Swoon, the Studio
They have melded their respective talents in graphic design, art direction, and interior design into one super stylish partnership that’s been producing stunning results since they opened in 2013.
Samantha Reitmayer Sano and Joslyn Taylor
We’ve loved seeing Dallas evolve into a vibrant cultural hub. It is an amazing place for creatives to live, as there’s plenty of work to go around and the community of designers, writers, artists, and makers is incredibly supportive. It’s pretty unique in that way. The energy is just good.
If you’ve ever walked the glamorous, moody rooms of the grand lobby in the historic (and recently renovated) Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas or slipped into a blue velvet banquette for a cocktail in the other worldly the French Room Bar, you’ve experienced the great creative vision of the powerhouse duo behind Swoon Studio, Samantha Reitmayer Sano and Joslyn Taylor. Together, they are branding and designing spaces for some of Dallas’ highest cool factor businesses (think the Joule and Forty Five Ten to name a few). They have melded their respective talents in graphic design, art direction, and interior design into one super stylish partnership that’s been producing stunning results since they opened shop in 2013. Dallas has been their home for 20 years. Taylor says: “We’ve loved seeing Dallas evolve into a vibrant cultural hub. It is an amazing place for creatives to live, as there’s plenty of work to go around and the community of designers, writers, artists, and makers is incredibly supportive. It’s pretty unique in that way. The energy is just good.” Currently on their design boards is a boutique hotel in Charleston, a lake house, and “a magical house in Park City, Utah.” We sat down with the friends of over a decade at their downtown office digs to find out about their creative process, the secret to a lasting business partnership, and how they style their beloved Mi Golondrina Tuxedo shirts (they wear it well)!
What were your first creative endeavors as kids?
Samantha: I always loved art and was a bit of a tortured soul when I was young—seeking perfection in my paintings at the age of seven. I can remember sobbing one day as a friend was leaving my house that my art wasn’t “good enough” with my sweet mom being so patient with her “artist” child. It’s comical now. I still remember the painting. And it was, in fact, terrible. This might be where the constant craving and pursuit of creative perfection began.
Joslyn: My family moved 17 times before I graduated from high school, so my first creative endeavors were setting up my room in each new house. I loved rearranging my furniture and making collages out of magazine pages for my walls. It was like living in an old school Pinterest board.
What are your different roles in the biz?
We really are so lucky to have found each other. When they found out we were going to be working together, two of our dearest friends said that’s either going to be a disaster or the greatest thing ever. They called us 60% the same and 40% different. Fortunately we are more the same than we ever knew and thus our roles at the studio really meld most days. Joslyn runs logistics on interiors and Sam runs logistics on branding. But creatively we are in lock step kicking off and guiding most every single project together that flows through the studio with our amazing creatives who we are in constant awe of. It’s important because we both bring a different perspective and are really proud of the results in the end.
What’s the secret to a lasting and successful business partnership?
Communication always. When something doesn’t feel right we work through it right away so there’s never an undercurrent of tension. And the willingness to see a situation from the other person’s perspective is huge. We always say our working relationship is like a marriage — you have to nurture it. It can’t be all business. We go on dinner dates, go on trips with our families. Just like at home, if the mamas aren’t happy, then the rest of the (work) family can feel it.
What are some of the projects you are most proud of so far?
We’re immensely proud of The Adolphus Hotel and the different outlets inside it (The French Room and Bar, City Hall Bistro, Otto’s Coffee Shop, The Barber Shop). The project was a huge rite of passage for us as our first combination commercial interior design and branding project. We got to work with an amazing client to create something end-to-end that hopefully has contributed to Dallas’ changing downtown. We are also very proud of our branding work with Headington Companies portfolio including The Joule and Forty Five Ten (as well as Sassetta, Wheelhouse and many others). They are critically transformative to downtown and it was very exciting for us be a part of them.
When you are starting a new project, how does your design process begin?
Whether it’s a branding or interiors project, we always start with a mood board and create a sort of back story. We pull together inspirational images and reference points ranging from art, music, movies, design, literature. Sometimes we take an inspiration trip together as a team before a project, so we can immerse ourselves in a particular cultural feel or see examples of inspiring work in other cities. If we can create a strong underlying creative direction for a project and get buy in on a common vision then the whole team can really do their best design work.
What are your other favorite cities besides Dallas?
San Francisco, Miami, and Marfa. Miami really threw us though. We never thought of ourselves as “Miami people,” and then we visited together for a project and fell in love with the culture, the architecture, and the energy. We’ve since taken the entire studio there on an inspiration trip. Now, we’re Miami obsessed!
Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
JT: My mother for her ability to adapt; my daughters for their creativity, kindness, and curiosity; and Sam—a beyond brilliant mother and literally the most fun person that I know.
SS: My mother and aunt—two incredibly resilient women who look fear in the face and never quiver. It’s pretty impressive. And Jos of course, all day, every day. She’s my soul sister who also happens to be a badass (much like the two aforementioned women.)
What’s a big moment in your personal life that helped define the woman you are today?
