Sara Fitz is a boss babe after my own heart. It’s not often I find someone equally as obsessed with stationery as I am (do we have any other paper lovers out there?!)—but to take it a step further, this illustrator turned her talent into an offering of textiles and homewares. From the sweetest wallpapers and fabrics to pillows and gift wrap, her charming coastal illustrations grace are simply too cute to resist.
Today, we’ve invited Sara on the blog to talk shop… from her story, process and daily routine to how she does it all as a mompreneur (of two boys!) and some of her favorite seaside spots in New England. Plus, a look into her at-home studio, captured and styled respectively by Erin McGinn and Abby Capalbo.
Tell us a bit about your story and background! How did your creative business come to life?
Hi there! My name is Sara Fitzgerald O’Brien, and I’m a mom to two beautiful little boys (and a rescue pup named Murray), wife to a sweet-as-can-be guy named Miles, and the artist/designer/founder behind the Sara Fitz brand. My family lives along the coast of southern Maine, where we spend each day feeling thankful to call such an incredible spot home.
I’ve been a creative for as long as I can remember. My mom was an interior designer, and I always enjoyed being surrounded by color, texture and pattern. When I was a young girl, one of my favorite pastimes was sketching out floor plans of imaginary homes, then choosing the decor for each room. That interest stayed with me, and in college, I majored in architecture (both undergrad and graduate school) and minored in visual arts, painting and art + architectural history.
My creative business came to life in the most unexpected way. Pretty soon after graduation, Miles and I were engaged and I was on the hunt for save the date cards. Now, this was back in 2007, when there wasn’t nearly the selection of artisanal papers there is today. I searched for designs that reflected us as a couple and came up short. Without knowing an ounce about weddings, or stationery for that matter, I decided to take a leap into designing our papers, incorporating watercolor illustrations that I’d custom painted around the theme of our fall Nantucket wedding.
Our family and friends gave such lovely feedback on our suite, and I so enjoyed making it, that one thing led to the next, and before I knew it, I was taking on clients… designing illustrated wedding invitations left and right! Needless to say, the business very quickly became an unplanned passion, and I ran the studio happily for about five years until becoming pregnant with our second son.
The time I took away from the industry to be home with my two little ones is something I will be forever grateful for. I knew how quickly the moments would pass… I tried my best to press the pause button on my professional life, and really and truly embrace the day-to-day at home. It was a magical period in our lives… of course, it was messy and challenging, but the happiness I felt was indescribable! With all that said, there was never a question that I’d eventually reignite the studio that I’d started… it was only a matter of when.
The timing felt right when my boys were both in some type of schooling. Over the years, Miles and I had chatted on and off about the idea of completely re-hauling my original studio… rebranding it, renaming it and expanding its offerings. He and I always had the dream of one day working together—growing a company that our little family could be proud of—a business that would provide others with the things that bring us joy. I should note that Miles’ mom was also an interior designer, and he too grew up in a world of beautiful textiles and accessories. This commonality was a topic of discussion on our first date, back in the day, when we were just babies ourselves!
In any event, the ball started rolling with the concept of Sara Fitz—a brand that essentially would take my love of wedding stationery into a realm that included other illustrated goods. And in the summer of 2016, we gave it a go! It was an enormous undertaking, especially with two very busy boys, but one that was, and is, so authentic and organic to us both… a company that we’ve put countless energy into nurturing. Sara Fitz feels like an extension of our family… almost like it brings both of our childhoods full-circle in a fresh new way for our own children.
What does your creative process look like?
I gain SO much of my inspiration from my surroundings. Having lived in New England my entire life (growing up in Newburyport and Nantucket, MA and attending college in Rhode Island), I’m drawn to the simple, down to earth beauty one finds just walking around these parts. Small coastal villages, lobster boats and harbors… rickety old docks and grey shingled cottages, have always been in my wheelhouse. My work celebrates the little things, the unfussy and imperfect. I see them for what they are, and I bring them to life through my painting and design.
My work almost always begins with a sketch. I love a good old mechanical pencil, nothing fancy needed! I gather up ideas constantly; a notebook lies on my bedside table for mid-night scribbles, and sticky notes cover my desk and computer screen. When I’m creating for a specific project or client, there is a clearer direction, or expectation, to keep me on track. My job is to fulfill their vision, but in my style, with my spin. When I’m designing for our own products, it can be a bit broader… I like to explore a variety of directions to see what sticks! Once my sketch hits the paper, I’ll add in the color. I just adore watercolor and always have. It has a softness to it… a layered, multi-dimensional look that I can’t get enough of. It can be tricky to ‘control’ and I get a kick out of trying! Once my illustration is painted, it gets digitized in order to transfer to wallpaper, note cards, gift wrap, or whatever else it’s needed for! Over the years I’ve developed my own ways of doing things… every artist has. I feel beyond lucky to share my passion for art and design with others.
Can you give us a peek into your day-to-day routine?
