April 16, 2020

Business of Home: Makers confront a new challenge: downtime

Giant waves were lashing against the side of the apartment building. Just outside the living room window, an electrical transformer exploded, sending sparks flying. Inside, Nick and Rachel Cope were starting a wallpaper company.

It was 2012, and Hurricane Sandy was laying waste to New York’s low-lying neighborhoods, including Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the young couple were hunkered down. In the aftermath of the storm, most of Nick’s projects—he had a design-build company at the time—were put on hold, and the hospital where Rachel was working as a therapist was shut down for post-Sandy repairs. So the Copes took advantage of the break to experiment with making marbled paper, a project that evolved over time into a bustling company, Calico Wallpaper.

Almost a decade later, they’re facing another disaster-induced hiatus, with their Brooklyn design studio closed by stay-at-home orders issued to halt the spread of COVID-19. This time around, the Copes have a staff of 11, not to mention two young children at home—the stakes are different. “Sandy was awful, but it was fairly localized and we did see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Nick tells Business of Home. “We’re taking some of that experience into this, but this situation is obviously different.”

The company is facing a heap of challenges—a creative team learning how to work over Zoom, a design director stranded in South Africa with a wonky laptop—but in many ways, the Copes are lucky. The mills that manufacture their wallpaper are currently operating, placing them into the fortunate category of vendors who can still ship product. Across the country, many makers are facing a more complete shutdown, putting a famously industrious community into uncharted territory: downtime…


Photography by Daniel Shea