy and storytelling.

Although she is based in Upper Marlboro, Ms. Brower travels abroad several times a year, to company headquarters in Gummersbach, Germany, as well as to a French subsidiary outside Paris. Her role as staff designer for Pickhardt and Siebert has expanded to include juvenile design work for other international branches of the company.

"Globalization, with products being accepted by the whole world, has happened more quickly than we ever thought possible," she says. "But there are still some design elements which just don't translate well from one country to another. Hedgehogs, for instance. The English are mad for them, and use them in many of their designs, but no one else seems to respond to them with quite the same fervor."

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