Sarah Story

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And so to designer Sarah Story, Texan by way of Japan, Singapore and California, and living proof of all the contradictions therein. Much of her design work is by inspired by the aesthetic of the Far East but her laugh … oh the laugh, it stopped us in our tracks … is it inspired by … Texas? Part howl, part crazed whoop, part gasp, ear-splitting and frequent – “It doesn’t bother me,” she says brightly when we had to remark upon its decibel-level. Her dad, apparently, is “me times ten.” And another thing you need to know about Ms. Story … she plays elephant polo. In tournaments. In Thailand. So there.

When I walked up to this [Gramercy Park] townhouse, I thought “Ooh, I finally get to see it.” I’ve salivated over this place in Manhattan for decades.

Oh, cool, cool, cool. Awesome.

How did you get so lucky?

Well I lived in midtown with my husband on 55th between 5th and 6th, and it was the first place I moved to in New York – I lived in California – I was like … it was so loud, so commercial, awful! And my husband said the only place I’ll move in Manhattan is Gramercy Park and it has to be on the park. I thought, “Oh that’s easy!” And then one Sunday in August I was looking in the New York Times and I saw open house, apartment rental. Everyone was away and no one was there … it was the apartment on the third floor and it had just been renovated … it was beautiful, perfect for what we looking for. [They have subsequently bought up several more apartments within the house and have combined some of them.]

It must be the most envied patch of real estate in Manhattan.

It’s great. I have three kids and it’s like I have a yard! [Laughs … not yet at full throttle but a hint of things to come.]

L to R.: A sculptural white staircase by architect Alan Orenbuch connects the fourth and fifth floors of Sarah’s townhouse apartment. The hanging fixture is from Soane Britain.; Burmese storage urns stand atop a table from Linda Horn.
Slippers from India are neatly lined up by the front door. The prayer rug is from Istanbul.
Sarah used limited space efficiently with a built-in trundle to house her two young sons The bed linens are by Muriel Brandolini.

So we’re supposed to talk about design but what I really want to know is why you so love Madonna. It pops up in all your other press pieces.

So many people give me such a hard time about that.

This is what I love about Madonna: she came from nothing. She moved to the city with no connections, just with a drive and motivation. And I don’t even know that’s she super-talented but she works so hard and for a woman in the music business to last that long – I mean she’s in her fifties and she’s still current. She’s still got the most sold-out tour of the year. As a woman you have to respect that so much.

Your first degree was in psychology – why did you not pursue that?

Because when I was in school finishing that degree I was having to do internships in hospitals and work with children who have like, really broken homes and have mental problems and it was so depressing to me and so sad. And there’s not much you can really do … their parents are not around or on drugs. I was so sad all the time. And then I went into marketing and I was sitting one day, looking at spreadsheets and I thought, “I don’t like this!” So I went back to school for design.

A view from the top of the curved staircase.
Sarah filled the fifth floor playroom with kid-friendly furniture.
L to R.: Toys fill a corner of the playroom.; A small Czech desk found at Prague Kolektiv in Dumbo stands in a corner of the playroom.
A rug by Moore and light fixture by Ochre give the playroom a modern bent.
A contemporary piece,‘Orange’ hangs atop crackled wallpaper from Silk Dynasty.
The kids’ bathroom.

Are you fundamentally a West Coast girl?

I love it here! I rarely ever go back to California. I look around California … everyone’s just like … it’s just too nice out … no one’s doing anything too intellectual or that interesting. I feel like I’m laid back but … no, I love it here! There’s so much going on and so close to Europe.

So apart from the burning question of Madonna, I have another burning one: I think you said somewhere that you like traveling with your kids … this can’t be true.

Oh … I know. Well I started off with one and he’s like a little man. When he was two we were going to Japan. I could take him anywhere. Then I had two more and my second one is like a real boy and I have a daughter who is one … sooo. But I like to travel and if I don’t take them with me, I’ll never see them.

So you take a nanny.

[She nods sagely] … two nannies. [Starts the astounding laugh … henceforth to be referred to as ‘The Laugh’] I have to travel. This is what I tell my husband: So many people in this city are on, like anti-depressants and all this stuff – I don’t need anything but I have to travel, like every six weeks I have to go somewhere. I would fly to Paris for two nights.

In the upstairs library a daybed by Jacques Adnet is topped with a quilt from Van Der Hurd.
Brightly colored wallpaper adds warmth to a built-in bookcase in the library.
A tortoise shell hanging above a 1950’s Italian bar was inherited from Sarah’s husband’s grandmother, a big game hunter.
Crimson-colored wainscoting and floor tile from Marrakesh give the library bath an exotic feel. The brass wall fixture is from Urban Electric, the sink is from Urban Archeology.

