Q&A with Sarah Ward

Sarah Ward is an interior designer with 30 years experience. Her design studio is based in Fulham, south west London, and their portfolio includes a host of illustrious residential projects with developers & private clients and commercial projects including restaurants, hotels, clubs and bars.

Working on the basis that good design enhances day to day life Sarah and her team work closely with their clients and enjoy building a close working relationship. They utilise their wealth of experience to advise at every stage of the design process to ensure the best possible use of the space they are working with – be that an apartment or a multi-storey chalet.

We are delighted to welcome Sarah to the Top 5 Picks and took the opportunity to sit down with her ahead of sharing her picks next week.

Sarah, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Firstly – tell us a little about your background and what attracted you to working in interiors?

I have always loved interiors, growing up in HK gave me an early insight into luxury interiors as they were leading the way with bespoke projects in the hotel and residential sector.

How did you go about establishing your own studio?

My first studio was in Gerards Cross, it was designed with a view to making the customer feel at home when they entered. It had big sofas and had our strong “handwriting” to show them our capabilities. I walked the streets, knocked on doors and asked for referrals wherever I went. Good old fashioned networking is still top of our priority list when we are seeking new leads. Linked In and social media work well, personally I prefer to meet people and talk with them. Nothing beats an open and honest conversation. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about setting up their own design studio?

Don’t be fooled into thinking it is easy. In this day and age where the internet makes everything so accessible one can neglect to develop a detailed business plan. Finding the right support is vital, I have been fortunate to have had some exceptional staff over the years, allowing me to focus on the core business. Know your margins, nothing frustrates me more when I don’t have a full overview of the project costs, if you lose focus on what your business is costing each day to run, you could find yourself struggling when cashflow becomes an issue.

Your daughter Rosie is now involved in the business, how does that relationship work? Do you find that work creeps in to every conversation? Or do you have ground rules around this?

Working with Rosie has brought a different dynamic to the business. She looks at our projects with a different eye and together we plan how we can coordinate the look to deliver a scheme to the fit the customers vision. We don’t have any ground rules in place but recognise the boundaries. Our clients appreciate the family aspect to the business and often comment on this. 

Are there any stand out projects you are especially proud to have in your portfolio?

Over the years I have been fortunate to work on a variety of projects in both the commercial and residential sectors. We recently worked on the Hope House project in Westminster, a dreary office block converted into luxury apartments. The views are exceptional and making best use of the space, whilst challenging was very rewarding. We are currently working on a project in Antigua, the views are breath taking. Working from the outset with the architect makes our job so much easier. When a client brings us in at the beginning we are able to talk about the end goal, for example if creating a large entertainment space that also allows for more “cosy” surroundings we might suggest sliding doors that can divide the spaces up when required. 

You have a diverse portfolio that includes working with private clients, developers and commercial schemes – do you have a favourite type of project?

At the moment I love what is going on in the hotel sector. The competition in this sector for the hotelier is fierce, establishing an offering that is different to the normal one size fits all approach is something we are known for. I love the new Mandarin Residences and the Citizen M concept.

Are there any interior design projects that you would either love to have done, or would like to do?

As a company we love working with developers and architects, they bring us projects that involve a lot of interior architecture. We are also looking at our out of London options, having recently brought a home in Aldeburgh we are keen to find opportunities in Suffolk. 

How much do you engage with Social Media? How has its growing influence impacted your design process, if at all? 

It always makes me laugh inside how we managed for so long without social media and whilst I would prefer to go back to those times, I have learnt to embrace it and do see the tremendous exposure it can afford a business.

It absolutely assists the design process as one is made aware of exhibitions, new openings, new suppliers it is a wonderful research platform but I still believe nothing beats getting out and about and looking around.

How would you both describe your personal style?

My fashion style would be classic with a hint of trend, a boot with a platform, beautiful tailoring with an embroidered panel. For interiors it has to be comfortable and welcoming, one can be a slave to trends but if they are not functional and comfortable they are not worth pursuing.

Rosie, is the master of developing her own distinctive style, there is little she can’t carry off in terms of colour and this crossover in to some of the schemes she develops.

Together we like to always push the boundaries as long as it is commercially viable but also keeps our distinctive house style that our customers come to us for. 

What do you see as the biggest challenges currently facing the interiors industry?

Whilst we love Pinterest and find it very helpful to get clients to send us what they like, it has devalued the market as many think they can do it themselves. Getting to the place we have, has taken 30 years of building up an exceptional black book of contacts with suppliers, craftspeople, has taken us a lot of time and effort. Trusting our partners to deliver a project, on time, within budget and to our exact standards is a key part of our service delivery and project coordination.

On reflection each decade has a defining look, how do you think people will describe the current style of interiors in years to come?

Interiors have changed far more frequently in the past 10 years, whereas prior to that it could seem a little repetitive – in a similar way to fashion collections change every six months. As a result we feel that our clients have become more confident in experimenting with colour and texture – exciting! 

Are there any trends or styles that you think are due to make a come back?

Florals are becoming popular again and we are seeing companies look back over their archives to produce a modern twist to an old design. William Morris is a prime example of this. Velvet is the new draylon! The colours being produced are exquisite and make a bold statement in a room. 

How did you choose your Top 5 Picks?

I first searched out our tried and tested suppliers who have supported us over the years and then purposefully looked a new things – with current projects in mind!

What does the rest of 2019 hold for Sarah Ward? Both the person and the company.

A cliché I know but I am trying to learn to manage my worklife balance, we are all online constantly and as a company we are encouraging our staff to try and keep communication within working hours, not always easy when our clients travel and have a limited amount of time as they cross time zones.

As a company we are looking at our processes and endeavouring to “work smarter”. Rosie and I love the creative process and client interaction, the vital administration our jobs require, can be distracting. To address this I have asked the team to look at their job roles and see where the crossover are to ensure we deliver our projects to exceed expectations.

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