That same business, now known as S.A. Maxwell Co., Mundelein, IL, is still in business today. It is one of the oldest, continually operating wall coverings companies in North America. This month it celebrates its 150th anniversary with the introduction of several new high-end wall covering lines designed by Jaima Brown, the company's director of design.
The new anniversary lines include the Jaima Brown Brand, Winnetka, First Class Male and Garden Chic collections. Also as part of the celebration, the company will unveil a new showplace home in Lake Bluff, IL, featuring many of S.A. Maxwell's latest designs and collections in actual room settings.
The link from Abraham Lincoln to today's S.A. Maxwell Co. can be made thanks largely to a letter detailing the company's early years written by one of the founding Maxwells to a company salesman. The letter has been preserved, and with it the company's history.
In 1851, J.W. Maxwell opened a store selling books, stationery and wallpaper in Lacon, IL, near Peoria. Part of the shop served as the local post office, which was a common partnership in rural areas back then.
Maxwell eventually concentrated on the wall coverings business, seeing greater profits in it than those afforded by only books and stationery. That's when he moved the business to Bloomington, and soon became host to Lincoln and his fellow young lawyers and politicians.
In 1882, the company moved to Chicago, IL, where business was booming. It settled into the Maxwell Building, which still stands today on south Walbash Ave. The business did well enough to open branches in New York, NY; Kansas City, KS; and Pittsburgh, PA.
When founder J.W. Maxwell retired, his son Samuel Augustus Maxwell took over. Under his leadership the company became dominate in the wall coverings market and remained so until the Great Depression in 1929 when the company was sold to a predecessor of Imperial Wallcoverings. Soon after, Leon Emmert was named president.
Emmert had been in the wallpaper business his whole working career, having worked his way up to being named president. In 1955 he bought the company from Imperial and preserved the S.A. Maxwell name.
Leon Emmert was not the first or last of his family involved in wall coverings. His father worked for a company in Chicago that made and distributed wall coverings, and today his son, Rick Emmert, runs the company having joined the business in 1970. He was named president in 1979. Rick Emmert moved the company to its current Mundelein headquarters and oversees the design and distribution of all its wallpapers, borders and fabrics.
QUALITY PAPER, UNIQUE THEMES
"We warehouse everything here in a 35,000 to 40,000-square-foot building," Emmert says. "We have the offices and a studio here as well. Wallpaper we got!"
"The higher-end market is the fastest growing segment of the wall coverings industry. People are tired of painted walls. Not only do consumers prefer more color, studies indicate they are more productive and happy when surrounded by unique wall covering designs. Wallpaper makes a house a home," he adds.
What makes for a quality wall covering for the high-end market? "Unique themes, something with a twist," says Brown, who designs and directs the designing of all S.A. Maxwell collections. Also, more sophisticated color palettes; a more expensive paper; thicker, more opaque inks; and a different (rotary screen) printing process, she explains.
"We focus on color and designs here," says Brown. "Wallpaper is more beautiful than ever. Pattern is back in style, and wallpaper never goes out of style. It seems to be moving more upscale," she says.
In her view, the trend for wall coverings is toward the traditional and more formal look. "It's the turn of the century and people get a bit more conservative in designs," she says. Besides, design does tend to recycle itself. In the early 1990s die-cut borders were prevalent, and die-cut borders are in fashion today. "Bigger borders are in, too," Brown notes. Likewise, ceilings often were papered in the past and that technique is being done again, even on modern vaulted ceilings.
Here are some other style and color trends Brown sees:
• "Tropical is coming. It has started already, but there's definitely a tropical influence in pattern and design."
• "Red is very popular in dining rooms and living rooms. Reds are becoming more popular with an Asian influence."
• Orchids are the new trend flower.
• Yellow is very popular. "A nice, bright yellow. Years before, it was a very hard sell."
• Novelty designs.
• Laundry room designs. "I've always been known to design laundry room borders. Laundry rooms are rooms people like light and bright and fun."
• Faux and trompe l'oeil. "Especially windows. They're good for powder rooms."
All of these themes can be seen in Emmert's Lake Bluff home, an open-concept house highlighting wall covering design ideas. "I wanted to show how you can go from room to room decorating with wall coverings," Brown says. "It takes a little more effort, but it definitely works. We have patterns that flow from room to room and it looks great." HELPING HAND
S.A. Maxwell Co. has joined the Illinois chapter of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA) in the renovation of a Chicago, IL, Ronald McDonald House. Jaima Brown, Maxwell director of design, is helping interior designers select wall coverings, which the company is donating.
Each Ronald McDonald House is a home-away-from-home for families of seriously ill children being treated at nearby hospitals. This Ronald McDonald House, near Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital, is the second of more than 200 in 18 countries. It was opened in 1977 and became the model that most other Ronald McDonald Houses have followed. It is governed by its own board of directors, and is supported by volunteers, many of them relatives of former patients or parents who have stayed there in the past.
IFDA designers plan on completing the renovation in time for the House's 25th anniversary in early 2002.