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Catching Up With Rudy the Prep

Rudy Saunders: an aficionado of needlepoint, designer extraordinaire at Dorothy Draper, and arbiter of prep. Rudy, also known as Rudy the Prep, and I met several years ago while working together at Lilly Pulitzer. We became quick friends over our mutual love for classic design, the cheeky irreverence of prepdom, and our similar paths in interior design.

I was in the midst of my university years at Parsons School of Design and Rudy well on his way as a great designer. We pulled many a shenanigan together while dressing windows on Madison Avenue in the wee hours of the morning and assisting one too many eccentric Upper East Side women.

Rudy embodies the "grandmillennial" style and is arguable the face of the movement. Grandmillennial, a term coined by House Beautiful magazine, refers to young adults embracing the tradition of decorating often by way of chintz, chinoiserie, and items once dubbed as "granny chic."

Recently, Rudy has launched his collection of needlepoint canvases that could not scream his name more. I had the much-needed chance to catch up with him and divulge his creative perspective and career.

How has your perspective of interior design shifted since beginning your career?

It is interesting because I feel I have become both more grounded in reality yet also more imaginative and inventive. It has been five years since graduating from the University of Cincinnati with seven years of design internships before that. I feel I have learned a lot on the process from start to finish of different kinds of projects, working with different vendors, sourcing things, etc. that I have learned just how difficult it can be! I feel it has helped to sort of ground me in knowing how long something will take, how much it will cost, etc. and I can shade that with a client from the start. But with that, I feel I have a better understanding of who to call when there is a problem, who to call when I want something unique and out of the ordinary, etc. that always pays off in the end. I feel it has helped me to push boundaries to be more inventive and create something new. It is always easier to open a catalog and order something, but can we do something more original and special for a better result? Always!

The Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

What has been a project you are most proud of?

I never like to play favorites. This is such a difficult question, I do enjoy so many of the design projects I work on. I like to enjoy the memories of the process, from design scheme to presentation, working with clients, relationships with the contractors, the final product, etc. so it each project becomes a story. I love the many different types of projects and with them the unique challenges they all pose. Different stories, different client inventories, and different uses make each project interesting and exciting. I would say I prefer commercial projects better in that it is fun to get to experience people visiting hotels and enjoying restaurants. However, there is something special about creating a unique property for a specific client in residential projects that is special. This sounds wishy-washy, but I do just love the process and all that goes into each project, knowing others get to enjoy the result.

Palácio Quitandinha, Petrópolis, Brazil.

The best dinner guest dead or alive?

Okay, this is a tricky question – can I host a dinner party with a list of people? If I had to narrow it down to two people, I would say Dorothy Draper and Lilly Pulitzer. Both were strong women that created looks and filled the world with color! I think there are many similarities between these two ladies, not just their love of colorful flowers, but because of their ingenuity, adventuresomeness, and personalities. I have been fortunate to work for both of their namesake companies and am always inspired by the worlds they created. Also can I say, Thomas Jefferson? His design sense was remarkable and I always said if I wasn’t a designer, I would want to be a politician!

Dorothy Draper Lilly Pulitzer

Can you give us an insight into your creative process in developing your line of needlepoint canvases?

My line of canvases started with Lycette simply because I was painting canvases for myself and when we got to talking, Jessica Chaney said how much her customers would love them. I have had so much fun collaborating with Lycette on this fun new line. I find so much inspiration from my life and design background. Many of my canvases are classic patterns found in interiors and reinterpreted on needlepoint canvases. I always boost the colors so they are fun and spirited but encourage stitchers to change the colors to their own choices and be as creative as possible! I have a running list of canvas ideas and just not enough time to paint them all. For the quippy phrases, I love hearing funny comments in life and think, “how great would that be on a needlepoint pillow” and then play the sizing, colors, borders, and think about who the stitcher is for this canvas.

You are known as Rudy the Prep on Instagram, what does the term prep mean to you?

It is funny you bring this up because I have thought many times about changing this handle. A few years ago Heather Clawson gave me a year to change it and I haven’t been up to the task. My thought in favor of changing it is that I try to utilize my Instagram as a sort of scrapbook, to keep fun memories for myself and to share with others. I find so much inspiration and feel that I have many interests that go beyond the typical stereotype of ‘prep’. However, I see prep as more of a classic lifestyle. I hope to be as authentic as I can be, from my background to my experiences, and everything in between. Prep is someone who appreciates the classics but has a bit of irreverence to shake things up. So in that regard, I feel it does suit my Instagram nicely in that I love a mix of high and low, from Bergdorf Goodman to Chick-Fil-A! I am still tossing around different handles and as soon as I find something that better captures my perspective – then will consider a change.

What is next for you?

I always like to look ahead to the future but have a Que Sera Sera mentality. I love to dream big, but don’t like to be locked into an exact plan. If you ask me what I am doing next week, who knows – I certainly don’t! I am excited for all that the future holds and truly believe the sky is the limit. I hope to continue with my optimistic smile for a lifetime of fun! But I will say something concrete I would love to do is learn French.

x Natalie

Follow Natalie on Instagram: @natalieealdridge

Follow Rudy on Instagram: @rudytheprep

Shop R! by Rudy HERE

Images: Rudy Saunders / Getty Images

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