SARAH WITTENBRAKER: bringing humor home through inspiring design
Sarah Wittenbraker believes that home is the where you can fully be yourself and she aspires to help her clients attain that self-expression. An advocate for not taking life too seriously, I chat with the vibrant owner of Sarah Wittenbraker Interiors from her Austin home about humor and her wordless blog.
Q: Tell me about the early days of your company.
SW: I started my business at a very unfortunate time for our economy. It was in 2009, I was expecting my third baby and I had been working as a freelance writer. I was decorating friends houses as a side hobby, but then my husband got laid off. I knew I had to make a significant change, so I decided to turn my hobby into an official business.
I was very grateful for my handful of clients who trusted me in the beginning (many are still my clients today), especially with the state of the economy. I look back on it now with a smile, but it was a pretty stressful time. I learned quickly that running a design business means you are a salesperson, a marketer, an accountant, a problem solver, a marriage counselor, and if you’re lucky, you get to pick out gorgeous textiles about 5% of the time.
So, in the beginning, I felt like I was thrown into something that I wasn't quite prepared for, but we made it work. I’ve loved every minute of building this business, even the challenges.
Q: You seem to have quite a tongue and cheek approach to your work.How important is humor in your designs?
SW: I feel it’s very important. I get a little bored with everyone taking interior design so seriously. People should be expressing themselves in their homes and not who they think other people want them to be.
A home should be very personalized: this is where we live, it’s where we love, raise our children and bring our friends. Home should be an expression of us and not turned into an untouchable showroom or gallery.
My clients hire me to push them a little bit, to use more color and pattern than they are used to; to give them a safe place to show their humor, style… and not to care what everyone else thinks.
Q: Do you have a specific style that you work in?
SW: I get hired by clients with very modern taste, and I get hired by clients with very traditional taste. But I feel like I’m hired for the same reason and that’s to help people to explore other styles and mix thing up a bit.
If they like modern, I might push them to buy some antiques. And if someone is really traditional I push them more towards a geometric fabric or a modern piece of furniture. I try to get them to go out of their comfort zone while still being authentic to themselves.
When I pulled out hundreds and hundreds of yards of chartreuse drapery fabric, my ‘single guy client’ almost fainted. I had to keep reminding him that this is why he hired me, so he just had to trust me. Those drapes ended up being his favorite thing!
Q: I’m really curious about your own home. Tell me about it.
SW: We just finished up a year-long remodel of an old house that we just moved into, but it has a long way to go!
In my previous house, I took a lot of risks. When we had to repaint the downstairs area, I selected a white paint on a whim. But when the painters showed up, I changed my mind and we painted the whole downstairs black (but with tons of bright art, drapery, and furniture, of course!). My new house is starting out a little bit calmer, but I can already feel myself wanting to shake things up. It’s a true mix of traditional and modern, and there is still a lot of black and white in my house. I will never tire of black and white, but I see pinks, deep blues and greens and shots of chartreuse in my future.
Q: You have 3 kids - do they appreciate your design sensibilities?
SW: Oh I don’t know! They think I’m “a little much,” and they’re probably right. I want my kids to have the freedom to express themselves in their rooms and know that the door is always open for them to bring their ideas. I think they like having a house that has a point of view and some personality. It’s not too serious around here.
Q: What type of client do you find interesting?
SW: All kinds! I’ve found that most are open to new ideas and perspectives for the design of their home. I love looking through client’s wardrobes and art collections and hearing about where they like to travel and what hotels they like to stay in. I always learn a lot from my clients.
Q: Tell me about Worn + Domestic.
SW: I’m so glad you asked! For years, I’ve been thinking about opening an online store featuring fashion and home, because I’m equally obsessed with both. I soon realized that I’m just not the right person for that job! So, my friend Anne Campbell and I decided to start this “all shop, no talk” website because don’t we all like to look at pretty things? We put out a weekly style board based on a fun theme or occasion, like “Boozy Brunch,” “Inspired by: Frida Kahlo,” or most recently, “Game of Thrones.” We only source online retail so you can click through to any of the items to buy. People are really loving it, and it’s been a fun creative outlet for us, too.
Q: What is that one thing that differentiates you from the other designers out there?
What makes us unique is a bold and fearless use of color and pattern. The rules don’t always apply. We also take a very personal approach to designing for our clients, and we work hard to make the process incredibly fun, exciting and interesting for all involved.