Sarah Richardson: TV’s Renovating Expert on Life At Her Home
By Carol Crenna
Sarah Richardson started her career 18 years ago and within a year, was on screen, sharing her practical approach to interior design. With her shows on HGTV Canada and US: Sarah’s House, Room Service, Design Inc., Sarah’s Cottage, her new show launching in Fall 2013, and her furniture and paint lines, her consulting firm, and her family, she doesn’t stay still for long.
During our interview, she was also baking, serving snacks, and supervising four children who played with caterpillars and frogs at her cottage. Here, Sarah talks about life at home.
CAROL: Why do you live off-the-grid at your cottage?
SARAH RICHARDSON: My husband built it, and being off the grid was a necessity more than a choice. It would have cost $100,000 to receive hydro electricity on the island. But by embracing it, it became a fantastic way to live. The island’s views are spectacular with its rugged, natural beauty, rocks and water and sky.
The lifestyle offers everything that you need and nothing that you don’t. It’s not about accessibility to manufactured entertainment; it’s about enjoying the company of family and friends, and truly enjoying the weather, whatever it brings.
CAROL: How do you generate energy in the house?
SARAH RICHARDSON: Solar electricity powers the stereo, phones and computers, and propane runs the stove, fridge and lights. We renovated and updated the solar panels two years ago for Sarah’s Cottage HGTV show. We did that because our shared office in downtown Toronto also has solar panels, generating enough energy to run all of its technology.
My husband is very interested in environmental conservation. We had the best intentions in composting, but it attracted foreign animals to the island including raccoons and bears. We decided that we didn’t want to share it so stopped.
CAROL: How do you make time for husband, kids, friends?
SARAH RICHARDSON: By prioritizing and focusing. When at work, I’m intently working, and when at home, I focus on kids and husband, and don’t mix the two. I have easy hair so don’t spend weekends getting beauty treatments like others — I’m with the kids!
I‘ve learned to delegate, and have realized that the only successful way to delegate is to not worry about whether I could have done something better myself — just let it go and be happy with the results.
CAROL: How do you relax?
SARAH RICHARDSON: I love cooking. I come home and cook with my kids I’m immediately able to focus on what’s most important in my world. It was my husband’s birthday recently, and so I had 37 people for lunch and 19 for dinner and I cooked both meals. And after a nice dinner and glass of wine, all things are good!
CAROL: You enjoy entertaining then?
SARAH RICHARDSON: Yes. My advice to others is to not even hesitate about your decision to have a party — just do it! Don’t worry whether everything will be perfect. Do what you can do, even if it means buying store bought pre-made appetizers. People come to a party to spend time with you and your guests so don’t be so worried about food or decor. The most important things: a good group of people, good wine, and to relax and enjoy yourself.
CAROL: Are your kids picky eaters?
SARAH RICHARDSON: There are lots of things that they won’t eat, but I don’t find that surprising because most kids don’t have adventurous tastes. I sneak in good, healthy stuff by hiding it in the recipe.
CAROL: Do you have a healthy diet? Do you worry about weight gain?
SARAH RICHARDSON: My job is very active; I often carry around my two little kids; and I have a fast metabolism so don’t have to worry about it. There is a lot of ice cream in my life. One of our favourite destinations while at the cottage is to go for a boat ride to another little island for an ice cream run.
That said, I‘ve had two children during my time on a camera so had to be okay with major weight fluctuations! I eat very healthily and take care of myself. But I don’t go overboard.
CAROL: Do you get much exercise?
SARAH RICHARDSON: I downhill ski and I water ski.
CAROL: Why did you choose the house where you live in Toronto?
SARAH RICHARDSON: I was drawn to it as soon as I walked in the door. Built in 1966, it has giant window walls on two sides, one rising from the basement to the top of the first floor ceiling. It was a cold February day when I first saw it but the sun was beaming in. It has incredible light, and its open-plan flows with no wasted space — we don’t have hallways.
We gutted most rooms and I’ve experimented a lot, but now its needs the basics that cost, like new windows and a new roof. I like soulful objects so choose my furniture carefully, including my favourite daybed in the living room. Daybeds are underappreciated. When entertaining, they provide extra seating since guests can perch themselves on both sides; they’re great on a Saturday afternoon when you can steal 20 minutes to put your feet up with a magazine; they’re comfortable for kids to hang onto as you sit to read books; and they have sculptural beauty.
CAROL: Do you take your decorating advice when renovating your own home?
SARAH RICHARDSON: Yes, 100 percent. My home is my laboratory where I test and experiment with every idea to make sure it works to avoid having to try hard to convince a client or redo a job.
CAROL: Don’t you find renovating stressful?
SARAH RICHARDSON: No, because I focus on the transformation itself. It only becomes stressful if you worry about whether you’ve made or are making the right decisions. I go with my gut, and if I make a mistake, so be it.
I’ve made lots of mistakes, but you can only do your best, and appreciate that everyone working on a project is doing their best. Renovating is a product of human time and creative effort, not done by robots, so it must take as long as it takes and cost as much as it costs.
CAROL: How long does it take to transform a home from fixer-upper to TV camera-perfect?
SARAH RICHARDSON: My timelines are shorter than most: five months from breaking ground to completion. To shoot Sarah 101, a new show launching in January 2011, we completed 13 rooms in 13 different homes over five months.
CAROL: Do you always test a decorating look in your own home?
SARAH RICHARDSON: Yes. It’s my laboratory where I experiment with 100 percent of what is eventually done to see if it works. This is so I don’t have to try hard to convince a client or redo something.
CAROL: What was your dumbest furniture buy?
SARAH RICHARDSON: I’ve had my share of furniture that had to be rebuilt because it didn’t fit. For a spacious, open loft, I chose a nine-foot sofa, but we couldn’t get it in the door – access in most condos is for six-foot sofas – so I cut it into two pieces. I had to cut a two-piece sectional into three pieces for the same reason… and I’ve blocked from memory all other instances.