We had the pleasure of chatting with Sarah Pattison from The Happy Envelope recently, and she gave us a peek into the genius behind a brand known for its versatile, feminine, and often nature-inspired aesthetic. Sarah uses an offset printing method that gives her wedding invitations a luxurious, clean feel, meanwhile offering clients an accessible price point. You can see her entire collection here.
minted: How did you start The Happy Envelope?
Sarah: I came down to Tennessee from New England to go to design school at the University of Tennessee. It was fun, warm, and friendly here. I worked at a small design studio for a few years and started designing stationery and invites for friends—I thought it was a lot more fun than doing logos at work. So, when I lost my job, my husband said, “Now is the time. You might as well try it, and if it works, great.” And, here we are seven years later, so I guess it worked!
minted: Your designs pair expanses of clean, white space with delicate detail in all shades of the rainbow. Have you noticed any new trends in color recently?
Sarah: We see color trends come and go a LOT. I remember having brides a couple of years ago coming in and saying “I’m really excited about pale pink and chocolate brown” and I would think, ‘Oh, girlfriend you are two years too late.’ But I think in our industry we see things before they catch on with customers.
Six years ago it was the warms and now it’s the cools. Gray is the new neutral. People are doing a lot more blues and purples. I’m seeing a lot of eggplant or grape or magenta and beet. I am personally a warm person so I have to do a brain shift…although I am loving seeing tone on tone, so you would use a magenta with a violet and its gorgeous! It’s a way to incorporate something on the same side of the color wheel in a way that is just so pleasing to the eye. Or people are doing more tone on tone blue, like a turquoise with a navy, and I love, love that. Or a hot pink and a chartreuse. I’m happy to see the comeback of black. For a long time it was chocolate brown text with a color and I’m exited to see that people are willing to go black again. It’s so bold and crisp on a white paper.
Also, I’m seeing a more natural palette — khaki, sand, dark brown. It’s great because it gives you that earthy feel, and with everyone being so “green” it has an environmentally-conscious element without saying it outright.
minted: And what’s hot in typefaces?
Sarah: In the last few years, we’ve really seen mixed typefaces take off. We’ve always done that here at the Happy Envelope, but now it’s even more mixed, for example an all caps serif with a really ornate script all in the same body of copy. I love seeing this change because six years ago, the main focus for a wedding invitation was making the bride and groom’s names stand out from everything else’s name. Now, now it’s more detailed—it’s all about taking care to treat each line as an individual entity that should be crafted and made beautiful. We’re also seeing more sans-serifs, even for wedding, which was rare just a few years ago because serif feels much more traditional.
minted: How do you pull it off?
Sarah: I would put my own limit at three fonts, period. I never mix an italic and a script—it just looks silly and italic just looks like slanted type so if you’re going to use a script don’t use an italic. When it comes to type, I err on the conservative side because it needs to be highly readable, so I tend to stay clear of ALL script, especially on an A7 or A9. I don’t even use three fonts often—I usually just mix two. For new designers I would say that you have to be very careful when you go more than that. A little bit of discipline on the front-end goes a long way on the back-end.
minted: How has living in Tennessee inspired your work?
Sarah: For one thing I grew up on the beach, right on the bay in Rhode Island, and I just loved it—the wind in the hair and the salt in the air. It was a bit of a a shock to move to landlocked Tennessee, but there is a whole different beauty here. The colors are all shades of green, rather than blue. And the mountains! We’re right at the foothills of the Smokies, and they are called that because it looks like there is a haze of smoke around them. The Smokies have really gorgeous purples and blues—you’ll never see anything like that where I’m from.
We live in a pretty rural little town right outside of Knoxville. It’s a very small town, and I don’t know if it effects my design sensibilities directly, but it’s fun to be in a small community and to get to work directly with people.
minted: When you were starting out as a designer, where did you draw your inspiration from?
Sarah: Even when I had no money as a college kid, I would buy clip art books at garage sales and art stores. I would scan things in from the library and go through old cookbooks.
minted: How do you know when a design is done and it is as perfect as it can be?
Sarah: It is really hard. At the end I’m usually taking things away rather than adding to it. It’s not anything I can put my finger on — it’s more a feeling of what’s right. For myself, if I keep trying to add things and it doesn’t feel right – I must be finished.
And then of course I am really, really particular about what our studio and home looks like and what our house looks like. People who have a passion for design want their whole world to look good all the time. I definitely love shopping for clothes and I love having things look a certain way. My husband Pat told me we’re done painting the living room: we’ve only done it five times!
minted: What color is your living room now?
Sarah: We had this really fantastic light olive green for the least three years and then one day I was siting in the living room, and it just felt like I was living in a cave, so we just painted it a light cream. Our dining room is a dark cream, so there were go again with the tone on tone. The light cream really opened up the whole room though—the art really pops.
minted: What is the storefront like?
Sarah: We really lucked out. Our studio was redone right before we moved in. It’s all exposed brick with great white trim everywhere, hanging chandeliers, and big, white shelves. It’s just a fantastic space and we didn’t have to do anything to it.
It’s 2,000 square feet with 30 square feet of retail. In the front part, we only sell our own products. The boxed cards and note cards are printed here, and we also meet some brides here.
The whole area is fantastic. In Clinton, on Market Street, there are antique stores all up and down our street. You get really good bargains. I got a shelf unit and metal cabinet for $25. There’s a great mix of clean fresh paper on old beat up pieces of furniture. All of it is super cheap, and you don’t have to get anything shipped.
minted: Your design aesthetic is clean, with lines and splashes of color precisely arranged on large expanses of white. Would you say your organizational style is similarly clean and organized?
Sarah: I’m not horribly disorganized, but I definitely wish I were better organized. For a long time, I was messy, but I knew where everything was. I was organized in my own disorganization, but then I had two babies really close together, and I swear to you that since that first baby came around I can’t even remember where my keys are. It must have burst half my brain when I gave birth to my child. I’ve heard the same things from other moms, so it must really be true, but in terms of images, I keep really organized. My design files and workspace are really organized — that’s a must.
minted: What is on your desk right now?
Sarah: Two pantone books, color chips, paper swatches, a bunch of business cards, scratched up post its everywhere for myself, a pile of samples that I am going to do something with, a clip art book, and a clip art disc on the desk. Its always a little on the messy side — I definitely tend towards a happy mess I think.
minted: It seems that in the stationery industry, there are a lot of supportive husbands throwing their weight behind their designer wives. How do you make the wife-husband team work?
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Sarah: Communication. It’s the key. We’ve got to talk. It is funny because people ask about what it’s like to work with my husband, and think it must be so hard. He and I were talking about it and he said, “I like hanging out with you or I wouldn’t have married you, or spend all this time working.” We know each other well enough that we both know my strengths and weaknesses. I don’t do anything ever with invoicing, and when I do I think I mess it up anyway. So we just have to communicate. About the invoicing thing, he always says, “Why don’t you just let me do that.”