De Gournay – the London-based wallpaper firm known for its exquisite hand-painted creations – trusts fewer than three dozen companies in the United States to hang its wallpapers.
And H.J. Holtz & Son is among that select group.
Late in 2022, Emily Wicks, who works in de Gournay’s Logistics and Installation division, came across online images of Holtz installations of de Gournay wallpaper. She contacted company president Rick Holtz and invited him to prepare an application packet.
“That was no small packet,” Holtz says, noting that the company provided a list of projects involving de Gournay wallpaper, photo documentation, and client letters. After the Holtz & Son application packet was reviewed by Wicks and de Gournay Co-founder and Director Dominic Evans-Freke, the Holtz team responded to questions about specific techniques and strategies used from Evans-Freke himself.
The recommendation is worth the effort, Holtz says.
“We wanted to pursue the designation because de Gournay wallpaper is so highly regarded internationally,” Holtz says. “Our clients who have used it in their homes could not be happier with the quality of the designs and workmanship.”
Wicks says applicants are evaluated individually because every setting is unique and presents its own challenges.
“Each installer will have their own ways of creating the perfect finish,” she says. “[Those] who have worked with our papers over the years have discovered that there is not a standard way to hang them, as each ground is so uniquely different from the other.”
Founded in 1986 by Claud Cecil Gurney and his nephew, Evans-Freke, de Gournay began as a firm dedicated to re-introducing the ancient Chinese tradition of hand-painted wallcoverings for a modern era. Now the firm has six collections ranging from classic Asian to panoramas and geometrics. Additional offerings include textured wallcoverings and special collaborations with other design partners.
Customers wishing to have de Gournay creations gracing their homes may select from in-stock offerings that include wallpapers, lampshades, decorative porcelain pieces, mirrors, screens, and framed wallpaper mounted on canvas. Another option is to personalize an existing wallpaper design by specifying flowers or animals depicted to suit taste or geographic location. De Gournay artists will also work with clients wishing to create a one-of-a-kind design.
The Holtz & Son wallpaper team recognizes the significance of being named a de Gournay recommended installer – the only company in Virginia to hold the designation.
“Our team is dedicated to providing professional and thorough service to every customer, no matter what the project involves,” Holtz says. “But they love it when they can hang fine wallpaper such as de Gournay – it really is a work of art. There are few people in the world who can say they’ve had that experience.”
H.J. Holtz & Son paper hangers Shane Legano and James Draine went to the annual Wallcovering Installers Association convention in September knowing they would come away with helpful information.
“I asked questions for jobs I knew were coming up,” James says. “We usually know in advance when we have a big, specialty job coming. That [convention] is a good place to ask questions, because there are a lot of people there who are doing the same kind of work we do.”
Both Shane and James have attended multiple WIA conventions, but this is the first in-person gathering since 2019, due to pandemic disruptions. The two agree that meeting in person adds to the experience.
“You’re getting input from all these different wallcovering hangers from all over, their tips and techniques,” Shane says. “We’re learning from each other. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, you’re always learning. There’s always something new.”
James adds: “When you work in such a small industry, you don’t meet a whole lot of people who know what you do, especially the high-end wallpaper work that we do. There are probably 15,000 plumbers in Richmond, but maybe 10 high-end residential [wallcovering] installers. At the convention, there are 150 people who all do the same thing: hang wallpaper. It’s a wealth of knowledge.”
This year’s convention was slightly different from past gatherings, which typically offered multiple sessions in a single time block. This year, sessions were held one at a time, so participants didn’t have to make decisions about which to attend. Another benefit of the new schedule was flexibility: James and Shane could skip sessions geared to business-owners and instead spend time with their colleagues.
“The secondary chat – just talking with people in the hallways – is really important,” James says. “You can have conversations about something you heard in a class, where someone else says, ‘I did that a different way,’ and you can talk about what you’ve done. You can figure out different ways to handle different situations.”
The first day of the convention was devoted to best practices. In addition to the instruction, each participant was given a three-inch, three-ring binder divided into sections for every aspect of hanging wall coverings, from liners to adhesive to matching patterns to QR codes for future reference. “It’s everything you would ever need,” Shane says. “That binder, hands-down, is my favorite thing I got from the convention,” James says.
