R&R Designworks Turns Castoffs into Works of Art

Cane Rosso

R&R Designworks owner Sarah Reiss works wonders with wood, finding a unique creative niche that has decorated locations from San Francisco to New York, and, of course, Dallas-Fort Worth.

As her website motto proclaims, Reiss is “challenging the status quo one great idea at a time.”

How does Reiss accomplish that?

“Challenging the status quo one great idea at a time.” _ Sarah Reiss

She frequents salvage yards and reshapes the throwaways she finds into beautiful works of art. The interior wallboards of a 1920s house might become part of a conference table. Old fences might transform into custom-made walls. The flooring of a torn-down bowling alley might get a new life as a headboard.

Reiss scours neighborhood curbs on bulk pickup day. She shows up at estate sales and, while everyone else is eying the good china, she’s out back, wondering if she can tear down the old shed. Reiss has a knack for taking old, battered things and re-creating them into functional art.

Her custom walls are glossy and meticulously cut, the pieces fitting together like a perfect puzzle. Her tables are a blend of color and texture, often with interesting or irregular natural-wood shapes. Her designs are bold and striking, and she utilizes colorful lines and mesmerizing geometric patterns with stunning precision.

“I was a terrible student in high school,” Reiss said. “I was thinking about my 10th-grade geometry teacher – I just didn’t get it, but he was patient with me. I wish I could write him and say that I finally got it, and that now, I use it every day.”

Reiss grew up the black sheep in a family filled with painters and musicians. She had no fine motor skills for drawing and wasn’t musical, so she pursued a degree in journalism and became a writer. She favored travel writing, and often found herself drawn to sculpture collections in the cities she visited.

The truth is, Reiss always liked working with her hands and had an innate ability to create – she’d made clocks and collages as gifts for friends during her early 20s.

After a surgery a few years ago, Reiss would putter around in the pool house out back that slowly was evolving into a workspace. Even then, she had no real concept in mind, and she wasn’t sure where her creative inspiration would lead.

Her husband encouraged her to “go out and play,” and it felt good to get moving after her surgery.

Her first project came when she repurposed wood from a doghouse and turned it into a table. When a friend asked Reiss to make a live-edge cedar desk, it started something.

A few shares on social media, and suddenly she had a surprising stream of business. People appreciated the loving creativity of her work. Before long stores were calling to ask to carry her “line.”

“I didn’t intend to do any of it,” Reiss said. “It just sort of fell upon me.”

Reiss sands, welds, cuts, saws, and is sometimes so exhausted after a day of work that she has to lie on the floor for a little while before going into the house.

“I didn’t intend to do any of it, it just sort of fell upon me,” Sarah Reiss said.

Sometimes her “robot” – a machine she uses to help cut precise angles – malfunctions and shoots hexagons at her head. Sometimes she spends the day sanding hundreds of little pieces of wood.

She’s put hard work into designing walls and furniture for companies such as Lululemon, Cane Rosso, and NYLO hotels. She’s also created beautiful pieces of furniture for a variety of residential clients, and has begun designing wall art and jewelry, too.

Reiss likes to involve her R&R Designworks clients. When she’s working on a piece, she often sends her customers pictures to share in the progress. Sometimes she’ll invite them to come over and watch the stages of creation.

“I’m not a production house, and I think that’s one of the reasons people want to work with me,” Reiss said. “They’re not hiring a furniture-maker; they’re working with an artist who happens to work in the medium of furniture or wall art.”

Recently, she won the popular vote at Kitchen LTO, and will become the new designer at the pop-up restaurant (Nick Amoriello will become the new chef; both begin their temporary reign in early March). She has designed wood-based wall art with geometric patterns to bedeck the walls at LTO.

Reiss believes that anyone can learn to work with tools. When clients tell her they could never do what she does, she tells them that, of course, they could, they just don’t know how yet. After all, Reiss is still a little surprised to find herself on such a creative path.

“I’m at a place in my life where I’ve got all the tools and the know-how – anything I can think up, I have the tools on hand to make,” Reiss says. “If I’d even tried to anticipate that this is where I’d be now, I would have been so far off base.”

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