Maya Romanoff discovered the magic of dying fabric when he saw tie-dyed T-shirts at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.
He turned that fascination with colors and fabric into a career, starting the Skokie corporation that bears his name and has grown into a $18 million business known for the beauty and variety of its handmade wall coverings.
"Best described by his exquisite wall covering, Maya has bedazzled us for decades, and his masterful artistry — and unforgettable spirit — will carry on," Cindy Allen, editor in chief of Interior Design magazine, said in an email.
Mr. Romanoff, 72, died of gastrointestinal complications Wednesday, Jan. 15, in Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, according to a niece, Laura Romanoff. A resident of Northbrook, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1990.
Laura Romanoff, senior vice president of sales and marketing for The Maya Romanoff Corp., said her uncle tried various artistic pursuits before getting into fabric.
"He'd been a poet, tried his hand at figure painting, but never really found himself until he found dying fabric, coaxing beauty out of whatever material was being used," she said.
In addition to wall coverings, Mr. Romanoff was known for fabric-based outdoor art installations, including a 1988 installation described in a 2010 Tribune story as "unrolling 48,000 square feet of hand-dyed canvas strips off the side of the Sun-Times Building (then on North Wabash Avenue)."
Mr. Romanoff grew up in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, where he lived with his family in the Belmont Hotel. He was born Richard Romanoff but was dubbed Multifarious Maya by an Indian guru he met in his travels. He eventually shortened that to Maya.
He was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and attended the London School of Economics. Travels took him to India, Pakistan and Tunisia before he found his way to Woodstock in 1969.
The same year, he founded his company, but not before adventures that included selling tie-dyed shirts out of the back of a VW van at a Rolling Stones concert in Miami.
Mr. Romanoff's company and its products are built on taking beautiful things from nature and turning them into sophisticated and elegant wall coverings.
"He knows how to translate the things in life that are beautiful to him and create wall coverings that communicate that," Allen said.
Silk, cotton, canvas, leather, wood, even mother of pearl and glass beads hand-glued on backing become shimmering and vivid backdrops for the interior spaces created with Romanoff products.
Chicagoans who have attended performances in the Harris Theater in Millennium Park have seen one of Mr. Romanoff's products — and something of a work of art itself — in the main stage curtain.
"Maya Romanoff has always made luxury by pursuing the very finest and most original designs with the finest craftsmanship and quality, which is what I think luxury is," said Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts.
Thomas said he has used Romanoff wall coverings in Wynn executive offices, restaurants, public spaces, even accent walls in suites.
"In the Wynn Encore Las Vegas, we used one of their most exotic products — Capiz shell — in the tower suites," Thomas said.
"His products are made with such care by hand, using the highest-quality materials," Thomas said.
Mr. Romanoff's work is in several museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, according to Laura Romanoff.
"Through his designs, he has the ability to make you feel something," Allen said. "His wall coverings are very tactile.
"The mother of pearl inlays, the designs in wood, make you want to touch it, caress it. He makes you feel beauty."
Survivors include his wife and business partner, Joyce; a brother, Robert; stepdaughters Andrea Berkowitz and Jennifer Block; a stepson, Michael Gutwaks; and six grandchildren.
Services were held.