Design can make all the difference
Ulla Surland, who was born in Denmark, has a passion for beauty that warms her usually reserved Scandinavian manner. Ever since she sat in the gazebo on Fairfield’s town green and “loved the vibe,” her involvement in the art community has grown. “I think Fairfield has become a friendly landing place for artists,” she says, counting herself among their number.
She has nurtured that conviction by becoming a key board member of the Fairfield Arts Center, the clearinghouse for all things artistic. The FAC supports artists with exhibitions in its gallery on Sanford Street, runs programs for schools and other organizations in town, and brings art to the main streets of Fairfield with its banner project, which Ulla has been part of for multiple years. She has also headed the Artist of the Year award program, which this year will go to the Fairfield Choral Society.
“Art mirrors, provokes, questions, celebrates, and elevates humanity,” Surland says. “Art is the heart and soul of civilization.” But she also knows these are tough times for artists. “Art is like the canary in the mine of the economy. Art is something you buy when you are feeling good about your life.”
Still, in good times and less good times, Surland has practiced her art in Fairfield as a designer of clothes and careful selector of tasteful accessories. In fact, for ten years, from 1998 until 2008, she ran a shop that included a gallery for fine art, next to the Community Theatre. “When I came here, the town was falling apart. Mine was the only store on Unquowa Road and the Fairfield Store had closed. But I stayed anyway and I feel like my perseverance has been helpful.”
Now things are much different for the town and for her. Fairfield has come into its own with a vibrant downtown; and Surland, after taking time off to study interior design, started Ulla Surland Interior Design this past January. “I love spaces and what the personality and possibility of space can be,” she says about her plans to design commercial spaces as well as residential ones.
Her approach to all her design ideas can be summed up in two words—beauty and integrity. “I love it when the elements are the things themselves,” she says, pointing to a drawer of a dresser she designed. “That is one piece of wood and the wood is the design. It is as if the wood has come to a good end.”
Her new store, opening November 5 in the original location next to the Community Theatre, will feature her clothing designs, accessories, and fine art, as well as items from other designers that complement her style. Asked to see an example, Surland pulls out a picture of a bed she designed out of wrought iron but carefully notes how the little pale-green painted table next to it introduces a different texture to the ensemble. “I think that works wonderfully,” she says.
Customers in her boutique and gallery will also find Surland’s blanket-wool hooded coats, ceramic animal figures by Susan Halls, a walnut and steel candelabrum from a woodworker in New Haven, and fireplace tools from a blacksmith in upstate New York.
It takes courage to open a shop based on something as elusive as design. An auto-parts store might seem a better bet, but Surland is confident about her new venture and about the place of art in Fairfield. “There is a place for art here and it can only grow as things pick up.”