When Katie Deedy was growing up in Georgia, she and her mother—a children's book author—liked to sneak into an abandoned train depot and old, empty houses on the edge of town where the elder Deedy would delight her daughter with folktales. Her mother's passion for stories inspired Deedy's own: For years she filled notebooks with landscapes of her imaginary worlds. Later, working as a freelance illustrator for publishers and ad firms in New York, Deedy struggled to find a way to make a living from her own drawings—until the day she turned a sketch of a girl in a polka-dot dress being stalked by a monster into a repeating pattern in Adobe Illustrator, just for fun. "Suddenly, my eyeballs went, whoa," she recalls. "And I thought, wallpaper."
Deedy saved money working as a bartender and barista, and in 2008 launched her handmade wallpaper company, Grow House Grow, out of her Brooklyn apartment. From the start, storytelling infused her designs: "Staring at a blank piece of paper is really daunting," she explains. "But when I have a story that interests me, it helps me draw that first lie." A playful print called "Ms. Ward"—part of a "forgotten female scientists" collection—pays tribute to a 19th century naturalist (it features Georgian dresses accessorized with a butterfly fan and glowworm stole). "Captain Smith" draws inspiration from the last hours of the veteran seaman who helmed the Titanic (a tentacled "crew" floats amid abstract ship's wheels—or are they sea sponges?). A dreamy pattern of tree trunks with secret doors references Deedy's own childhood adventures in the woods. "There are too many interesting stories," says Deedy, "and not enough time to explore them all!"
Deedy sketches in pen and ink, with watercolors, or on her computer before sending her patterns to be hand-silk-screened by a mom-and-pop shop in upstate New York. "In my first year, I made one sale," she recalls. But she kept exhibiting at design shows, and eventually the retail chain Anthropologie called. In 2010 Saks Fifth Avenue wallpapered the windows of its Manhattan flagship store with Deedy's creations. Now she designs a new collection every year, and posts "curiosities and weird stuff" she discovers in her process on her blog at GrowHouseGrow.com. "Research is the fun part for me," Deedy says. "I'm pretty indulgent with myself about how much time I take." —Andrea Lynch