Another highlight of the meeting was a video tour of the headquarters of Adelphi Paper Hangings, a New York company that reproduces historic wallcoverings using the same methods and materials as in the 18th and 19th centuries. Because the Holtz & Son team has worked with Adelphi papers in the past, in Colonial Williamsburg and private residences, it was especially meaningful to see the company’s process, James says.
“They take a big roll of paper and cut it down into 3’-by-3’ sheets, which is the size that was used years ago, because they didn’t have big paper rolls,” James says. The tour showed how designs were created, from brushing the background on the paper to making the paints that are then used in the screen printing process. “It was really cool to see how they made those types of historical papers,” Shane adds.
Shane and James agree that their conference attendance makes them better at what they do. “Every year is different, so there’s something new to learn every time,” Shane says. “We’ve picked up so many tips and tricks [over the years]; because of what I see there, I’m willing to try it here. Rick [Holtz, company president] lets us go and takes care of everything, which is great. It has really opened doors for us.”
When Jim Gottier and Andrea Ball were looking for a firm that could hang wallpaper in their indoor mini-golf venue, the choice was easy, Gottier says.
“I just Googled ‘wallpaper hangers,’ and [H.J. Holtz & Son] were clearly the most venerable folks,” he says. “I saw some others [listed online], but Holtz was by far the best and most professional.”
Gottier and Ball’s “highfalutin’ mini golf” opened in July 2019 inside the old John Marshall Hotel. The couple created a team of professionals – from a well-known mini golf designer to artists (one of whom has won a Guggenheim Fellowship) to a novelist – to create a space that both invites and baffles participants.
“Our whole thing is we want to create a place that has romance, mystery and unease,” Gottier says. “We like to make it feel like a surreal stage. People can come in and be characters, acting out their own drama or comedy.”
Following a closure mandated by state coronavirus pandemic restrictions, Hotel Greene has reopened by reservation only, with guests able to lounge – at a distance from one another – while enjoying refreshments and then proceeding to their own game of golf.
As they move throughout the space, visitors will notice the dramatic Lewis & Wood wallpaper, used to create focal points within larger spaces. In the lobby, Holtz & Son installed wallpaper at the front counter, the bar, and around the fireplace, where a lion gazes serenely from his portrait. Downstairs, Holtz craftspeople hung paper in the areas hosting the 9th and 10th holes.
More recently, Gottier and Ball re-imagined the pool hall they had been operating next door. Now billed as Hotel Greene’s ballroom, the multi-use space can be reserved for private meetings, weddings, or other events. A team from H.J. Holtz and Son returned to paper a wall that serves as the backdrop for a 17th century painting of a goose.
“It’s a large, beautiful, active space,” Gottier says. “Every hotel has a ballroom where things like that happen. We’re a wonderful fake hotel.”
Gottier says the Hotel Greene team is thankful to have reopened, even at reduced capacity. “We are big enough so we can give folks the Hotel Greene experience as we wait for a vaccine,” he says. “We have wonderful protocols in place. Customers are really enjoying themselves.”
And that’s the goal, he adds. “This really is a site-specific art project. There are plenty of things on the course and in the lobby for people to ponder. It’s okay if you don’t get it all the first time.”
For reservations, visit www.hotelgreene.com/rates.
Continuing Education for our Paper Hangers
Shane Legano and James Draine, experienced paper hangers with H.J. Holtz & Son, are already implementing strategies they saw at the Wallcovering Installers Association annual convention last month.
Draine, who has been with the company for more than 15 years, says that within three days of his return to Richmond, he used an idea from the convention: scoring the back side of commercial wallpaper – thicker than most papers used in homes – so it more easily and crisply wraps around an outside corner. (An outside corner is where two walls meet and form an external angle, creating an edge to walk around).
“The knowledge I get [at this meeting] is great,” Draine says. “The tips and tricks we see there really come in handy.”
Legano agrees. “The different techniques other people have come up with make wallpaper jobs go smoother,” he says. “We learn so much every time we go.”
Legano, who has also been with H.J. Holtz & Son more than 15 years, says the easy atmosphere of the convention fosters support among participants, who share project stories without reservation. “Everybody’s open, nobody’s competing with each other,” he says, adding that participants develop working relationships that continue well beyond the convention.
“We reach out to each other through the year,” he says. “It’s a family-type organization. We like catching up [with friends]; we always look forward to it.”
Draine says he thinks the camaraderie at the convention is possible because the national pool of wallhanging professionals is relatively small. “You don’t have a lot of people in each state who do the work that we do,” he says. “Paper-hangers aren’t a dime a dozen; that brings us closer.”
