After nearly 30 years working as a graphic designer and art director for clients such as Walmart, United Parcel Service and Architectural Digest, Richmonder Sarah Rowland has turned her talents to home interiors with The Sarah Rowland Collection.
For the past three years, Rowland has focused her design work on developing a wallpaper and fabric collection she debuted in May at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Comprising 35 large-scale graphic patterns and dynamic color combinations, Rowland’s striking collection makes a strong design statement.
We recently shared a cup of tea with Rowland on the back deck of her Midcentury home on the banks of the James River, where we talked about her new design endeavor.
R•Home: Why did you shift your focus to textile design?
Sarah Rowland: I’ve finally started doing this textile thing, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. [Rowland, a VCU graduate, studied textile design at the Royal College of Art in London in 1998]. I decided to stop doing graphic design full time and just go for it … I say that my textile venture is like ivy: the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps. It’s building momentum and it’s exciting.
R•Home: What inspires your patterns?
Rowland: It sounds trite and simplistic, but nature is really a huge influence for me. It informs how I live, how I treat people, how I eat and especially how I design. You can’t get better color combinations than what you see if you just look out your window. … Nature is my teacher. I never can get enough of it. I have always had a fascination with the art in nature.
R•Home: Do you pay attention to trends?
Rowland: I look to trends, but I go with my own gut, too. People are so open-minded now about fashion and interiors. There are so many choices. … I don't really know what the rules are, but I will find out. I am ready to see if my vision will work.
R•Home: Wallpaper is so popular right now. Did that have anything to do with your decision to start designing it?
Rowland: I have always loved wallpaper. My mother had it all over. But you can’t help but be influenced by what you see around you. It was a happy, lucky — and maybe calculated, on my part — coincidence that wallpaper is so big now.
R•Home: How do you create your designs?
Rowland: I do a lot of hand drawing. I also love to use watercolors. [After I create something], I will then scan it and manipulate it. The computer is a major tool for me, but a lot of it is hand-done. My Floppy Flowers pattern started as a doodle on a napkin at my brother’s restaurant [Rowland Fine Dining]. … I have a library of 1,500 designs. I kid you not — I am a pattern machine.
R•Home: What has been your greatest challenge in bringing the Sarah Rowland Collection to market?
Rowland: The design is the easy part but the journey to getting my designs produced has been really hard, [even though] the manufacturing process has actually gotten very friendly to the small designer and everyone is all about short runs. My wallpaper source is in Los Angeles and the fabric is from New York. Right now, everything is produced digitally, and printed on demand. I would love to get into silk screening.
R•Home: Do you have plans to use your wallpaper in your own home?
Rowland: I have a blank wall going down my stairwell that will be my little testing ground. I definitely will put some of it in my house somewhere.
R•Home: What is your ultimate goal?
Rowland: My goal is to be very specialized and high-end, but right now I just want to get my designs out there and digital printing is the way to do it. Eventually, I would love to focus on high-end residential projects.