Friday, October 15, 2010

Sarah Then and Now

I was looking through my stash of old magazines and came upon an article showing Sarah Richardson's apartment back before she was a famous decorator.  I know a lot of people (myself included) love Sarah's decorating, so I thought you might be interested to see how she decorated her own home in the past and compare her style to the homes she lives in now. 

I was impressed that while her style has become more refined, the essential Sarah elements were there even eleven years ago. These are photos of my magazine article, so they are a little wonky, but you can still get the idea of what her apartment looked like.


In the article, Sarah says:
"To save money, I went down to the Glidden factory and asked to see their mistints ... The result was a creamy palette of pale hues with a retro cottage feeling, perfect for a space with funky, built-in design features like the raised dining room platform with crisscross bannister, an airy sitting area perched in the eaves above the living room, and a bathroom with an old-fashioned clawfoot tub. ... The furnishings were also selected with a taste for whimsy and an eye on the bank account."

After looking at Sarah's apartment, I think it could be summarized as follows:
  • Colour: pastel and neutral colours throughout, espcially blues, greens, yellows, pinks, and whites
  • Pattern: a mix of small-scale floral and striped patterns in accent pieces such as pillows, tablecloths, towels 
  • Art work: smaller pieces of art all in neutral colours (black, white, gray, beige)
  • Furniture: painted furniture mixed with occasional pieces of natural wood furniture
  • Vignettes:  great vignettes showcasing her collections (like the mason jars on the bathroom counter) mixed with natural items (like the flowers and apples on the coffee table)
  • Use of vintage/antique/salvaged materials: decorated with vintage architectural items often with peeling paint (like the window frames in the first photo); re-purposed vintage, thrift store, and antique finds (like the bench used as a coffee table and the door used as a headboard); and included quirky touches (like the numbers on the stair risers)
  • Style: a refined country vibe described in the article as retro cottage.
I thought it would be interesting to compare her style then to the style she uses today in the homes she lives in.  In all fairness I should qualify my comparisons by saying that, I'm sure money isn't quite the object now that it was when she decorated her apartment, plus the apartment was decorated eleven years ago and styles change, and also it is natural to decorate different settings in different ways (apartment, house, and cottage).  Despite those qualifications I wanted to see if any of Sarah's original style was still evident in her present house and cottage.

I did manage to find some photos of her Toronto home and was very surprised with how much colour she used.  Sarah apparently used her home to showcase her new paint palette for Para Paints.   I wonder if she kept those colours in her home after she had the photos taken, as she said it was a bit strong for her taste, especially the bedroom.  Apparently:
"the rose and citrine hues she used to transform her bedroom into a romantic modernist's dream weren't her absolute favourites."
According to the newspaper article (which you can read here) Sarah was quoted as saying:
"Colour should make you feel warm and calm ... if anyone wants their rooms to look as good as mine, they won't use brown"
Duly noted.  No brown.

from the Ottawa Citizen

In thinking about the photos of her home, her style seems to have changed quite a bit.  Here's how I thought her Toronto home could be described:
  • Colour:  clear midtone colours - still many blues, greens, yellows, pinks, and whites but more intense now
  • Pattern:  still a mix of stripes and floral patterns, but the patterns are bolder and larger-scaled
  • Art work: large-scale very colourful pieces of art
  • Furniture: a lot more wood furniture, although there is a painted desk in the living room and white painted kitchen cabinets
  • Vignettes:  tabletops are much clearer with fewer items on display
  • Use of vintage/antique/salvaged materials:  there is possibly an antique dresser in the hall that you can see through the kitchen door, but otherwise none
  • Style: surprisingly modern
Sarah also has shown us how she transformed her Georgian Bay cottage so, of course, I had to have a look at how this compared to her apartment and house.  The cottage also happens to be my absolute favourite place Sarah has decorated, so I don't mind spending time pouring over the photographs to analyze it.


