Interior designer Sara Story wakes up to one of the best views of Gramercy Park, and there’s no wonder why; she turned the living room into the master bedroom the second she moved into her 3,000-square-foot apartment 10 years ago. “I really just wanted the best room for my bedroom,” she tells me around 10 a.m. on a Friday over tea. The scent of Le Labo Cedre 11 candles burn in almost every room, and fresh peonies make any guest feel right at home.
Ms. Story studied interior architecture at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University before moving to Manhattan in 2001. She now lives with her husband and three children, Duke, 10, Edward, 6, and Dagny, 4, while running her eponymous interiors firm, Sara Story Design. Ms. Story has an eclectic, well-traveled eye for design, but most importantly, she designed her home with love. The 1850s brownstone contains one master bedroom, three children’s bedrooms, four bathrooms, a living room, a playroom and an office.
During her worldwide travels, Ms. Story collects textiles and the occasional piece of furniture. Her living room is filled with a mix of sculptural tables from London, a painting by Daniel Richter, drawings by the Japanese artist Yoshimoto Nara and a photo by Richard Prince complete the room. Wallpaper behind the bookshelves adds texture, no detail is overlooked throughout the home.
You were born in Japan and grew up in Singapore and Houston. How did you decide Gramercy Park would become your home? My husband was loving living in Midtown when we decided to settle permanently in New York together and he said, “We either have to stay in Midtown, or the only other place I’ll live is Gramercy Park.” So it really narrowed the search! We spent nine months looking before we rented a floor in this building. We’ve purchased five apartments and knocked them together to make this apartment. We bought the fourth floor, which were three studios, and a studio on the first floor.
What elements were you looking for when you were apartment hunting? A lot of natural light, high ceilings and architectural character.
How has international travel and your upbringing influenced your design aesthetic? Seeing everything that’s out there and being exposed to different cultures and materials opens your way of thinking. You’re not limited to one style. Traveling opens your mind and your taste. I’m drawn to a more contemporary aesthetic, but it’s all about the architecture, the location and the clients. What you do at a beach house is going to be very different from something in New York City.
For an interior designer, it’s all about the details. How did you decide on everything from the paint colors to the atmosphere you were trying to create? For the house, I stuck to neutral and whites and I really designed with my children in mind. I wanted vibrant energy and natural materials for the kitchen. I did a bright purple for the ceiling to have a visual palette with the lightwood and Chinese table, but it’s all about the art on the walls. I also did a stencil on the floor to have a pattern without having a rug. For my bedroom, I didn’t want to compete with Gramercy Park. I like the mix of the neutral palate with metals and some antique accents. I put a 1940s French chair in there and I have a bronze chandelier from Hervé Van Der Straeten. There’s also a Sean Scully abstract painting for some color.
How did you approach this project from a lighting standpoint? Light is one of my favorite aspects of design. It’s such a great way to incorporate metals and glass into your environment. Lighting and music create ambience, both are equally important.
As a designer, how do you know when a room is complete? It takes a long time to figure out when it’s done. A lot of people go too far and I think it’s the same with an artist. I keep trying to take things away and I think if you’re really good, you don’t need as much stuff. When you keep adding and adding, it’s almost like you’re trying to compensate for something you’re trying to hide. The further along I go on this design journey, the more I have discovered the importance of stopping earlier.