Modern Staging: A Conversation With Artist Elizabeth Sutton

staged new york living room by elizabeth sutton
Artist, designer and entrepreneur Elizabeth Sutton shares her recent inspirations and tips on staging a high-end condo. (David Morse Photography)

Elizabeth Sutton is one of the most popular contemporary artists today. In 2021, she was even named one of Forbes Next 1000. Although she has only been a professional artist for a handful of years, she has accomplished more than some do in an entire lifetime.

However, Sutton’s work isn’t just limited to paintings and fine art. She has a variety of product lines from tiles to decor, fashion accessories, and jewelry, just to name a few. I recently spoke with the artist to learn what inspires her most, how we can incorporate art into our homes, as well as about her upcoming projects.

picture of artist elizabeth sutton

Sutton, who was named a Forbes Next 1000 entrepreneur in 2021, calls her becoming an artist a “happy accident.”

What first inspired you to become an artist?

The truth is, it happened as a happy accident. My ex-husband and I lost a lot of money and I needed to start working. I thought I was going to be a chef. Somehow I became an artist. I am completely self-taught. I stumbled upon my passion by the grace of God. My career is the epitome of a blessing in disguise.

What are the biggest things inspiring your art right now?

I always find travel, nature, and architecture to be my biggest sources of inspiration. The patterns and colors found in nature are the most beautiful, brightest, and most complex patterns and colors that exist. I just run around chasing them.

Travel is the way I take a brief break and recover from my insanely chaotic life. Couple the memories I create with the magnificent architecture, culture, and landscapes that I see around me and you have me at my peak inspiration.

In addition to fine art, you also design handbags, belts, placemats, office chairs, tile, jewelry, and rugs, among other products. Is designing these products different? 

The process of designing and manufacturing is unique to each specific product. When I begin a collaboration, before I begin the design process, I need to speak with the factory to determine how the product is made, to see what limitations exist from a design perspective. Otherwise, I will waste my time designing things I cannot create. It is a very complex process to create a collection, involving many people and lots of back and forth. Myself, my graphic designers and team, my partners, factories, sometimes middlemen and translators, distributors, buyers.

bright balloon abstract painting with purse and flower pot in foreground

Sutton’s work often draws from travel, nature, and architecture. (Elizabeth Sutton)

Do you have tips for anyone trying to buy art?

Make sure you are inspired by the artist behind the work and by the work itself. Art brings energy to your space, and it is important you find it uplifting and inspiring. Circumvent galleries if you can and reach out to the artist directly. You will get a much better deal.

Does your approach to design change when you are doing larger-scale projects like The Whale Building?

The Whale is the coolest project I’ve worked on to date. It is a 500,000 square foot commercial building in Brooklyn. I am creating digital and original artwork that will be featured on 14 stairwells, in 150 hallways as well as the lobby. The creative direction was provided to me by the developer. The process of designing and creating this work has taken over a year to date. It is a large team, involving the developers, architects, designers, myself, marketers. There are a lot of opinions that I have to take into account in regards to creative direction, and thus a lot of different rounds of designs.

Ultimately, the goal of the team is to create a unique experience for the tenants through the design of the entire building, from art to amenities to the office spaces themselves – to elevate the experience of wellness, hospitality, and sophistication at the office place. It is still in the works and has been an invaluable learning experience and opportunity. I can’t wait for the vision to come to fruition, as it is, in my opinion, my most creative work yet, as well as my biggest canvas yet.

staged apartment in new york city by elizabeth sutton

Sutton uses her artwork to stage hospitality and residential spaces such as this Chelsea penthouse. (Kellen Dengler)

You’ve staged high-end condo projects. What’s the best way to coordinate art and furniture?

I began my career staging luxury developments with my art through Ryan Serhant. After that, I began staging residential and hospitality venues with my art to garner attention.

Recently, I staged four luxury penthouses for 550 W 29th St, in Chelsea— furniture, art, and all. In total, fourteen bedrooms, fifteen bathrooms, four living rooms, and four dining rooms. As you can imagine, that is a lot of furniture, art, and decorative items to purchased. It was the first project of its kind for me, and it was on a tight budget, so my art helped to extend the budget by adding a very luxe feel.

White Pura Vida Gold chair

This year, Sutton launched a new line of office chairs under her Elizabeth Sutton Collection brand. (Elizabeth Sutton)

I kept the furniture as muted as possible— grays, navies, creams, and neutrals, as staging is a very specific type of design project. The most important intention with staging is that buyers understand how to make use of the space.

What’s next for you? 

Most imminently, my Elizabeth Sutton Collection office chairs. The collection focuses on both beauty and comfort, with an attention to detail that creates an elevated product. There is nothing like them in the market, so I am very excited.

I have my second solo exhibition at Eden Rock, St. Barths over President’s Weekend. As part of the exhibition, I will be designing a limited-edition backpack in collaboration with Sprayground, exclusively for the Eden Rock (this is my first public mention of the collaboration.)

I have 50 rug designs launching in Q1 2022, a puzzle collection, eleven more tile collections for Tilebar, and I just launched a YouTube channel. And of course, the Whale… but the world won’t see that until Q3 2022.

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I am a writer, design expert, host of the podcast Bougie Adjacent, and comedic performer. I am absolutely fascinated by all aspects of décor and design. It once took me six months to choose a soap dispenser and I can’t even remember what it looked like. I like bright prints, southern exposure and any location you can call a “village or town.” There are currently over 100 episodes of House Hunters on my DVR.