Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sarah's House

Sarah Richardson is an ultra-local Toronto designer and I've been watching her various programs for years and years.  She started out as a mildly-robotic Martha Stewart-type on her first incarnation, Room Service.  She was very proper and poised, creating DIY projects and guiding people towards a gracious life.  She then moved onto Design Inc., a pull-no-punches look into her real life interior design firm.  This is where Tommy Smythe joined and she let her true colours shine: She's brassy, sarcastic, hilarious, and a real powerhouse when it comes to dealing with tradespeople and executing big-budget, high-end renovations.  Less polished and with her guard down, I wanna be her best friend. 

The show ran for several seasons, room after beautiful room.  It was a little out-of-reach, in terms of custom-everything, but she's always sure to give hints for achieving the spend-and-save room.  Her splurges are always spectacular, but her downmarket solutions are clever and fool even the most demanding clients.

A couple of years ago Sarah jumped on the house-flipping wagon and created a show called Sarah's House.  Co-hosted by her assistant Tommy, the two kvetch and laugh their way through a full-scale reno of the worst house in a great neighbourhood, redoing it from top-to-bottom.  The thought of living in a house not only redecorated, but remodeled by Sarah is enough to blow my mind, nearly all of her structural and design choices so up my alley.  What's more, all of her shows are based here in the city, so you can take her sources and actually use them.

After two great Houses, Sarah made it personal by remodeling her own summer house (aptly titled Sarah's Cottage) on Georgian Bay.  It's a water-access getaway in one of the most beautiful parts of Ontario's expansive Cottage Country.  It was stunning and, at a time when we were planning for our own cottage life, we back-pocketed a ton of incredible tips to renovating and decorating off the beaten path

The cottage is solar-powered and the show provides a ton of information on how to do that effectively, from propane stoves to lighting and getting through a cloudy week on the water.  You can watch lots of HGTV programming on their website.  

Recently, the third season of Sarah's House began, but this time she's changing it up.  She bought a small, rundown farmhouse on 50 acres a couple hours outside the city.  It's a dump, to put it politely, but she's transforming the whole thing into her version of country living.  Sign me up!

She always creates livably sophisticated spaces and her focus on function is outstanding.  Blending great vintage finds with custom-made, she's a genius with fabric, pattern, texture and colour.  I've never seen anyone work a tile like her and her kitchens and bathrooms are the best in the business.  She never misses.  From turning fabric into wallpaper to installing a steel beam above your newly blown-out main floor, she's a professional, seeing each project from client meeting to contractor drama to its beautiful finish.  And pair all this with the Lucy-and-Ethel comedy routine of her and Tommy, you'll appreciate why I watch each episode no less than 10 times before deleting it off the TiVo.  I'm constantly freeze-framing to study all the nooks and crannies she doesn't necessarily discuss on-air, peering into the background to catch a glimpse of a room featured in next week's episode.  

So far she's finished the mudroom, two bedrooms, the huge kitchen, and the dining room.  Cohesive and sophisticated without being fussy, she's throwing $500 000 at the project - Sarah Richardson does it up big.  This budget includes a massive extension (increasing the square footage by more than 30%) and everything from drywall to throw cushions.  

This show makes me understand how others feel about a highly-anticipated episode of Lost.  Watching her navigate the world of design, creating a sound and beautiful space, it's just so full of emotion and drama and strategy, it genuinely keeps me on the edge of my seat.  I might be gushing here, but come on.   She's an artist, a master of the nuts and bolts and the pretty too.  This is some seriously James Bond shit.

(Click to enlarge photos.  They are courtesy of HGTV.)


  1. Ahh! I caught the very end of an episode of this show the other day and thought, "Now, what is this? It looks like something I should be all over." :) Good call, J.

  2. I'm gushing along with you about Sarah Richardson. This: "Watching her navigate the world of design, creating a sound and beautiful space, it's just so full of emotion and drama and strategy, it genuinely keeps me on the edge of my seat." couldn't be more spot on! I've only seen the bedroom episode of this season's "Sarah's House" and discovering how she chose the colour palettes for the rooms was seriously thrilling. Most of her rooms in the previous seasons make me giddy. This season, it doesn't seem she'll be glamming up her rooms as she does so well but still, her use of colour is so inspired. I also remember "Room Service" - she seemed so cute and innocent back then. Ha! The joke's on us :)

    Just discovered your blog. I'll keep reading; I like your writing.

  3. Suzanne!
    I didn't notice this unmoderated comment.
    Thanks for reading. Much appreciated!

    Sarah is my idol.
    Tommy too. I just love them.

  4. Jason, you've probably heard the latest news from Sarah? She just launched her own line of paint colours with Para Paint (75 colours - can you imagine?! Bliss.) and is taping a new show called Sarah 101. Tommy will be on that one as well. From what I understand, HGTV is just starting to carry Sarah's House in the States. I don't think they ever even got Design Inc.

  5. Hi Suzanne!
    I actually went to the Para Paints launch party. Haven't decided how I want to write about it -

    Tommy and Sarah and all the Design Inc. girls were there, Peter Fallico, lots of other HGTV'ers too. It was fun!

  6. I recently started watching Sarah's House repeats on HGTV in USA and love it. I'm currently watching the season with the 70s tri-level. Tommy and Sarah are designer geniuses indeed. If I ever win the lottery I will import both of them to have them design my house!

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