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Sara Baldwin Designs Blog

A Name to Live Up To

Or, Kevin O’Brien Piglet Give-away

When people ask how the name “New Ravenna” came to be, I find myself flashing back twenty years or so to my last year of grad school when I visited my handsome friend  Kevin O’Brien, a fellow painting MFA student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kevin on the balcony of his Philadelphia studio

He had finagled a studio at the Woodward estate in Chestnut Hill, just outside Philadelphia.  Whenever I needed a break from city air, I drove to his studio and on this particular day we were brainstorming about a mosaic business I wanted to launch.

“So what are you going to name it?” he queried. Stumped, I didn’t have a clue.  “Is there a particular place that is renowned for its mosaics?” (This was not a rhetorical question at the time ;))  “Ravenna…?” I offered. “Then why not call your business New Ravenna?  Kind of like New York, or New Amsterdam –it’s a way of honoring a heritage you love, but making it American”.  And just like that, unfazed by the grandiose comparison, New Ravenna was born.

Kevin’s marketing wisdom has served me in good stead, but even better than sage advice was the example he set. You see Kevin was the rare painting student who was exploring the artisanal side of fine arts.

Soft goods manager Lee with Kevin–photo by David Graham

Today, the disciplines of art and design overlap much more, but back then it was practically heresy to consider something as impure as producing art that was…(look down your nose disdainfully) commercial. Six months earlier, he had begun painting beautiful images of faces on silk and thought that perhaps he could sell his fabric sketches as sarongs and scarves.  My sister and I were two of his first models (we were very inexpensive).

He banged on doors and  the only store who was interested was Barney’s (!).  Not realizing  the significance  he was briefly disappointed until everyone else wanted what Barney’s had, and he was on his way.  Soon Kevin invented a revolutionary way to burn and dye velvet, which allowed him to play with texture as well as pattern and produce Fortuny-like effects.

Kevin’s Dr. Seuss-like machine for dying fabric

He produced more and more scarves, built up a national following (Kevin is so incredibly charming in person I am willing to bet he had a virtual sorority of admirers), but really hit his stride when he entered the interiors market—today you have probably seen his pillows, bedspreads,

and throws at ABC Home among other places (I just saw some of his work at NIBA Home in Miami).  He’s quite simply brilliant.

Ombre pillows

I love following design businesses that seem to be parallel universes to New Ravenna.

Recently, I was given an opportunity to re-connect with Kevin because I borrowed a saffron upholstered antique settee from a friend for a product shoot—and it was crying out for Kevin O’Brien Studio props.  Before the shoot, it was sitting in the stairwell of our apartment building, looking depressed and lonesome and slightly romantic (possibly only to me).

Lonely Settee 

But check out how it looks on our Edie floor with Kevin’s cashmere throw and velvet pillow on top:

Happy Settee

Voila! It’s much happier.  (Currently I’m obsessed with this turmeric color.)

Carolyn Cook Kevin Obrien stuffed pig

Post a comment and win this piglet!

For the past few years he has collaborated with Carolyn Cook, a sophisticated stuffed animal maker who uses Kevin’s fabric scraps.

Forget the recycling aspect–from a marketing and styling perspective, it is an ingenious move–these cuddly creatures act like little sculptures on Kevin’s displays at ABC home, engaging the viewer, begging for attention and adding dimension.

Looking back these twenty years, I am struck by how naïve and happy-go-lucky we were.  The sky was the only limit, the possibilities were endless–it’s wonderful to remember the sense of adventure with which we began our journey. If we had really known  how daunting the prospect of success really was, we probably would have packed up our gear and headed to the nearest restaurant for jobs as waiters.  However, at this moment, over twenty years later, I’m on a train in Italy, and we are launching distribution of our products in Europe. Imagine that!

This year a restaurant opened in Tuscany with our Seine waterjet mosaic pattern as the floor! (And it’s in the Kardashian’s master bath and occasionally appears behind Kim in a new bikini–how’s that for hitting main-stream?)

So how to win the piglet? First  post a brief comment below, and if you have a favorite New Ravenna product or project, please mention it.  Then, subscribe to the blog by clicking on the link above right–contest ends Jan 30–we will be picking a winner at random. And please, check out www.KevinObrienStudio.com  or his studio’s Facebook Page if, like me, you’ve been inspired.

31 Responses to “A Name to Live Up To”

  1. Woa…another fabulous Sara…Thank you for sharing your friend Kevin’s work….just stunning. One of my favorite pic is his bed above throws at ABC home….incredible rich colors and floral design… Happy Holiday to All !!

  2. I love the news that you are taking your mosaics to Italy, Sara! Congratulations. And thank so much for sharing Kevin’s story. I can totally see myself in that aqua-based bedroom. Dreamy. Positively dreamy.

  3. Dave Chance says:

    Congratulations on the European distribution launch! I haven’t yet traveled to “Old” Ravenna, but New Ravenna has clearly lived up to the name!

    Best wishes for 2013!

  4. Ooooh, ahhhh, hard to choose. But I did. Frond Fern http://newravenna.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Metamorphosis/G0000EFLVOYjdLaA/I0000V.JOUbIb_3s/C0000BZiYHlG5mQ4
    I definitely want to win the velveteen piggy. My older sister had a favorite book, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” As an adult I found her a first edition that she treasured. She died less than a year after I gave it to her. So that piggy makes me think of her. She loved Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, so my mind has put the two together. I love all the pics. Such talent. Thanks!

