The Unbound Collection by Hyatt and SkiftX present The Freedom to be Extraordinary content series, which explores how breaking free from convention can lead to extraordinary success. These conversations will reveal how leading innovators and entrepreneurs approach creativity and how they’re embracing the freedom to be extraordinary.
Brian Kaspr, artist, designer and co-founder of design studio Flat Vernacular, has an obsession with what he likes to call “blue collar aesthetic.” He sees the beauty in things like construction sites and is inspired by hardworking people who do things incredibly well.
Knowing his background, it makes sense. Growing up in Milwaukee, Kaspr was predominantly surrounded by friends and family members who worked as blue collar laborers. “My father tore down buildings and my uncles were operating engineers and mechanics. I wasn’t really exposed to the creative world or the idea that someone could make a living being creative,” says Kaspr. However, a family friend who worked as an artist and sign painter showed him there was a life beyond the traditional work and lifestyle surrounding him. “He was the first person I ever saw make a life for himself by focusing on creativity. Ever since then I was hooked. I knew I wanted to look at the world through that lens.”
For most of his career, Kaspr has focused on design in some form or another, but remained dedicated to lettering and sign painting. He says, “It manifested itself as graffiti in high school, and I got a degree in sculpture and printmaking from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. We started Flat Vernacular and focused on making bespoke, hand-drawn, hand-printed wallpapers after moving to New York City.”
There have been plenty of challenges along the way. Kaspr moved to New York City in 2008, right around the time the country fell into an economic recession. He launched Flat Vernacular a few years later with his then girlfriend, now wife, Payton Cosell Turner. Staying afloat financially was a struggle, as was finding the physical space to create in New York City, one of the most expensive, yet cramped cities in the world. Tired of dealing with the hustle of city life, as well as the limitations of space, Kaspr and Turner decided to move themselves and Flat Vernacular out of the city to Connecticut two years ago.
Flat Vernacular has taken off since its launch in 2010. The company is best known for its unique, unusual wallpaper, which range from its “Toile de Derby” design—a traditional toile print made up of wrecked derby cars—to its “The Heavens” collection, which encompasses a spray-paint like finish in dreamy shades of pink, orange, green and blue you won’t find in most traditional spaces.
Beyond wallpaper, they’ve introduced fabrics, furniture and coloring books to the brand, and their wallpaper has decorated spaces ranging from The Wing, a co-working space and social club for women, to high-end hotel rooms.
Kaspr relates the fact that he’s made a sustainable living as an artist to his ability to envision a project before he even starts working on it. He can easily see the light at the end of the tunnel. He also values the simple art of paying attention, which is becoming increasingly important, and more difficult, as we live more of our lives through screens. “I try to absorb everything I can during an experience through awareness and perception. Being in the moment can help you find beautiful things in mundane, everyday life.”
Read more articles from the The Unbound Collection by Hyatt interview series below.