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Meet the Nautical-Rope Artist Who’s Making Doormats Beautiful

Meet the Nautical-Rope Artist Who’s Making Doormats Beautiful
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It was a sailing trip to Nantucket that inspired Sophie Aschauer to make her first handwoven mat out of recycled marine rope. Soon enough, in 2011 her brand, SerpentSea, set sail. “In the beginning I only made the mats for myself and didn’t think it would turn into a business,” she tells us. “I used to work in an art gallery, and a co-worker told me she was looking for a doormat.” Sophie brought in all her mats the following morning and within five minutes had sold them all to various colleagues. “That’s when it dawned on me that I could turn it into a business.”

We visited the Australia native and new mom, who resides in New York with her husband, Paul Sevigny, at her studio on the Lower East Side for a peek into her process and a tour of her favorite local spots.

Sophie wears a dress designed by her friend—and favorite fashion designer—Arthur Arbesser.

Sophie wears a dress designed by her friend—and favorite fashion designer—Arthur Arbesser.

Russ & Daughters on East Houston Street, which opened in 1914, is the artist’s go-to lunch spot. “It is such an institution, and so pleasant on the eye! While waiting to place my order, I just really enjoy looking at everything—it’s eye candy!”

Russ & Daughters on East Houston Street, which opened in 1914, is the artist’s go-to lunch spot. “It is such an institution, and so pleasant on the eye! While waiting to place my order, I just really enjoy looking at everything—it’s eye candy!”

In addition to her durable, colorful mats, Sophie weaves key chains, chokers, and bracelets. “All the knots are traditional knots that I found in old books and illustrations,” she explains. While most of her designs will fit in front of your door’s threshold, she does have bigger plans: “I worked once with a mathematician who specializes in knots to develop an enormous pattern for a big area rug, but I have yet to realize it. It is very daunting, and I am lacking the space at the moment.” Needlepoint pillows and “soap on a rope” are soon to come. “Initially I wanted to make all the soap myself, but I realized I need a manufacturer to help with the production,” she says.

When the weather is nice, Sophie eats a bagel at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, across from her studio, and tries to get some sun.

When the weather is nice, Sophie eats a bagel at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, across from her studio, and tries to get some sun.

Her rope bracelets look even better when mixed and matched.

Her rope bracelets look even better when mixed and matched.

SerpentSea mats are available in four knot designs—Killigrew, Bonny, Drake, and Morgan—named after four infamous pirates.

SerpentSea mats are available in four knot designs—Killigrew, Bonny, Drake, and Morgan—named after four infamous pirates.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Sophie chose to work with marine rope and knots: “I definitely have a lot of nautical items in my wardrobe—lots of stripes and sailor dresses. Otherwise, my favorite designer is my friend Arthur Arbesser. His clothes are simple but refined and luxurious, something I am striving to become…”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Sophie chose to work with marine rope and knots: “I definitely have a lot of nautical items in my wardrobe—lots of stripes and sailor dresses. Otherwise, my favorite designer is my friend Arthur Arbesser. His clothes are simple but refined and luxurious, something I am striving to become…”

In a building that houses other small businesses and artist work spaces like her own, Sophie’s bright studio is a vibrant emporium of tangled rope, punctuated by surrealistic paintings on its white walls. “Most importantly I needed enough floor space for making the mats, but light was also very important, as I am doing all the product photography myself,” she says. “I have to admit it’s a bit of a mess, but I kind of like a mess, and that is the only space where I am allowed to have one!”

Each SerpentSea key chain comes in its own stamped linen pouch.

Each SerpentSea key chain comes in its own stamped linen pouch.

Each key ring is named after one of the sea nymphs in Greek mythology who often accompanied Poseidon, god of the sea, to protect and help sailors fighting storms.

Each key ring is named after one of the sea nymphs in Greek mythology who often accompanied Poseidon, god of the sea, to protect and help sailors fighting storms.

Sophie’s marine rope comes in all manner of colors and patterns.

Sophie’s marine rope comes in all manner of colors and patterns.

The art-school­-educated crafter reveals that the palettes of her mats are very much driven by the materials she secures. “Since I only work with recycled rope, my choices in colors are limited, as I have to work with what I get, but I think that is part of the challenge,” she says. “I have to use all the rope I receive and turn it into something beautiful.” Although the variety of colors and patterns “may seem endless, they are not,” Sophie notes. “I can’t get any blue or green I like—it’s not like paint, where you can mix together anything you like.”

Thanks to their durable, waterproof material, SerpentSea mats can be used both indoors and out.

Thanks to their durable, waterproof material, SerpentSea mats can be used both indoors and out.

The artist uses a machete to cut her recycled marine rope.

The artist uses a machete to cut her recycled marine rope.

SerpentSea mats are woven with five or six pieces of continuous rope.

SerpentSea mats are woven with five or six pieces of continuous rope.

My choices in colors are limited, as I have to work with what I get, but I think that is part of the challenge. I have to use all the rope I receive and turn it into something beautiful.

— Sophie Aschauer

Related: Inside Loeffler Randall’s Elegant SoHo Office →

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