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Conversations with Sarah Von Dreele

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Von Dreele.

Hi Sarah, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
For over twenty years, my career as a creative director centered around developing branded programs for corporate and consumer-facing clients, and designing communications across multi-channel applications. With a BFA in Graphic Design from Rhode Island School of Design, my formal training in typography, graphic form, visual systems and color provided a foundation for using design toward strategic business goals. Equipped with an iterative, exploratory process, I was easily able to shift between communicating technology-driven products to developing seasonal footwear campaigns.

In 2015, painting was an accidental discovery – an artistic outlet while navigating the traumatic end of my marriage. Other than using gouache for color theory in art school, I had never explored painting as a medium of visual expression. What began as a creative and meditative outlet quickly became the foundation for a new business. After gaining support from branding clients and colleagues in the A&D space, it became clear that my paintings had an application beyond my personal healing. Inherently repetitive, the work lent itself to manufacturable repeats, leading to my first collection of wallpaper and the Sarah Von Dreele brand, launching in 2019 at The International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City. Over the course of three years, one collection led to the next, expanding into additional categories like fabric, original art, and licensed products.

Sarah Von Dreele wallpapers, fabrics and original art are available to the trade through my showroom representation across the country, including Egg & Dart at the Denver Design District. Additionally, I continue to develop consumer home accessories and limited edition art for CB2. Between developing new products, painting what I see, and keeping up with my sixth-grader, I patiently pursue my interest in learning the French language. I live and work in New York City with my daughter, my home since 2002.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It has been a wild ride! Changing one’s professional course 25 years into a career requires a lot of stamina and courage.

Our showroom representation grew from 2 to 10 locations in about 18 months. The collection has more than tripled since launch and is on track to release new product 3x annually. It became very clear last year that managing orders across 10 showrooms for an expanding collection of 150 SKUs was going to get complicated, fast.

The first 36 months after a brand launch is what I like to call the “traction period” a.k.a. time to get your ducks in a row. There isn’t any historical data to guide projections, so I had to create hypothetical scenarios of what I thought would happen. This gave us a clearer picture, allowing strategic planning for smarter operations.

In a very short time, I have had to learn an entirely different industry and liken the experience to airplane flight, sharply climbing to an initial cruising altitude at 10,000 feet. My creative services background is certainly part of my DNA, but I had to quickly shift into manufacturing mode, requiring me to understand and manage new processes and develop foundational systems with built-in scalability, efficiency and accuracy.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
The end of my marriage was abrupt and traumatic, but without that painful experience, I would never have discovered painting. I firmly believe that if you choose to go straight through an experience rather than around it, the learning and growth that occurs can bring you to a beautiful other side. I had no idea that those initial works on paper would lead to such personal and professional transformation. This is something I am most proud of – very much a lemonade from lemons experience.

When I paint, I am not thinking about how it might translate into fabric or wallpaper. That is how this adventure started, and although now this my new business, I try to preserve that open artistic space. My background is not in textile design, so I also likely view the product development process through a different lens. All of my patterns begin as a gouache paintings. Gouache is a water-based paint, but unlike watercolor, it has a greater range of opacity and can be very opaque. My process is highly iterative, and by being present in the artistic moment, this allows me to respond to what is happening on the page. One moment leads to the next. A final fabric pattern may have 100 iterations that led to that design.

Apparently (laughing), I am known for my color work (right brain) and for being incredibly organized (left brain). The way I see and use color and the way I run my business is just inherent. I love pushing the boundaries of color combinations and hue relationships. You can always pull back…. or just get another sheet of paper and start over. I never pre-mix and store my colors. Each time I start to paint, I mix a fresh palette. I think this makes for a more honest moment captured on the page. The work is the manifestation of how I process experiences and the world around me. The colors selected and mixed in that moment are an important part of the story.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
Seven years ago, there were days when time stopped and five minutes felt like an eternity. Emotional pain hurts from the inside out. My life as I knew it had completely turned upside down. However, I was forced to sit still and feel every emotion that accompanied the end of a marriage. The experience gave me context for comparison, allowing me to take greater risks. Changing career and professional identity in your mid-40s? Yup, that’s a risk. Is it going to be worse than what you just went through? Probably not.

This mindset shift has also manifested in my work. While I sometimes look at flowers or photographs of things I’ve collected along the way, it is much more challenging to reach from within for artistic inspiration. You are taking a greater risk because you don’t know where the work is headed, you don’t have that still life in front of you to guide your making. For me, It is from this place of unknown where the most interesting work emerges. It is a risk to put yourself into that space.

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Image Credits
Christine Han

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