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When one hears of beautiful glass ornaments, most collectors think of Poland, Italy and Germany as the birthplaces of hand painted glass ornaments. But have you ever thought of Staten Island, a borough of New York City? That’s the home of Sarabella Creations, known for their large elaborate glass ball ornaments adorned with crystals and jewels and sold at some of the finer shops in the country.
Natalie Sarabella looks back and fondly remembers her childhood in Brooklyn, when her mother would take her to A&S department store at Christmas time. "There was a huge Christmas tree suspended from the ceiling and it was full of large ornaments. As I grew up I noticed that Christmas just didn't have that same WOW for adults as it used to. I decided to change that and put the wonder back into that very special holiday". "I wanted Christmas to be BIG again." And so the story begins...
Always drawing as a young girl, Natalie Sarabella says she was a hippy who had fun adorning her agreeable younger sister Carolyn with flowers and peace signs. Today her artistic efforts turn fragile six-inch mouth-blown glass balls into elegantly elaborate Christmas ornaments. Natalie has never taken an art lesson, but followed her mother's footsteps in her love of drawing and painting.
Her career in Christmas ornaments began at a New York Gift show when she discovered extra large ornaments. "Right away, in my head, it was instant canvas." Sarabella says she spend $200 ordering some of the German ornaments.
The very first ornament Natalie painted was a larger 7" piece that was painted with a poinsettia. She still has that ornament in her private collection. "When my husband came home and saw it, he said, "Wow, that's great! You should do something with them" That's when she knew she had something special.
The first official collector's ornament (1994) was a chubby cherub (inspired by toddler daughter) standing on a tuffet attempting to place a star on the Christmas tree.
Natalie was soon creating special pieces for Jimmy and Vicki Iovine, that were purchased to be presented to such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Today many celebrities collect the Sarabella Collection.
Realizing the business end of things was not her forte, Sarabella convinced her cousin Janet Mormile to enter a partnership. One of the first contacts of the new company was with Bergdorf Goodman where Natalie and Janet always loved to shop.
After creating six sample ornaments, the cousins made a cold call to Bergdorf Goodman carrying specially made leather bags to hold the samples. Jan says "the merchandise manager was the only one there, and we explained to her that we felt we had something exceptional". "She said --'oh my, they are expensive'. She said the buyer will be in the next day and will give you a call. The buyer did call and when we went back in, the store placed an order for forty pieces."
Jan said "after making the ornaments, we delivered them ourselves, emptying our car on the receiving line amongst all the big trucks". That was at the end of September. The day after the Christmas department opened for the season, Sarabella got a call from the buyer, "how can we get 100 ornaments, right away?" The ornaments sold out the first day they were displayed!
Today the company, Sarabella-Mormile Inc. doing business as Sarabella Creations, employs an average of 6 artist, beaders and bowers. But the main thing is – it remains a family operations, everyone works and no does anything that Jan and Natalie won’t also do.
The ornaments are all designed by Natalie and get sketched, painted, overpainted, beaded and bowed. Every part of the ornament and the important presentation have to be perfect, with bows being redone until they pass the exacting standards of Janet.
Jan related "we have about 200 designs, every ornament we make is hand signed by Natalie and each ornament is touched by both of us several times in the process of being created, from the painting to the bows to being hand-packed in the special boxes."
The ornaments are made in 15 cm (6"), 12 cm and 10 cm sizes, the 15 cm is the mainstay of the ornament line. Tree toppers and specially designed ornament stands are also in the line, along with greeting cards, photograph albums and gift items for the new bride.
The family is especially excited about what's new for this upcoming year. With their strong Catholic background, they never forget the true meaning of Christmas, so they consider the new twelve piece Nativity Set to be one of their most treasured pieces. Also new for this year is The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each set will retail for $2000. As with all their ornaments, these sets come in specially designed boxes, that also come in another box made specifically for shipment.
Stores now carrying the Sarabella line include Harrods, Saks and Frontgate, along with their first store Bergdorf Goodman. Look for Sarabella's personal appearances during the holiday season at the stores offering her ornaments.
Upcoming projects also include special commissions for the New York City Plaza Hotel new retail shops, as well as the honor of being recognized and designated by Swarovski Crystal for the use of their crystals.
As Jan said – "it's all a very personal family business". She and Natalie touch every single ornament and this is after someone else has already quality checked it. "The business reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner for the family, it's what makes it very special and every time we send an ornament off, I feel like I am sending my child off to school." And that's just the personal touch that many collectors can relate to and enjoy.