Library shelves are filled with a collection of red lacquer objects from Burma.
Family photos are interspersed with books in the library bookcase.

Edward relaxes in front of the camera.
L to R.: A replica of a scuba diver is suspended in front of a oil painting of by Belgian artist, Adrian Ghenie. The leather side chair is by Soane Britain.; In the library bookcase, a photograph of Coco Chanel’s atelier in Paris stands behind a group of Burmese lacquer objects.

The library sofa is upholstered in a silk velvet from Andrew Martin; the iron desk is by Soane Britain.
Looking across the library. The Persian rug was purchased in Istanbul.

Do you still feel the need to go to the Far East? You grew up there, didn’t you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was born in Japan and then we lived in Singapore … so most of my childhood, and then we moved to Texas. My father is there right now so I’m going to meet him there. We play on this elephant polo team, my sister and I and my Dad. [A tournament] takes place in Thailand once a year and so we’ll go over for the King’s Cup Tournament in September.

[This information temporarily silences us … playing on an elephant polo team? A first for the HOUSE column] Er … what’s that like?

It’s so funny. It’s just like all these crazy people from around the world … India, Nepal … it’s just totally fun. [The Laugh resumes, presumably at our astonished expressions]

Um … you do have a loud laugh…

My dad is really loud … like me times ten. He gets told in restaurants, “Keep it down.” When we’re together, we’re always being told like, “Quieten down.” It doesn’t bother me.

How do Texans get on in Japan? It’s such a careful, polite society.

They’re probably like … ohhhh! It’s just like so orderly and their design is so intricate and delicate. It’s so clean. They wear white gloves and it’s so quiet. I felt no one was looking at anyone.

The master bedroom dressing area.
In the master bedroom, linens from Sarah’s line for Casa Del Bianco cover the bed. The carpet is from Beauvais.
Hervé Van der Straeten’s cast bronze chandelier was so heavy the ceiling had to be reinforced.
On the far wall, a pair of lithographs is by contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton.
A flat screen TV hangs above a console from Roman Thomas.
A shagreen table from Julian Chichester stands next to a French 1940’s chair.
L to R.: A portrait of Sarah by Will Cotton hangs above the master bedroom mantel.; A small office, carved out of a former entryway, is covered in wallpaper from De Gournay.
Peeking into the dressing room.
Looking out from the dressing room into the master bedroom, formerly the living room.
L to R.: Goyard and Hermes bags share space with family photos atop the dressing room shelves.; An old fashioned rolling ladder helps with hard-to-access clothing in the dressing room.
Sarah’s marble-top vanity.

Your interiors are quite streamlined and quiet.

I try. I try to really edit. I want to go more in that direction.

Are there things that you would like to collect and you restrain yourself?

Not really. It’s funny but I go shopping with my parents in Asia and they’re buying so much stuff and I like to buy just very few cool things. I think I’m always going to be like that.

What does your husband do? Where does he work?

He’s so private I can’t talk about that. He like totally freaks out. He hates any kind of publicity. He doesn’t want his name in anything.

Looking across the combined dining room-kitchen. The pendant light is from John Rosselli & Assoc. Edward peeks through the back of a rosewood Ming chairs from Mandarin Collection.
L to R.: A pair of saucer paintings hang above the baby’s highchair.; A dash a warm color on the ceiling infuses the otherwise neutral kitchen. A bold geometric pattern was hand painted on the wooden kitchen floors.
A painting by Mindy Shapero hangs above a table from Soane Britain in the living room. An oversized painting of a girl swimming above a piano is by Brooklyn artist, Hope Gangloff.
In the living room, books are arranged horizontally on wrap-around shelves backed with Farrow and Ball wallpaper.
A pair of spoon chairs by Luther Quintana stands in front of the wall of bookcases.

L to R.: A marble chess set and silver match strikers are arranged atop a glass side table in the living room.; Collections of crystal, lacquer and wooden boxes fill the living room shelves.
Luther Quintana chairs are positioned atop the Greek key motif rug from Beauvais Carpets.

A row of Thai statues purchased in Burma line the living room fireplace opening.
A tufted leather couch faces into the living room.
A cozy window seat overlooks views of Gramercy Park.

There are some pictures of you with men on your website … there’s a picture of you in a bikini surrounded by gorgeous men. I wondered if you had paid them to stand around you.

[The Laugh] That’s my gay posse! That’s who I travel with!

Will your husband hang out with you when you’re with your gay posse?

It’s like he doesn’t have to hang out with me as much! [The Laugh]. He tells all his friends, “Your wife doesn’t have a gay posse? It’s SO great!” It’s like that skit on Saturday Night Live when the gay guy comes in to cuddle the wife after she’s had sex with her husband! [The Laugh!!!]

— Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge

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