“I’m attracted to weird or nice colour combinations.” In conversation with artist Sarah Illenberger

Sarah Illenberger is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Berlin and working internationally. Her work for clients including Hèrmes, COS and The New York Times crosses the spectrum of art, graphic design, set design and photography, is steeped in humour and a sense of abstraction, and reveals an innate intuition about colour. After seeing her giant fruit pieces in a Seek No Further (by Fruit of the Loom) pop-up shop in East London, we wanted to know more about her inspirations and approach.

Artist Sarah Illenberger an interview | Set designer | The Chromologist“When I’m working on a new project, the first step is brainstorming and researching using the internet, mostly. The briefings with my clients are the drivers. For an advertising project where I have to present a product, I try to get hold of the product first and play around with it. Then I create sketches on the computer, make snapshot photos with my phone and put moodboards together with my sketches. When working on the project, it’s onto finding people who can produce parts of it, sourcing materials, ordering stuff from eBay, Amazon and so on to pull it all together. The finished work would usually get photographed if it’s for a magazine or, if it’s an installation for a shop, then it’ll take a night or 24 hours to install.”

Breuninger Dusseldorf shop window | Sarah Illenberger set design | The Chromologist

Metal Leaves for Breuninger department store, Düsseldorf.

“I’m attracted to weird or nice colour combinations and I’m into Pop Art colours. Josef Albers was really good with colour and many fashion designers, like Dries Van Noten, I find really inspiring for colours. My aesthetic is very real ‘lifey’ – kind of simple, clear, not too complicated and very illustrative. All my work is fun, innocent and childlike. I care that things reach out to a broad audience, and with a striking colour you have more chance of doing that. When the installation is simple – that’s my favourite – sometimes it needs a flashy colour to make it stand out. The object comes first, the colour then adapts the object.”

Sarah Illenberger Images | Pineapple print | The Chromologist

From the Tutti Frutti series of images, sold as prints.


Herbal remedies put into the shape of the body part that it cures for SZ-Magazin.

Herbal remedies put into the shape of the body part that it cures for SZ-Magazin.

Sarah Illenberger | Paint it Pink | The Chromologist

From Sarah’s Instagram

Seek No Further pop up | Sarah Illenberger set design | The Chromologist

Fruit of the Loom Seek No Further shop set

“For the Fruit of the Loom project I was restricted to the colours of foam – sometimes it’s easier to work with constraints like that, rather than having all the options in the world. I chose the material because I knew there were colours that would function well as fruit, like the flesh of the melon.” “For inspiration I use Instagram to record quick ideas. I photograph things pretty much daily and have lots of ideas in my drawer and in my iPhoto library, which I can go back to when I’m working on something – I have a good visual memory.

What attracts my eye varies. I love nature and art and I photograph a lot of architecture. I go to a lot of art exhibitions and shows and tend to get inspired more by techniques than the ideas themselves.

Seeing faces | Sarah Illenberger inspirations | The Chromologist

From Sarah’s Instagram

My own ideas tend to come from nature or real things, especially discovered through travel to places like London. It could be leaves fallen to the ground that resemble smiling lips. It’s always things that resemble something that they are not. That might be the theme behind everything I’m drawn to.” “Humour is also very important to me. I prefer to see something that makes me smile rather than something that makes me feel sad. I’m more about the lightness of life than the dark things.

Do I live with colour at home? Yes! I have a bedroom wall in neon pink, my bathroom is yellow, my kitchen is pistachio and my entrance hall is black, like a Chanel box with white borders.”

Sarah Illenberger | Neon wall | The Chromologist

Sarah Illenberger’s neon pink bedroom wall


Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

The Chromologist 2018 | Farrow & Ball

The Chromologist