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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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