Let’s see, the day-to-day routine… on weekdays, we all start early with breakfast together before the boys head off to school. Miles and I will then have a brief business meeting either in my studio or his office, where we chat about the to-do’s for the day and week ahead. We’ve found that while we absolutely enjoy working together (he’s my best friend), it’s helpful to have separate spaces to work from; it’s more efficient. He’s on the lower level of our home, and my creative area is on the main floor – ever so slowly taking over, lol! Depending on what needs to be done for the day, we’ll each hop on calls, answer emails, attend meetings, etc. It’s not out of the ordinary for him to travel a bit around New England promoting the brand, while handling wholesale orders and trade accounts. I’m connecting with everyone from brides, to textile manufacturers to collaboration teams… and on my best days, I’m able to paint and design for clients, fellow companies, or our own product lines.
I also love (love, love!) styling for our product and lifestyle photo shoots. We have the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented photographers and shoot days are always a treat for me! Mid-afternoon, when the boys are home from school, Miles and I often take turns working and spending quality kiddo time. Flexibility is definitely key. We’ll have dinner as a family (every night), enjoy a favorite tv show together, read stories and have tub time before the kids go to bed. Many nights Miles will continue his work into the late hours. On weekends, I try to get some studio time in early… before the sun rises… while the house is quiet and everyone sleeps, except for Murray. I actually love these days… there’s less pressure, it seems, than there is during the week. I can go at my own pace, and I often am my most creative in the wee morning hours.
What was the process like taking your business from stationery to textiles, wallpaper and homewares?
In 2016 when we launched Sara Fitz, our offerings included wedding stationery, note cards and framed prints. We had plans for more, sure, but these things take time… and a lot was unfolding behind the scenes. About a year in, we introduced our line of gift wrap (so. much. fun!)… and last summer, our collections of wall coverings, fabric and in turn, pillows, small-batch handbags and a few other pretty products, finally came to fruition! Honestly, we’d spent so much time envisioning the expansion of the studio (from its beginning), that adding to its offerings felt very natural… just like a piece of our bigger puzzle. We’re looking very forward to exhibiting our home lines at NY Now this August, where we hope to make wonderful new connections while introducing Sara Fitz to those who enjoy bringing a little coastal charm into their spaces.
As a mompreneur, do you have any advice for other mamas out there who dream of starting their own business?
Absolutely! I could say many things, honestly, but importantly I’d start with having the ability to believe in yourself. Being a mama has made me so much stronger than I ever thought possible. You’ll be surprised how many skills you’ve fine-tuned through motherhood, that will be helpful to any business endeavor: communication, understanding, timeliness, compassion, teaching, patience, endurance, efficiency, negotiation (ha!)… the list goes on and on. It may feel overwhelming to take on something new when life feels so full as it is, but putting energy into a passion is never something you’ll regret, if you really believe in it.
I strive to show my boys what hard work looks like… to teach them that a dream can happen, but not on its own. One of the toughest lessons I work through is not feeling guilty about taking the time to nurture my career. I’m quick to include my sons in projects and plans… explaining what I’m doing here and there or gathering their opinions. They’re, in turn, super proud of Sara Fitz… they feel a part of it (and they are, at just 6 + 8).
Listen, it may take longer than you plan to start a business, and it may need some creative scheduling to make it all fit, but if you fall asleep at night with a vision gnawing away at you, you’ll always wonder what could’ve been if you don’t give it a shot, right? So give it your all, but most importantly, be easy on yourself when you can’t, be persistent (!!!) and keep an open mind. Oftentimes I’ve found a new direction where I least expect it (six years of architecture school leading me here – case in point!).
Lastly, be sure to celebrate the little accomplishments, along with the big ones! It can be easy to brush a small success under the rug while you pursue something grander, but each and every step ahead, is you moving in the right direction!
You have an obvious love for all things coastal, can you share a few of your favorite New England destinations? How have they inspired your work?
Oooooh, there are so many gorgeous spots around this area, aren’t there? Of course, I love Maine. Miles and I have lived here for about a dozen years or so, and it just gets better and better. One of our favorite things to do with our boys is hop in the car and explore the coast. We’ll head up north, stopping at antique stores and thrift shops, yummy restaurants, ice cream stands and quiet undiscovered beaches along the way! The coast of Maine inspires me with its color, its heartiness, its raw beauty. York, Ogunuquit and Kennebunkport are all charming spots, for sure. Camden and Bar Harbor bring more of the same—wonderful places to visit. There are countless nooks and crannies as you move your way up the shoreline… one could spend forever exploring!
Nantucket Island is a place I draw immeasurable inspiration from, as well. Both Miles and I spent our childhood summers there through our college years, working all the odd jobs (galleries, mostly, for me… and almost everything under the sun for him, though running a tiny market out in Madaket was probably his favorite!). We met on Nantucket, were engaged and married there, and savor the times we can share the island with our boys. It has this way of transporting you to another world, and while it’s become such a popular destination spot over the years, if you know where to look, there is a stillness that remains that I could soak in forever. I’m drawn to the light out there… the stunning hydrangeas that grow in abundance everywhere you look, the cobblestone streets, the fog that rolls in, the sunsets and dune grass… the feeling it brings to arrive, and leave.
We also love visits to Portsmouth, NH, Newburyport, MA and parts of Rhode Island (definitely a little gem of a state!!).
A big thank you to Melissa and her team for sharing our story! And if you’ve read through to this point, I appreciate you for taking the time!
The Haven Workshop is an intimate, community-driven learning experience for interior designers who are looking to up-level their business and build a successful brand.