I think it would be safe to summarize her cottage as follows:
  • Colour: pastel and neutral colours throughout, espcially blues, greens, yellows, pinks, and whites but with some bolder reds, yellows and navys mixed in
  • Pattern: a bit of a mix of both large and small-scale floral and striped patterns
  • Art work: the walls were decorated with quilts and mirrors and sailboats with no visible art work in the photos I found
  • Furniture: used painted furniture mixed with occasional pieces of natural wood furniture
  • Vignettes:  more like the paired down vignettes in her present Toronto home
  • Use of vintage/antique/salvaged materials: kitchen counters decorated with vintage boards with peeling paint;  antique tables and wooden chairs used thoughout (I know those are antique/vintage banker's chairs around her dining room table because I have one as well - yay for me decorating like Sarah)
  • Style: a refined country vibe 
Initially it appeared that the cottage was more like her earlier style found in the apartment from eleven years ago, but on closer inspection there are also some of the more refined elements (like the clearer tabletops and hits of bolder colours) found in her Toronto home. 

In the November 2010 Canadian House and Home magazine there are some photos of Sarah's farmhouse, which I had thought she was going to sell, but from the article it appears she is keeping.  Angie at Echoes of Laughter just published a post about the article so you can see the pictures here.  The farmhouse seems to be similar in style to the cottage.  Love them both.

What do you think?  Do you agree with my analysis?  Are you on team apartment, team house, or team cottage?  I really like all of them, but I'm team cottage all the way.


  1. I am such a huge, huge fan!! She certainly has come a long way. I am forever trying to shop at the same places since we live in the same city :)

  2. What magazine was that 11 year old article in? That's such a find. I love her, lol!

    Sue @ Beach Bungalow

  3. Great post Grace! There are elements of her original style found in all three homes I think, and you're right her color palette has evolved over time. I'm team cottage all the way too...I love what she did with that property!

    Kat :)

  4. Good point Sue - I neglected to say that the article was in the April 1998 issue of Canadian House and Home magazine.

  5. Thanks, Grace! I wonder if I can get a back issue ...


  6. I love the apartment and of course the cottage! I do not like the house at all. I remember watching an interview with her after she got married. She and her husband bought a 70's style home and it was done modern which he likes. I hated it.
    I love her farmhouse though and was just at Angie's looking at the photos. I was shocked too that she did not sell it. But who would want to it is so beautiful!

  7. I'm pretty taken by the bolder pops of color in the house, but I've always loved that slightly distressed cottage look. I think the cottage would be my vacation home, if I could have two homes :)

  8. I could move right in to that cottage. Love every thing about it. The ceilings, the dining room, the red chair, yup pretty much every thing.

  9. What a fascinating post! Thanks so much for putting all that together, it must have taken ages.. I'm a fan of Sarah so it's very interesting. I really love her old apartment and you're right, you can see the same elements there that she still uses today..Rachaelxx

  10. Oh the cottage, the cottage! What a fabulous post Grace. I love Sarah. Now I am going to go back and read it all again and savour it! A-M xx

  11. I love the cottage but I have to say her apartment is my favourite! So neat to be able to compare them.

  12. Wow! What a find! I have been reading and subscribing to House & Home for about 15 years and I have no recollection of Sarah or this article at all! I'm with Pamela...I am not crazy about her current house, but she can go cottage and country with her vacation homes, so that keeps both her & Alexander happy. I do remember her saying in one of her Sarah's House episodes that there were so many 'colours' in the rainbow and she intended to use every one of them in her career. I am definitely 'Team Cottage' with the Farmhouse being a close second. What a great post was really fun to read. I had the opportunity to meet Sarah when she gave a talk at a home show here in Edmonton in April and she was so interesting to listen to. Angie xo
    ps-thanks for linking to my post. I am going to link to yours as well!

  13. Fabulous post, Grace! It's been a great way to waste time, since I got up so early this morning. LOL

    Put me down as a mix between Team Apartment and Team Cottage ... though I love most of the farmhouse, as well. The apartment has the feeling I love ... collections and favorite objects assembled in a really peaceful space. The first photo of the cottage made me swoon. And who doesn't love the Farmhouse mudroom? It seems like such a shame to call a wonderful space like that a 'mudroom'.

  14. I'm in love with the cottage. I certainly adore the country feeling of the style. I like the color - bright and neutral. 2011 interior color is bright colors, I think. It has a little resemblance to our family cottage in Tampa. And those flooring is so traditional and classic.