Both craftsmen agree that attendance at the annual meeting has ripple effects, noting that the support of company president Rick Holtz is much appreciated. “Rick doesn’t have to send us, but the knowledge we bring back helps us and the company in the long run,” Legano says. Draine notes that for most other companies, it’s the owner who attends, not the paper hangers themselves. “[The instruction] saves us so much time and money,” he says, “and it makes our jobs look better, which is what really matters.”
It’s essential to keep skills sharp, they agree, because wallpaper and other coverings are more popular than ever. Customers can choose from a wide variety of materials and patterns – everything from fabrics to wood veneers to thick, patterned paper. “It’s instant gratification,” Legano says. “You can wrap anything. Just last week, James wrapped a trash can.”
Some professionals – accountants, lawyers, doctors – are required to attend continuing education classes yearly, to keep their practices current and top-notch.
While the same mandate doesn’t exist for wallcovering installers, H.J. Holtz & Son makes sure its lead wallcovering installers have the opportunity to sharpen their skills at the annual Wallcovering Installers Association international conference.
This year’s conference, held in Denver, September 13-15, attracted wallcovering professionals from not only the United States but nations including Australia, Canada and Japan, to name a few. Holtz’s team included Jeff Ragland, Shane Legano and James Draine, who were able to attend education sessions, and meet with vendors and others working in the field, to share – and learn – information.
And for Ragland, to receive an award: second place in the Specialty Category for a project at the historic Taylor House on Hollywood Plantation in Arkansas. The late-19th century house, now owned by the University of Arkansas, is a log house in the dogtrot style, with a straight central hall running from front to back.
Ragland partnered with Historic Wallpaper Specialties, a restoration company in Tennessee, on a project for the lower level of the house. To return the home to its earlier appearance, fabric was stretched over the logs and then overlaid with wallpaper, as would have been done at the time. “You can pluck it,” Ragland says. “It sounds like a drum.”
Ragland says he enjoys the annual conference – this was his ninth year – because it’s an opportunity to take a deep dive into industry practices.
“There are definitely cool little techniques you learn,” Ragland says. “You see a lot of variety, especially from overseas. Some of the techniques they use for wallcoverings…we can adapt, to make our work more efficient.”
Ragland says one tabletop demonstration showed him a new way to cut paper to fit around windows and doors, which can be the most challenging aspect of a room. Seeing such techniques up close and in person is important, Ragland says, because each project requires strategic thinking.
“Every paper and pattern is different in what they can do, what you need, what you can and can’t do,” he observes, adding that it’s fun to be able to meet people in person who he’s seen featured on the association’s Facebook page.
“I love adapting and trying new stuff,” he says.
Next year’s conference will be in Cincinnati. Holtz employees will be there, too.
The craftsmen at H.J. Holtz and Son had the privilege of helping preserve and share American history by hanging graphic murals in the The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. This new facility, which is replacing the Yorktown Victory Center in Yorktown, VA, will host a grand opening celebration from March 23-April 4, 2017 to officially launch the new museum.
The graphic murals created by Keith Farby are a visual backdrop for the museum’s artifacts and exhibits. Hanging them takes extreme precision and attention to detail. If the graphic is off by ⅛”, everyone will notice it.
The curator and the head of the museum laid out the graphic murals in the correct order. The murals were 54” wide and 14-15 ft. tall. When hanging such large murals, we have to hang from left to right, making sure each panel lines up with the previous panel all along the seam. This required two to three installers to set the top, middle and bottom of each panel. Several of the murals were made up of 10 or more panels.
There were many obstacles to overcome while hanging these graphic murals. In one instance we had to hang the mural in the glass case with hardly enough room for an installer and a ladder. Not only was it challenging to place it perfectly in the case, in that situation the mural had stretched on the press. Therefore no matter how we manipulated it, it would not line up. Ultimately, it had to be reprinted. We used a lift for several men to hang a high scenic mural, and in one section, we had to secure a ladder on concrete faux dirt! There were also curved walls that we hung murals on, which required extra patience to make sure everything lined up.
We always go into a job with the mindset of treating it like it is our own home. Working at the Yorktown Museum was no different. Our experience and attention to detail made the final product look fabulous on the walls and we hope the visitors enjoy all of the history at their fingertips!