Melissa Hyatt was in an advertising class at Syracuse University when a professor, taken by her color sense, sent her on a whole new trajectory—surface pattern design, or as she would learn, creating art to enhance walls, textiles and even upholstery fabrics. After graduating from college, Hyatt launched a successful career, designing bedding and dinnerware for Martha Stewart, home décor for Pier One Imports, wallpaper for Brewster Wallcoverings and fabrics for Waverly Fabrics, where she worked for 15 years and became design director.
But the higher she rose, she said, the more removed she felt from her true passion—painting. When computer aided design (CAD) replaced human brushstrokes, she realized it was time to try something new. Hyatt moved to the North Fork with her husband in 1999, juggling freelance clients while raising their two children. Divorced in 2010 and ready for fresh inspiration, she signed up for a watercolor class at the Southold Library. The course proved auspicious.
THE SEASIDE AS CANVAS
“Watercolors really brought color back to my life,” Hyatt said, relishing the time she now spends playing with various palettes in her sunny Southold studio, covered top to bottom with her tableaux of birds, gardens, sunsets, sailboats and other local vistas. Even her floor features one of her hand-painted creations—a white trellis repeat pattern on a grey backdrop, artfully scuffed up by her daughter’s pandemic tap dancing.
But the class was more than a personal reset for Hyatt. It brought her work full circle. She rediscovered her love of surface pattern design through watercolors and on her own terms.
“Watercolors really brought color back to my life.”Melissa Hyatt
Staying true to her vision, Hyatt relaunched her design career at her Southold home. Its proximity to the Long Island Sound informs her cool aquas to turquoise tones. Living a few blocks from Kenney’s Beach, she said she’s forever inspired by the rolling tide and changing hues of the surf. Everything from the seafoam blue of the ocean to the moss and sage greens of local flora and fauna fuel her palette. A pillow adorned with a blue-green crab, claws tipped in bright orange, is a customer favorite.
“I love the contrast of a deep blue with a soft robin’s egg blue, like when the water is deep indigo and the sky turns aqua,” she said. “I use those hues mixed with neutrals a lot in my landscapes, not to mention in my home and in what I wear.”
The East End’s arts community further stimulates Hyatt’s creative process. Nature photographer Jay Rand motivated her to paint birds for patterns and fine art pieces, such as her Evergreen print featuring local birds like cardinals, blue jays and chickadees.
Hyatt is also enamored with local botanicals, as well as retro leaf prints. “The fern pattern was in the first collection of designs I created when I decided to launch my own brand,” said Hyatt of one of her most popular motifs. “It was inspired by a vintage fabric swatch I found in my travels.”
Though Hyatt painted the original design in watercolor, she got over her dislike of computer-generated art and reworked the fern repeat digitally. She applies this same technique whether creating her popular blue coral pattern on a cream backdrop in fabric or her best-selling wallpaper—a brown banana leaf print.
While she regularly uses PhotoShop for her repeats now, she occasionally draws them on tracing paper first—the “old school” method she learned in college.
RIDING THE WAVE
Hyatt’s return to design couldn’t be better timed, as lockdown ushered in a new passion for nesting and a realization that less is, well, a bore. Those minimalist white walls are on their way out. Maximalism is in, and with it, exciting new shades, graphic patterns and textures, with which to deck your rooms.
If you’re unsure of where to start, you’re not alone, said Hyatt, who noticed a generational divide in terms of her clients’ tastes. Boomers, for instance, gravitate toward “farmhouse modern” and prefer neutrals, while millennials are more willing to experiment with wallpaper and a rainbow assortment of tints.
Hyatt, who isn’t a formally trained interior designer, said she loves to edge customers toward color, particularly those who find it “overwhelming just to pick a swatch of paint.”
For those who are timid about color, she uses her daughter’s room as an example. It’s a calming sea of pale blues and greens, accented with botanical and marine prints on her walls and room fabrics.
Bedding and home accents, of course, are gentler ways to experiment with color than repainting an entire house. And they often become a design focal point, pulling the whole room together.
“I reupholstered a pale gray ottoman in my living room with a fabric I created for Belle Maison Fabrics, where I’m a design consultant,” she said. “The deep indigo with a subtle geometric pattern grounds the whole area, as the rest of the room is fairly light.” Hyatt opts to keep her own walls a pale cream or light gray, preferring patterned accents like the ottoman or her Damask type, blue and white block print rug.
Though she sources some of her patterns from traditional English fabrics and floral designs, Hyatt said rendering them in watercolor gives them a contemporary feel. “I love my art to be a focal point in a room,” she says. “My interiors tend to be less patterned but rich in mixing textures and materials. A watercolor landscape framed in local barn wood, for example.”
Another way Hyatt has modernized her process, retained artistic control and made her designs readily available is through the internet. Though she hand-paints each of her motifs, she sells her patterns on Spoonflower.com, which allows you to virtually see how a pattern would look as wallpaper, a duvet cover, pillow or fabric yardage. Want the print on Belgian linen? Fleece? Peel-and-stick wallpaper? Pebbled texture? It’s all a customizable click away.
And since Hyatt retains the original digitized art files, she also offers customization—be it recoloring existing patterns or changing the scale of a motif. “Print on demand technology is amazing; no more going to a store and looking at rolls and bins of wallpaper. I can even work with clients on an original design.”
It’s a great way to take baby steps into richer, deeper shades like honeycomb, jade, lazuli blue, dark oak and orchid flower, which were deemed the interior shades for fall/winter 2022/23 by WGSN, the global authority on consumer and design trends, and Coloro, the universal color system used by interior designers.
Whichever hue is the true you, Hyatt said that patterns are a great way to develop a style of one’s own. “It will add both excitement and individuality into your home,” she said.