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Austin Designers Bri Ussery and Jessica Knopp on Dor Design House Partnership

Bri Ussery and Jessica Knopp ran separate businesses before joining forces

The creative pulse of Austin’s East Side pulls people in and, sometimes, pushes them towards new pursuits.

This is certainly the case for friends and business partners Bri Ussery and Jessica Knopp, whose creative talents blossomed on that side of town. Ussery runs East Co., a home goods store with bohemian pillows, local artwork and ceramics, while Knopp is an owner of handmade home goods and accessories shop Son of a Sailor, which carries a colorful and eclectic range of leather products, candles, jewelry and more.

While immersed in Austin’s tight-knit maker community, the two met through a serendipitous connection: Ussery shares her brick-and-mortar on East Cesar Chavez with Knopp’s best friend of 25 years. That eventually led to the pair joining forces to form interior design firm Dor Design House. While design is a leap from selling home goods, Ussery and Knopp had been moving in that direction separately for many years. 

“I had customers coming in and loving the aesthetic of thee store and ask them if I would take on design projects,” Ussery says.

Coming from a corporate retail background, she finds the normal day-to-day operations at East Co. refreshing. “It’s such an intimate and personal experience and the customers are lovely, the polar opposite from corporate,” she says.

For the last eight years, Knopp has worked alongside her husband at Son of a Sailor but in her “previous life,” she spent a decade in fine art photography as an aspiring curator. 

“Since I was small, I’ve always been hyper-sensitive and interested in my environment,” she says. “I was the kid who would rearrange my room six times a year and hand painted my own bedframe when I was 11.”

After meeting, Ussery and Knopp realized the trajectory of their careers were headed in similar directions and grew more and more excited about starting a business together. Over a bottle of wine, the two hashed out their ideas during a sleepover. 

By September of 2019, Dor Design House was open for business and quickly signed its first big client. Deciding on a name was a surprising challenge in launching the firm. “We wanted something original to speak to our aesthetic in a way,” Knopp says. “But there are a lot of words in the design community that already have a meaning attached to them.”

They came up with an abstract name, Dor, which evokes an almost European feel and is something they felt would be timeless. It represents a new endeavor. 

When it comes to their creative process, they focus on how a space feels with a goal of making it equally functional and beautiful. Ussery’s style is more Scandinavian modern, a relaxed and minimalist look that pairs well with Knopp’s more eclectic and colorful tastes. Together they have designed a number of homes with vibrant gallery walls, kid-friendly features and smart built-ins. 

While running a design business still feels new, having a partner is something that they are both grateful for – especially when running into unexpected hurdles like those that popped up when the coronavirus rolled into town.

“We have definitely been working through this whole strange time,” Knopp says. “We entered into the Corona Era with two projects in-process, and a number of consultations that were scheduled to turn into jobs. Clearly it put a damper on all of that, but we have managed to forge through.”

Once shelter-in-place orders lifted, the design partners resumed consultations, construction and buildouts with safety measures – and longer lead times – in place. “We’ve been able to continue progress, with staggered contractors and limited visits on-site,” Knopp says. “We are about to finish up our two very exciting projects within the next few weeks.”

Almost a year since Dor Design House opened, Ussery and Knopp enjoy working as a team, bouncing ideas of each other with an appreciation of their complementary skills and aesthetics.

Knopp’s mom summed it up with an analogy about the partnership and their shared love of design: “When you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, it feels like a warm knife through butter.”