Spaces

Curated colors: This Kansas City couple is disrupting the paint industry with Backdrop

Paint is one of the cheapest and best ways to spruce up a room — but picking the perfect color can be a huge time investment, especially for indecisive types.

Married entrepreneurs Natalie and Caleb Ebel hope to make the paint decision-making process less painful with their company Backdrop, which offers 50 curated paint colors and large 12-by-12 adhesive samples that help DIY types save time, money and trips to the hardware store.

You can order their olive oil-style canisters online at backdrophome.com or through select Urban Outfitters retail locations.

Kansas City Spaces: Since neither of you come from the design industry, how did you come to launch a paint company?

Caleb Ebel: I’ve lived in New York for 10 years and seen how paint can really transform a space, especially if it’s a shabby apartment. The process was frustrating every time. You’d see people standing in front of the color wall at the hardware store with 3,000 options and pulling their hair out. And you’d see the same people a week later, in line again. We asked ourselves why this industry is so broken compared with all of our other brand experiences. So we surveyed our friends to see if this was an exclusively New York City renter’s problem. The answer that came back from across the country was that no one enjoys the process.

Natalie Ebel: Starting a business was something we had talked about before 2016 when we got pregnant. We came back to the idea naturally when our daughter was born. I went to the hardware store to ask for a white with no undertones for the nursery and I was given a choice of 30. We knew it could be easier and talked about what it would look like to do something different.

KCS: You’re not just coming up with a new line of colors — you’re reinventing the way people choose paint?

CE: Yes. The industry has been dominated for 200 years by these legacy decisions that make for a bad customer experience. If we started this industry today, things would be done differently and the consumer wins.

NE: Customers can order our 12-by-12-inch adhesive swatches to attach to the walls. They wrap around corners and you can stick them on different walls to see how the light changes the color.

Also, the paint can hasn’t changed in the last 100 years. Our cans are easy carry, easy to pour, and they’re stainless steel so they’ll never rust.

KCS: How did you whittle your color palette down to only 50 colors?

NE: We looked at it from a consumer’s perspective. In blue, you need a bright, architectural blue and a soft blue. We have two greens — hunter and a bright green — and three whites. We narrowed it to 75 essential colors early on and had a great group that supported us on Instagram. We asked: Would you actually put this color on your wall? It turns out that what your color preferences are versus what you paint on a wall are actually quite different.

CE: But it’s not like 50 is the perfect number. It’s an evolving palette.

KCS: What are the favorites that keep rising to the top?

CE: It’s fun to see how people’s preferences are working out. Supermoon (a bright white) is a best seller. Surf Camp, which is a dark blue-green, is a great accent and we’ve also seen people paint whole rooms and multiple rooms with it. Tan Lines, which is a deep yellow, is another favorite.

KCS: You are from Kansas City and named one color Westside Local. Why?

NE: Naming the colors was so important to us, and we especially wanted to make them memorable or make you feel something. Surf Camp really set the tone. One time when we were walking around the Crossroads, I mentioned some restaurants that we should go to that night. The Westside Local is one of our favorite places, and it’s so industrial in that area that naming a gray that just felt right.

KCS: The names sound fun and youthful. Do you have a particular demographic in mind?

CE: We’ve seen the brand resonate with a broad cross-section of ages. Our target launch was for young families who are investing in their home space. We’ve also seen a younger demographic in their early to mid-20s who are renters in New York and L.A., all the way up to 65-year-olds in Missouri and Ohio.

KCS: What did you see in the partnership with Urban Outfitters?

CE: Paint as a design purchase doesn’t make much sense in a hardware store. Putting it in a different environment with other home goods makes more sense. Urban Outfitters has never carried paint before, and it’s a critical product offering with their merchandise.

NE: What’s also fun about this partnership is that I was a part-time retail associate at Urban Outfitters in college, and here I am 12 years later with a product featured there, which is a surreal experience for me.

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