Custom Whimsy

Sara Fitz’s designs celebrate the childlike charm of New England life.

By Lannan M. O’Brien

A classic striped shirt. A jar of seashells. A canvas tote. A vase of hydrangeas. We try to take the time to appreciate these iconic images of New England life, but sometimes we forget to pause in wonder. When it comes to the little details, Sara O’Brien never fails to take notice.

Since 2016, Sara and her husband, Miles O’Brien, have been running Sara Fitz (a nod to her maiden name, Fitzgerald), a company that started with Sara’s custom stationery and has expanded to include art prints, wallpaper, gift wrap, and an array of home goods featuring her work. Throughout her whimsical watercolors is a coastal, nautical theme—with a refreshing twist. There is something fun and childlike, quirky and relatable in each design: the uneven lines on a coffee mug, a boat skipper’s lopsided mustache, off-kilter proportions here and there. “If I do a line that isn’t quite right, I leave it on purpose,” she says. “I think it adds character.”

Nothing about her artistic style is accidental. O’Brien, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from Roger Williams University, describes her work as a parallel to architectural design. “While my work is whimsical and celebrates imperfections and has a hand-drawn look, it is also structured, and you can see the pencil lines are very contained … an architect would see what a crazy perfectionist I am!” she says.

In work and in life, Sara and Miles’ personalities complement each other. He handles the business side, such as the wholesale and trade departments, and oversees their team. “He is definitely much more laid back than I am,” she says, describing her partner as her “balance.” Sara manages the creative piece, as well as social media marketing and styling photo shoots. When it comes to the media, she’s the face of the business, and Miles is “totally fine hanging behind the scenes.”

O’Brien’s career started in the wedding industry—one wedding in particular: her own. After sending out her save-the-dates—a fall theme with berries, Chinese lantern pods, pine cones, acorns, and roosters—they were flooded with compliments. When guests asked who designed them, they learned it was the bride herself.

After running her own business designing custom invitations (including variations on her own save-the-date), the artist took on the full-time position as a stay-at-home mom to their two sons, Ollie and Everett. “Miles and I love being together and always had a dream of working together in some capacity,” she says. When she felt it was time to re-enter a creative space, Miles left his job, and they took the leap to start Sara Fitz.

She says it was a “slow start,” with many moving parts and lessons learned. But once the business began growing, it gained the attention of some quintessential New England brands: Sara Fitz has partnered with L.L.Bean, Sea Bags, and J.Crew, to name a few. With the help of a full staff, Sara now has more time to devote to her art and finds she draws the most inspiration from the place where they live and work: York, Maine. “It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen that’s constantly inspiring for me,” she says.

There is another inspiration that drives Sara and Miles’ success: their sons, now 10 and 12. The boys are nearly as involved in the business as the staff of Sara Fitz, attending meetings, pitching design ideas, and even returning from school with orders from friends—one wants a painting of his Goldendoodle, another a lobster pin for her backpack. A series of boat skipper designs for sale was inspired by a notebook of drawings that O’Brien and her younger son kept for years. “Our family is the whole incentive behind what I do,” she says. “I want them to know that they can do anything they want to do if they put their minds to it.”

Take a tour of the Sara Fitz shop with New England Living TV.

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