Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

Making a Statement: Vahallan’s Artisan Approach to Wall Coverings Fills Unique Niche

May 27, 2021 02:15PM ● By Kim Carpenter
vallhallan staff in front of rainbow mural of faces

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Saks Fifth Avenue, Christian Dior, Cartier, and Mikimoto are known for their high fashion in the clothing industry, and their sense of fashion extends to their showroom walls. What is not immediately known, however, is the Nebraska connection to those walls.

In recent decades, wallpaper got a bad rap. Quaint floral patterns of years past harkened to grandmothers in house dresses. But Alliance, Nebraska, native Dan Nelson intuitively knew wallpaper would be making a comeback decades ago. He founded his Lincoln-based company, today known as Vahallan, in 1997 and has been building a loyal clientele that’s eager for his designs. That’s because Vahallan boasts a distinctive line of bespoke, hand-painted wall coverings created by a team of professional artists.

Nelson owes the spark for his creative vision to his brother, who first reinvigorated a wall in his home with a hand-painted, distressed design. His mother soon imitated the technique. Nelson, who was living in Manhattan, Kansas, in the early 1990s, disliked how the wallpaper in his apartment was peeling off the walls, so he grabbed a roll of craft paper and some paint and worked to create a marbleized design. It received rave reviews. “Everyone was just amazed by it,” Nelson remembered. 

He started experimenting in his garage with different techniques, and by 1997 was ready to leave his full-time job and commit to creating wall coverings for a living. He started with two employees and began revealing his creations at showcases such as the Street of Dreams, where he handed out at least 600 business cards during a four-day period. Local designers soon clamored for his wallpapers. 

The global wall covering market generated slightly more than $30 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $40 billion by 2026. Vahallan stands out for its handcrafted, artisanal offerings, which it creates for residential and commercial clients. “When we first started, only three or four companies did what we do,” Nelson said. “Now, it’s maybe 25. We are different and fill a specific niche.”

Vahallan’s project manager, Annie Kaufman, said that niche is immediately evident. “Right off the bat, as soon as you see the wall coverings, you see how beautiful they are. Once you touch and feel them, you think that even more so,” Kaufman said. “They are not super-traditional. They are topics of conversation, and people always ask, ‘What’s on your wall?’ They transform plain walls into statement walls.”

That niche is met by eight artists who work to create an eclectic collection with poetic names such as “Aravalli” and “Velino.” Graphics range from softly blurred, textured surfaces to bolder, more patterned designs. There are now roughly 50 collections, with four to seven colorways available for each line.

The approach is highly specialized and artisan. “First and foremost, everything starts with our hands,” Kaufman said. The result is a textured surface that’s more painterly than printed. It can take six to eight weeks to produce 100 square feet. Vahallan’s artists collaborate and experiment. Clients often commission specific looks to match their interiors, such as a recent brushed metal wall covering created for a contemporary statement wall in Dallas.

Since Vahallan’s designs are so labor- and time-intensive, the company works exclusively with licensed interior designers and showrooms. The aforementioned high-end retail spaces have featured the company’s wall coverings. Nelson also said clients in China, Singapore, the Middle East, and Europe have all placed orders, and celebrities such as Steve Harvey display Vahallan’s creations on their walls.

The global pandemic showed no sign of slowing the business down. With more people spending time at home, Vahallan grew by a whopping 10% since COVID-19 hit.

“It was our best year ever. It was really strong,” Nelson says. “It’s hard to keep up with demand.”

Visit vahallan.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.