Where I Work: Sarah Ellison

Byron Bay-based Sarah Ellison is a sought-after Australian interior stylist and product designer with a distinctive aesthetic that makes high-end design livable and accessible. She merges textures with rounded shapes and bold proportions that land her pieces somewhere between furniture and sculpture. She launched her eponymous line of furniture in 2017 and now aiming to make her designs available to more people, she’s partnered with Design Within Reach who will be the exclusive North American retail partner. DWR is now offering a curated selection of Ellison’s latest furniture, including the dramatic Muse Sofa, along with the Huggy Swivel Chair, Yoko Bed, Paloma Coffee Table, Pepé Side Table, and more. Sarah Ellison’s thoughts on the collection: “I’m inspired by the 1970s – overstuffed sofas and tables with big fat legs and materials like velvet, chrome, and rattan.” To mark Ellison’s stateside DWR debut, she’s sharing her at-home workspace in Byron Bay and a bit about her design process in this month’s Where I Work.

Photo: Jessie Prince

What’s your studio/work environment like?

I work from my home in Byron Bay, my team is based in our head office in Sydney and I travel back and forth for in-person time with my team.

Photo: Jessie Prince

How is your space organized/arranged?

I try to keep my main desk clean of clutter while my material library is an explosion of activity usually. Especially during design sessions!

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

Working from home is a blessing to be able to spend time with my son Blaze (he’s 7), however, kids don’t always understand that important Zoom calls are not the perfect time to get mummy to come play! It’s a new world but I am definitely learning to adapt like everyone is.

Photo: Jessie Prince

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

I’ve been in this home office for 5 years, it’s a small studio space next to the main living areas so it feels very connected. As a working mum, my office is often nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It’s at home, at the office, at the skate park watching my son skateboard, or conference calls in the school car park. I have my sketchpad with me at all times. Creativity is a weird thing, it doesn’t care about your calendar or schedule, you can’t plan for it and it can strike at the strangest times so I need to be ready to sketch immediately if an idea comes to me!

Photo: Jessie Prince

Have you had to make any adjustments to how you work because of the pandemic?

I’m not traveling as much obviously so staying connected to my team was tricky. Product development became a much slower process as well. I used to visit with my makers regularly and we could troubleshoot things together and quickly find the solution. That process is certainly harder now. We have all made it work but I thrive on in-person collaboration, especially in the design process. There is something magnetic about fleshing out ideas in person and the excitement that comes with that. Thankfully we are able to do that a little more but my team and I have adapted to designing remotely quite well also.

How do you see things changing in your workplace moving forward with COVID-19 now a part of our reality?

I really think the way we are working now is here to stay. Product development simply won’t go back to the old ways anytime soon. I was on planes monthly previously, meeting with our teams around the world, and we won’t be going back to that.

Is there an office pet?

We have several in fact. Our head office usually has a rotating roster of our teams’ fur babies. Doug the 12-year-old Pug is the office regular and is often heard snoring in the background of our Zoom calls.

Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?

I actually prefer to design in silence to remain clear in my thoughts.

Photo: Jessie Prince

How do you record ideas?

Moleskine notebooks and a pencil all the way.

Photo: Jessie Prince

Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

Lots of vintage fashion photography.

Photo: Jessie Prince

What is your typical work style?

Quite haphazard. Creativity for me cannot be structured, if I’m not feeling inspired I can’t force it. Obviously there are a lot of team meetings but outside that I really try to be flexible in my approach to get the best outcomes.

Photo: Jessie Prince

What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?

It really changes with each project. I am a big sketcher and usually every idea starts there, from initial sketches I work with my design team to flesh things out in more detail then we add more structure to the development and sampling process. For my collections, I usually go piece by piece. I’ll often design a sofa first, then use that to dictate what the armchair and coffee table need to look like if I were to style them in a room, then I’ll design around that. My styling background influences that process quite a bit. Putting things together one at a time. It’s a fun process that my team has learned along the way. My sales team might say “we need a new coffee table” but until I know what armchair I want with a sofa, I cannot design a coffee table!

What kind of art/design/objects might you have scattered about the space?

Lots of samples that we designed that never went into production actually!

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

My favorite tools are my good old fashioned sketchbook and pencil, followed by my Apple Pencil and iPad.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

Love my Apple Pencil and iPad for sketching. We work with SolidWorks for our technical design work.

What’s on your desk right now?

A cute branded mouse pad with my initials that my team gave me for Christmas, some fabric, and stone and timber samples that I need to sign off for some new pieces I’m working on exclusively for DWR. Also the 2022 necessities: a glass of water, car keys, and a face mask!

Photo: Kristoffer Ohlsson

Is there a favorite project/piece you’ve worked on?

That is like asking to pick a favorite child! I would perhaps say my Huggy chair, mainly due to the amazing love our customers have for it! It’s been overwhelming and it gives people so much pleasure. That is the biggest gift for me.

Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

I’m in design mode for my new collection due later this year as well as some exclusive pieces I’ll be launching with DWR in upcoming seasons to build on this initial launch. After a few years of a pandemic, I’m really drawn to human connection, comfort, and a feeling of safety in all its forms so that is a big theme in my work at the moment. Collaborating with the DWR design team has been a thrill and there are some exciting launches still to come.

Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?

Everything in my home is my collection. If I don’t live with it every day, how can I expect anyone else to! I have a few extra vintage pieces but 90% of my home is all from my collection.

For more information on Sarah Ellison’s furniture line available via Design Within Reach, visit dwr.com.

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