Be it pink mushroom-covered wallpaper or fabric hand silk-screened with zigzagging red and blue trees, there’s a sense of joie de vivre in Mary Kysar and Topher Sinkinson‘s eye-catching creations.
And why not? The multifaceted designers who run Makelike, a design collective, are the epitome of a happy partnership, probably because their creative vision is in such lockstep. When asked what unites them, they both exclaim, “Pattern!” And indeed their talent for cheery motifs is at the heart of their expanding business.
The Makelike story began in the 1990s, when Kysar hired Sinkinson as an intern at a Portland design firm. Later, they ended up as cubicle buddies while working in different departments at Nike and finally merged paths formally in 2000, founding Makelike. The design side of their business, the “studio,” organically gave rise to the “shop.” “We were doing patterns for our branding jobs and had so many left over that clients didn’t approve,” explains Sinkinson. “A lot of the time we liked them better than what was chosen.” Voila! A witty wallpaper offshoot was born.
Portland (and parts nearby) provides the pair with a steady source of inspiration. “You can drive 30 minutes and feel like you’re in a forest. We can go mushroom hunting and skiing and hiking,” says Kysar. Adds Sinkinson: “That definitely influences the work. Both of us find a lot of ideas away from our desks. Hiking and taking photos and bringing those back to create patterns is a big part of our process.”
While the Makelike footprint is growing, neither partner wants to see it get so big that they can’t stick to their hand-drawn ethos. “All the drawings, even though they eventually go into the computer for repeats, are all illustrated by hand,” explains Kysar, adding that they usually use India ink on hot-pressed watercolor paper. Similarly, Makelike’s wallpapers are screen-printed by hand, which Kysar says, “gives them a really nice quality–there’s some wonkiness that happens in the process that gives the papers a distinct characteristic,” noting ink density inconsistencies and the texture of the ink as it sits on the paper as examples.
But despite their tried-and-true methodologies, there’s nothing outmoded about Makelike’s business model. In April, the company will relocate to a Southeast Portland retail/studio space (Sinkinson says the building resembles “an old Western saloon”). There, the pair will continue to stretch beyond their creative comfort zones: taking on custom work for clients (both private and commercial), repurposing ever more of their wallpaper patterns for fabric use, and maybe even pushing into furniture design. “I really like the idea that there are no rules,” says Sinkinson. “If we make something and we think it’s going to be a great asset to our existing collection, then it lives.”