Building a George & Willy-inspired Studio Paper Roller for Sketching

About three years ago, while on a trip to San Francisco, I was eating at a restaurant that showcased its daily specials in a really innovative way. They would handwrite them on a roll of butcher block paper that was mounted to the wall, and each day they'd tear yesterday's specials off and write down the new ones for the day.

I just loved the functionality of this idea and took a few pictures of it for inspiration. After leaving the restaurant, I began to think more about how this endless roll of paper would apply to different fields in my life. I immediately determined that this would be a great replacement for the whiteboard in my home office. I love using whiteboards to take notes while on the phone, plan sprints, and brainstorm and sketch on, but I hate the appearance of most of them.  

Once I arrived home, I began googling for the perfect paper roll holder. Most I found either couldn't be mounted on the wall, were built for commercial use or just not big enough to really sketch on. But then I found the "Studio Roller" by George & Willy. It was exactly the paper roll holder that I was looking for. It was functional, large enough to get ideas flowing, and most importantly, it looked amazing! The only downside at that time was they only had one size, which was the 48" mount, and that was too big for the spot where I wanted to place it. So I told myself that as much as I loved that solution, it just wasn't going to work out, and I filed the idea away.

Fast forward to the middle of last year. While Julie and I were doing some remodeling, the idea resurfaced. However, my search kept bringing me back to the same solution. As much as I wanted the George & Willy studio roll to work for me, I just couldn't get it in the size I wanted. So I decided to give myself a challenge and try building my own — and I did just that one Saturday.

Since I figured others may be looking for innovative brainstorming solutions like this, I figured I'd document how I built my George & Willy-inspired Studio Roller for under $20.00 — here's how:

1.) Buy this paper holder and paper roll:

The most important but challenging part of this project was to find the perfect paper roll. There's just not that many paper rolls to choose from. Most are really industrial or can't be mounted on the wall. Then there's the obvious part of trying to find something cheap enough that justifies building it vs. just buying the end product that you want.

The good news is: I found my solution at Ikea. The MÅLA Tabletop paper holder was cheap and fit the spot I needed perfectly. The optional paper roll is also durable enough that I was not concerned about any bleed through from markers. You'll need to pick this up separately. The only downside is that it is not the ideal color for my office decor and doesn't’t have wall mount. Not a problem: we'll fix that here soon.

2.) Build your wall mount:

I was sort of dreading this step. I figured I would have to go through a variety of solutions before I would find the right one in order to convert this table top roller to work on the wall. I was wrong. All you need to do is buy these brackets. The supplied screws work perfectly. You can buy them from Amazon or Lowes. Simply mount them directly in the center of the paper roll, flush with the feet like the image below.

3.) Build the tear strip:

The final major step to this project is to make a tear strip that does not just hold the paper to the wall, but also makes for a nice clean tear whenever I want to advance the roll. The solution is to purchase this aluminum strip. You'll have to cut it down to 20.5 inches and drill two 1/8 inch (or so) diameter holes into each end. Those holes will be what you use to attach the strip to the wall using drywall screws and anchors. Keep the holes close to the edge of the strip so that paper can fit in between the screws.

4.) Paint it:

Before you mount everything to the wall, I'd paint each piece. You'll want to paint the paper roll (with attached mounts) and the tear strip. You can paint it whatever color you'd like. I chose this paint in a dark bronze/black. I found that the paint stuck just fine to the wood and metals with little prep and when painted in the correct temperature. Once dried, you're ready to assemble it and mount it to the wall.

5.) Mount it:

To mount your paper wall, I'd first figure out how high you'd like the roll to be. Keep in mind the roll should be over your head so you have enough paper to roll out. Hold it to the wall, test its location with paper in it, and mark its location and holes. Mine's mounted at 80 inches from the floor to the center of the roll. You'll then want to mark where you want your tear strip to be placed. This essentially dictates how long you want the roll of paper to be when you pull it out. I wanted mine long. I mounted my tear strip 21 inches from the floor.

Once you have marked all the holes, you can use a laser level to ensure things are all leveled up, and then you can mount each piece securely to the wall. I used standard 1.5 inch screws and drywall anchors like these. You'll want to tighten your paper roll tight, but be sure to keep your tear strip loose enough so that the paper can feed through and not get stuck behind the strip. The anchor should give you enough spacing, but if you need more, you can place a washer behind the strip and mount it to the wall.

Once you’re done with mounting this to your wall, you can now place your paper roll into the holder and feed it through the tear strip, and you're ready to start sketching!



I've been using this solution for a few months now, and I really enjoy it. Is it the George & Willy solution that I love so much? Not exactly, but it fits my current application and functions nicely. The best thing about having this as a tool in my office is how accessible it is. If I have a note I want to write, or an idea I want to sketch out quickly, I simply walk 2 feet and jot it down on the paper. Every Friday I give myself a fresh 2-3 feet or so to plan and write new ideas on.

Savannah enjoys it too because I give her the backs of the paper I tear off every Friday to draw on, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

I hope you found this how-to valuable. If you have any questions, just ask. If you choose to make one for yourself, please share the pics with me. I'd love to see it!  

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