    • Sara says:

      Hi Alexandra, Frond Fern is truly one of my faves as well, and oddly enough, we have almost never sold it! I think possibly because there aren’t samples in our showrooms, and we do not have an installation shot to really give clients an idea of how the product will live in a space. Thanks so much for commenting, and what a bittersweet story about your sister. I love the Velveteen Rabbit as well, and can’t get through it without crying like a baby.

    • Mary Harris says:

      Alexandra – CONGRATULATIONS! You are the winner of the piglet! My apologies for taking so long but you see the piglet has been residing at my desk & we’ve become quite good friends. I’ll be happy to ship my friend out to you if you respond to me at mharris@newravenna.com or call at 757-442-3379 ext 113 to let me know the new home address.
      Thanks for your comment and for supporting New Ravenna’s blog.

      Mary Harris
      HR Director

  5. brenda says:

    love the website, thanks for sharing, ellen!!

  6. Daisey Sanders says:

    Awesome. Love it.

  7. Sue says:

    Loooove your blog … thanks for the introduction to Kevin! I fell in love with a pillow called ‘peacock’!: http://www.abchome.com/store/store/pc/kevin-o-brien-ombre-velvet-pillow-peacock-519p10566.htm
    Happy New Year … maybe someday soon, MY wildest dreams will come true: to work for YOU! Happy New Year! -Sue

  8. Theodora von Hohenstaufen Noll says:

    Great blog post–it’s so great to read about behind the scenes things like these. My world is expanded and I see such beautiful creations. I’d also really LOVE to have that adorable little pig gracing my home!

  9. So inspiring, I am just launching my own home line this year and will be pleased to be half as successful as you both!

  10. Penny says:

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for sharing your inspirations, insights, and life of an artist.

  11. Nicole says:

    Edie is my favorite New Ravenna mosaic right now but I love it even more in that photo!!!

  12. jackee clark says:

    Love the colors used on piglet!

  13. Like the pig, but love your mosaics even more. I am presenting your antique fish design for a kitchen back splash now. Hope we get approval from the client. OINK, OINK.

  14. Susie says:

    Sara, what can I say? I absolutely love your gorgeous tiles and am always inspired by all your mosaics! Congrats on going international! :) Kevin’s work is fabulous, too! Thanks for “introducing” him. PS.Very cute piglet!

  15. George Carwile says:

    Sara!!! What an incredibly interesting story .. on both yours and Kevin’s parts! My “current” to-die-for New Ravenna design is “Marmara” from the Tayla Collection, with “Sophia” running a close second. Oh hell, I adore everything you design, to be really honest!!!
    And the Carolyn Cook creatures just make me so happy. … another true artist, mixing materials in amazing ways!

  16. MaryBeth Campbell Heath says:

    Hmmm…it’s so hard to choose a favorite from your beautiful collections, although I’m partial to the Brighton Wave we installed for an International Tile & Marble client. It was a stunning focal point for the client’s kitchen.

    PS, I have a dog named Piggie!

  17. I LOVE this story. The “we can conquer it all” ambition, the addictive depths of vision it takes to further a craft and, of course, the benefits of creative collaboration along the way. Kudos to Kevin whose work deserves such praise, and kudos to “New” Ravenna whose work is truly worthy of the old.

  18. Mary Shortino says:

    Bellissima! I love the name (New Ravenna) as I have been to Ravenna and it is one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen. And pillows called Ombre which means shadows in Italian and a piccolo maialino to win and I want it for my dear friend who collects piggy things. And I will send the link to my friend who makes sock monkeys from cool leftover socks so she will love the little squirrels and grazie to David who led me to your sight. Buona Fortuna and Buon Lavoro.

  19. Kyle trent says:

    I have a micro pig named Newton. He does not keyboard but he really wants that pig…it”s beautiful!

  20. Karen zuidema says:

    Hands down favorite is the peacock feather. Absolutely beautiful. The pig is really cute too !

  21. Kathy Phillips says:

    So glad my first reading of your blog introduced me to Kevin and his amazing fabric art! I wish my bed was covered in his Hyd Sienna Bedcrop – so soothing, so natural. Next time I’m in civilization, I’ll visit ABC Home and look for his products. Oh, and I’m in love with the little Carolyn Cook piggy so I hope my name gets picked from the hat!!

  22. Misha says:

    The pig is just lovely. The colors are warm, fresh, inviting and overall delicious! Love it! Very nice work!

  23. Marilyn v says:

    Hi Sara I love all of Kevin’s designs they are so beautiful. I would love to purchase the bedroom designs for my home especially the aqua colored ones. And I love the Carolyn cook collection it is so awesome love the squirrels and the piglet is so cute. I totally miss the giveaway but would love to check out the website for prices on everything. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Rachel says:

    My girls would love playing with that adorable piglet!

  25. RC says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of Grown Up plush animals as home decor… especially when they are that cute!

  26. chremily says:

    My wife and I have been in a state of awe since finding your designs. What you do with stone is really an art. We are starting to embark on a remodel and a new build of a 4 story in San Francisco, and we have a problem… which one of your collections to choose. Thank you for doing what you do, and I look forward to waking up every morning drinking my morning coffee and enjoying the beauty of your mosaic backsplash.

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About Me

Sara BaldwinSara Baldwin

Exmore, Virginia, United States

New Ravenna Mosaics founder and Creative Director, Owner, Sara Baldwin Design, Bass guitar player, Envisioner, Appreciator of the Sublime and Ridiculous.


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