Petaluma designer brings cannabis into home decor
It was only a matter of time before cannabis, prized for its medicinal and psychoactive properties, would be appreciated for its beauty.
Petaluma-based designer Sarah Rodebaugh sees no reason the statuesque herb should be stigmatized and left out when it comes to the wave of botanical themes featured in trendy interior design. She has created a line of cannabis-inspired wallpapers and pillows with playful names like Sinsemilla Honeysuckle, Cannouveau and California Vice.
She calls it Chronic Biophiliac, a line of patterns she maintains are designed to “celebrate and share wellness and joy in the abundance of the Earth, and in connection with each other.”
Her patterns are stylized interpretations of the cannabis leaf rather than literal recreations. Some are reminiscent of William Morris, the 19th century father of the Arts and Crafts movement who incorporated flora and fauna in design to idealize the English countryside in reaction to the Industrial Revolution.
Rodebaugh appreciates the aesthetics of the plant, from its stately stalks to its palmated leaf structure, shaped like an open hand that fans out with long serrated leaves. The buds can range in color from deep green and purple to yellow and orange.
“It just offers a really beautiful opportunity for a lot of variation, and the leaves are lovely,” said the designer, who came to appreciate the plant while working as a project designer for various cannabis businesses.
Rodebaugh specialized in helping cannabis producers plan out and set up their facilities. Her role was technical and logistical: she outlined the equipment producers needed and worked with contractors on gas, water, electrical systems and fire codes.
But when one client asked her to help with the interior design of an Alameda house they were remodeling, Rodebaugh seized on the idea of playfully incorporating cannabis imagery.
“We were looking for fun things that go with their personality and the cannabis industry, and we couldn’t find anything really lovely,” she said.
So, she sketched out a custom wallpaper design featuring cannabis leaves. That sketch would become the seed for a new cannabis product line.
Rodebaugh spent about five years in the Marine Corps before returning to school at San Francisco State University to study interior design. In 2020, she was working on a line of earthenware hanging vessels she sourced from Sri Lanka. But when the pandemic hit and worldwide commerce slowed, her supply was cut off.
She remembered her idea for cannabis wallpaper. Anticipating the possibilities, she channeled her energy into drawing designs that became her Chronic Biophiliac line.
Rodebaugh also does regular design work under the name Henry + Mae, (named after her 10-year-old son and the daughter of her former partner). She works out of a small studio in the Magic Shop, an artist collective in a former cabinetry shop overlooking the Petaluma River. She doesn’t have a river view, but she has skylights that illuminate the simple space. Her shelves and desk are unfinished wood. An old cowhide rug she bought more than 20 years ago occupies one corner of the floor.
She has 10 cannabis designs so far, with five more in development. Rodebaugh starts with a schematic, which she sketches by hand, paints or draws digitally with AutoCAD.
“I’ll go out there and start creating some shapes and patterns. I then send them to an illustrator, who is amazing. She’ll take my designs and rend them in Illustrator and make some tweaks. We’ll go back and forth,” she said. “It’s amazing to see her put that to life, to be able to give what I have in my head to an artist who can make it even better than I imagined. That’s my favorite part, the collaboration.”
Once she settles on a design and colors, she sends it to Astek, a manufacturer in Southern California that does printing on demand. They can make vinyl peel-and-stick prints with various textures.
But Rodebaugh, who tries to run her company with sustainability in mind, encourages clients to eschew plastics and choose a 100%-paper option whenever possible, a material that will biodegrade. Paper can be hung on walls by applying a paste; a sealant can help protect it against the moisture of a bathroom or kitchen.
She doesn’t go for true-to-life colors for her cannabis designs, and she may weave in other plants, like wild roses, for variety.
Rodebaugh has gotten little pushback for her botanical subject matter. She even, brazenly, has a little fun with its forbidden reputation. Her California Vice pattern incorporates a little of everything: weed and hops and poppies and mushrooms, along with songbirds, quail and a California grizzly bear.
“Reaction has actually been really positive,” she said. “A lot of people come to me and say they didn’t even know that it was cannabis until they looked at it a bit longer. Or people who aren’t familiar with cannabis or who aren’t in the industry will say that it’s a beautiful botanical or a cool design.”
Rodebaugh also features her cannabis designs on pillows, filled with the ethically collected feathers and down. She hopes to expand the line to other aspects of home decor, like upholstery fabrics.
It’s time, she said, to take the stigma out of a plant that is useful and beautiful and a growing part of California’s agriculture and culture.
“In the United States, the wine industry is normalized. The beer industry is normalized. Hops are a beautiful flower," she said. "Vineyards are beautiful, and they’re depicted everywhere.”
She’s pleased when people tell her they would be comfortable having striking cannabis-themed decor in their home.
“It’s great having people discover it’s cannabis in a cool way, without it being so evident,” she said. “This gives it a different platform that isn’t the typical Rastafarian or psychedelic art or the things you typically think of when you think about cannabis art.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Features, The Press Democrat
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