Sarah Sherman Samuel Loves Anything Vintage… Except ThisWords by Gabrielle Savoie
Everything Sarah Sherman Samuel puts her mind to is in the name of creativity.
Her résumé might suggest otherwise: a portfolio filled with star-studded projects like Mandy Moore and polo champion Nacho Figueras [featured in Architectural Digest last month]; successful collaborations with major brands from Lulu & Georgia to Semihandmade; her own furniture collection, SSS Atelier, nearly half a million followers on Instagram—and now her own Expert Showroom… All signs point to a wildly successful business.
If accomplishments come so naturally to Sarah—and they do—it’s because of her boundless curiosity, attention to detail, and dedication to her craft. She simply doesn’t stop: she lives, breathes, and dreams of great design. “It’s always been a passion,” she shares. “Even before going into interiors, I was doing pattern design, so designing more print-heavy rooms recently feels like returning to my roots.”
What makes her rooms so irresistible? Sarah walks us through her do’s and don’ts and shares the one thing your home should absolutely never go without.
What’s inspiring me right now
All the spring blossoms in Michigan: the colorful flowering trees and the contrast between the bright colors—shocks of pinks and yellows—with the earthy tones. I want to suddenly put everything floral in my projects. I like to offset daintier botanicals with heavy jacquards and embroidered fabrics.
The first thing I do when decorating a room
When I first walk into a new project I'm assessing what's there, what to keep, and what needs to go or has to be improved on. What remains is usually good enough to start to tell that story. After that I build a color palette, which can come from a paint sample, a stone or tile, or even a piece of art. In my old living room in LA, I built the sage green and pink color palette off of this one photograph of a New York restaurant called Tiny’s.
The piece that always anchors a space
Rugs, literally and metaphorically, always anchor a space. If your rug is the right size, it can really set the stage for everything to layer on top of. For every room, I try to find one piece that I'm so in love with that I can build off of. It might be the sofa upholstered in a certain fabric and then the rug comes second or the other way around. I’m never formulaic, I just focus on what I find suits the project the most first and then do the dance around it.
Every room needs…
Books. I find it creepy when people own zero books. If you have the space to have an actual library or den with loads of books that’s great, but even displaying a few on a coffee table or on a random shelf can let your personality and interests shine through.
My secret for a well-layered space
Plants, the bigger the better. I love indoor trees and sculptural greens. Collected art also finishes a space but I love thinking about it in terms of mixed mediums: incorporating sculpture and paintings, photography, and drawings…
What makes a room feel lived-in
Layering natural materials and living finishes that change nicely over time always adds coziness. Adding in vintage pieces with their own story helps a room feel lived in as well.
What I always buy vintage versus new
I try to source everything vintage, but the item that’s hardest to come by is beds—unless it’s a cute kid’s rattan frame—so I usually buy new bed frames or have them custom made. I’m really picky about beds. I’m big on proportions: I don't like the mattress to be too high where it feels very traditional, I like it a little bit lower.
My recipe for the perfect bed
I like a low bed that’s easy to lay down in (and not so easy to get out of). I usually use linen bedding—it feels very relaxed because it's going to be wrinkled and all messed up anyway so it feels more inviting. I like two sets of standard pillows, but I tend to keep the decorative pillows simple. Right now on my own bed I have four disc cushions that give a geometric feel. Instead of having layers and layers of traditional shapes, I'll do non dimensional shapes or one extra long bolster.
What I’m recommending to clients these days
I have a thing for floral lighting and mushroom lamps—they’re nature-shaped and dramatic. For the last couple years I’ve been anti shiny metallic finishes and that's what most lighting is. I still use some brass fixtures but I love ceramic, wood, rattan, and more natural materials. Lighting is a statement and it’s a chance to do something fun—it’s like the jewelry of a room and it’s easy to change out, so it’s a place where you can push the envelope.
How I style a coffee table
I start with books and then add some kind of grounding vessel like a bowl or a tray, something that’s alive like a vase with flowers or a potted plant, and something tall and delicate like candlesticks that have height.
My go-to fabrics
I have so many clients that have like 1000 pets and kids, so performance fabrics have been on a regular rotation. I love a more luxe performance velvet on a more relaxed silhouette, it’s a nice juxtaposition. A micro corduroy is really fun and bouclé is also a failsafe texture—I love a chocolate teddy bouclé.
I love playing with scale with fabrics and finishes, like pairing a big, chunky checkerboard on a rug with a micro corduroy or a thin stripe on a sofa for example. Even when playing with textural patterns, making sure there's a variety of scales is really important.
How I master the mix
The sample process is so important. I build out a material board with all the different finishes that need to work together in a room and I basically live with it in the office for a while and add to it so I can really see the story come to life as the project evolves.
I have a new rule of ‘no rush jobs’. It takes the fun out of it. Good design takes time. So it's better to be able to sit with things and revisit them, see them in a different light, let yourself get inspired over time—it creates a more collected feel in the end.