The Notre Monde Dame

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
The painted pot that was sold out of a cardboard box to the owner of a Short North boutique earned Dawn Sweitzer more than a place on a respected shelf. It launched a home accessories company now selling in some of the finest stores worldwide.

Sweitzer, 43, is a self-taught artist with deep-rooted Midwestern sensibilities and a sophisticated eye for style. Her love of design has taken her passion for all things beautiful and turned it into the whimsical-yet-elegant Notre Monde. Today, the chic brand can be found in 10,000 stores worldwide-including the holy grail of home furnishings, ABC Home in New York City, as well as Harrods in London.

Notre Monde's own showrooms-including those in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles-showcase embellished trays and frames, antiqued mirrors and light fixtures, silver-leafed tables and silk-embroidered boxes.

"Your environment should be luxurious, filled with beautiful things that inspire you," Sweitzer said. "That's the feeling we try to evoke."

Sweitzer's background provides an insight into her sense of style, which she calls urban glamour. She originally hails from northern Ohio, but a twist of fate would land her in Russia to do her part to promote Perestroika. Sweitzer was enlisted to help prepare American embassy housing. She taught the Russians how to make a house a home with paint and wallpaper.

She lived in Russia for two years and traveled extensively, soaking up the art of Eastern and Western Europe. "I was inspired by the frescos-the oversized images, Chinoiserie style," Sweitzer said.

When she returned to Ohio, Sweitzer began exploring her artistic side by painting special finishes and giant murals in local homes and businesses. The work not only put food on the table, it helped her master her craft, eventually providing the seed money to launch a wholesale business of one-of-a-kind creations.

"We told her how to get into wholesale, what you have to do to set up a booth at trade shows, how to sell," said Linda Welsh, owner of Short North boutique Loot, who bought that painted pot early on. "Now, she has the most magnificent, glamorous booth of all."

Sixteen years later, Notre Monde produces individual pieces-from furniture to lighting fixtures-that are mostly handcrafted in a warehouse on Greenlawn Avenue. Sweitzer and her husband and business partner, Robert Gorst, are a match made in wholesale heaven. She designs and draws. He builds, creates and engineers.

Together, they live in a historic German Village-area home filled with an eclectic mix of their own creations and treasures they have collected from around the world. All provide inspiration on a daily basis.

"I'm happiest when I'm creating new designs, painting, researching," Sweitzer said. "I lose myself in the world of defining who my customer is, their unmistakable style."

And that first customer is still satisfied. "I still have that pot it's special," Welsh said. "I'm not surprised that Dawn has had great success. She's a very talented artist."