Interior space has always fascinated me. When I was a little girl, I used to constantly rearrange my furniture and demanded my father let me paint each wall in my room a different color. I wanted to know how changing the elements of a room could affect how I felt. On one particularly memorable day, my budding obsession as a little decorator nearly got me into big trouble. My father came home to find that I had neatly cut the carpet away from every visible surface in my bedroom!

Church MasterBedxFDKFortunately, my father has a sense of humor. Rather than punish his little decorator, he encouraged me.

Many years later in college, I studied English literature and also visual theory, which is the study of how people see things. For example, historically, from a Christian perspective, an image of a woman wearing blue meant they were virtuous. The Virgin Mary wears blue in vast numbers of paintings. Attaching a specific color to a specific meaning was a method by which stories could be explained in pictures to those who were illiterate.

Today, that connotation for the color blue is not so obvious, but it does show up occasionally as a perception that blue is “conservative” or “trustworthy.” Many corporate logos of law firms and banks incorporate the color blue for this very reason. Because we have moved culturally from centralized religions, and because we live more and more globally, people’s sets of meanings are more nuanced now than they once were.

What I learned explained and influenced my belief that everyone experiences their surroundings subjectively.

Understanding how a specific person is made to feel by what they see around them is crucial to designing custom interiors. To use the same color example, blue is cold and therefore undesirable to some people but calming and therefore desirable to others. The client’s individual opinion must influence the design process.

My interior design preferences, and what I choose everyday for myself and for my clients, are naturally influenced by my personal experiences too. I am often drawn to Art Deco style furnishings because I like how they have bold contrasts and something confident about them. On the other hand, I like Art Nouveau staircases because I find them lyrical, light, and organic.

What I don’t like is hard and fast rules. And I don’t limit myself to Art Deco, Art Nouveau, or any other single design style. By mixing elements of traditional, contemporary, mid-century, ethnic, high-tech, and more, I have the freedom to create spaces that are fresh and unique.

Church HiddenClosetxFI grew up in the English countryside, which was very bucolic and traditional, but not far from London. The interiors I grew up with were comfortable and elegant — it was the world of Colefax & Fowler, a world of floral chintz. I lived in a little cottage, which had plenty of English charm, and I had friends who lived in sleek London flats and some who literally lived in castles.

It meant I experienced interiors both cozy and grand, historically accurate and irreverently eccentric. Blending these influences with those my clients bring to a project is a constant source of creative inspiration for me.

My interest in what affects a person’s experience of their environment has been with me since I created my own design experiments as a very young decorator. In order to create interiors that are comfortable and engaging for each unique client I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I’ve learned that the best designs are both livable and deeply personal.

Today as an interior designer based in San Francisco, I love esthetic freedom. I do, however, show more restraint than the little decorator who cut up her father’s carpet!


Sarah is a bright & shining light among interior designers.

Kristin O’Brien, Palo Alto, CA

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