SS: I would give that turning point to my husband, Bret Sano, who is also a designer. He supports me and pushes me in a way that is incredibly supportive but also accepting of whatever I become. I never have felt like a failure next to him. We started dating 12 years ago, since then we have each started successful businesses and had two precious boys—he makes me feel like a superstar at work and at home… even when I’m not.
JT: Making the decision to leave corporate America after 15 years and make a leap into a creative job. My father is a musician, and being the daughter of an artist with all the struggle and uncertainty always made me crave stability. Finally realizing that I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do and taking that leap was one of the most important moments of my life. I can look my daughters in the eyes and tell them with total conviction that they should follow their passions. I’ve never looked back.
How do you balance work and family life?
We’re incredibly lucky to get to do this together, as our ultimate work/family balance secret is that we’ve got each other’s back. It’s hard keeping all the balls in the air, and honestly I think the most important thing we’ve both come to terms with recently is that there are going to be many times when “balance” just isn’t possible. Once we accepted that, we were both much easier on ourselves. Some days you’re going to be amazing at home and average at work, and some days you’re going to crush it at work but be dropping the ball a bit at home. Every once and a while you’ll nail it at both places at once. It’s rare, so we celebrate those moments and then try to be somewhat easy on ourselves in the other times, as in the end it all sort of balances out.
It’s beyond anything either of us ever imagined. Also, getting to contribute to changing our city and (hopefully) making people’s lives happier, more interesting, and more rich through design.
What’s a favorite quotation of yours?
“I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Art is a guaranty of sanity.” – Louise Bourgeois
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
What is your approach to style? / What’s your go to work uniform?
JT: I’d rather have fewer but nicer things, so I tend to gravitate toward well-made basics with a twist. I don’t wear a lot of color – black is my go to, so I really like cool details like a sculptural sleeve or an exaggerated ruffle to keep things interesting and (hopefully) cool. I also need to be able to go from meetings to job sites to kid activities and not look insane, so I do a lot of jeans with a more dressy top or easy dresses and always a shoe with a chunky, comfortable heel. I love a heel.
SS: Well lately it seems to be a jumpsuit or something lacey. I am a bit of a shopaholic so it’s’ always changing (albeit generally monochromatic).
What was the last great book you read?
JT:” The Goldfinch.” Total magic. I haven’t read anything I’ve loved as much since. I need to find my next great read.
SS: “Present over Perfect.” Jos gave it to me and it really helped me re-center this summer. I feel like I’ve gotten to lean into it this fall. Lots more time with my kids and when I’m home, really being home. I’m grateful for that.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
SS: Gosh. Is it weird to say I’m living it? I feel so lucky every day with my family, friends and the studio. I wouldn’t call it perfect but it’s pretty darn great. Some days I have to remind myself how great it is but I like to think more often than not I’m aware and grateful.
JT: Eating a big homemade meal outside in Northern California with my family while listening to jazz (and my girls are getting along – no bickering.)
What is your favorite place to go on vacation? What do you love about it?
SS: We love California (who doesn’t) but we also really love Santa Fe or anywhere in the mountains. Anything that takes our blood pressure down!
JT: I love vacationing in places where we can be outside most of the day. Our favorite family trips are to Big Sur or the beach in Florida or Punta Mita Mexico. Being outside in a beautiful setting with no distractions is hugely restorative for me.
What do you never travel without?
SS: Lots of masks—I always try to take them with me on vacation to stay hydrated and find them relaxing.
JT: A massive stack of magazines and books. Traveling is one of the few times that I really get to read, which is one of my true passions.
What talent you would most like to have?
JT: Drawing. I have some serious 3rd grade drawing skills. It’s a bad scene. I would also love to be able to sing.
SS: Sewing and singing please!
What do you value most in friends?
JT: Intelligence, passion, a sense of humor, kindness and the willingness to acknowledge that we’re all doing the best we can.
SS: Loyalty and kindness are probably my two number one musts.
What do you love most about your work?
I think we would both say getting to be creative every single day alongside people who we love and respect. It’s beyond anything either of us ever imagined. Also, getting to contribute to changing our city and (hopefully) making people’s lives happier, more interesting, and more rich through design.
What are you most proud of?
Our kids (Sam has two boys ages 3 and 5 and Joslyn has two daughters ages 11 and 15). They are the joy of our lives. Full stop. And Swoon. Even on the hardest day, we realize how lucky we are.
What advice do you have for young women starting their careers?
Be curious, flexible, and indispensable. Try to discover what you really love to do and lean in to it hard but also be willing to take on the projects that nobody else wants to do. Talent is important, but work ethic and passion are maybe even more important. Be willing to take risks and try the things you might not be good at. Failure is scary but so, so rewarding if you can let yourself learn from it.
How do you style your Mi Golondrina? Can you think of any good memories or fun places you have been while wearing MG?
JT: I love a good ruffle paired with something more clean-lined and classic, so I pair the tops with a pair of dark straight jeans. I also love the look of a dress over jeans. I think it feels cool and kind of irreverent.
What are some of your favorite pieces? What do you love most about the brand?
We’re both obsessed with the Valentina Top and the Tuxedo Shirts. You can wear them with anything. We admire Cristina so much and love everything she’s created. The brand is soulful and thoughtful and detail rich. It embodies everything we believe in when it comes to good design.