She started as Nequette Architecture & Design‘s sole interior designer, working part-time, and has risen to become the leader of her own team of talented designers for the acclaimed firm. We are delighted to introduce our latest interior designer crush, Sarah Jelks.

Born in New Orleans, raised along the Gulf Coast and now living with her family in Homewoood, Interior Design Team Leader Sarah Jelks is a force — equal parts ambitious and thoughtful. She says, “My love language is giving, and I spend a lot of time and thought on the gifts that I can give.” And she backs that by creating beautiful and inviting spaces in which her clients can comfortably live and grow together.

We are delighted to introduce our latest interior designer crush, Sarah Jelks. We asked her to describe her design aesthetic, let us in on some tricks of the trade and give us a glimpse of her stunning portfolio. We hope you enjoy!

Sarah Jelks, Interior Design Team Leader with Nequette Architecture & Design

Sarah Jelks, Interior Design Team Leader with Nequette Architecture & Design | Image: Mountainside Photo. Co.

What is your design aesthetic and how do you translate that to a client’s home?

I tend to lean towards classic designs that have a strong sense of refinement yet are inviting, not stuffy and uncomfortable. I’m a firm believer that spaces are meant to be lived in and enjoyed.

This may sound cheesy, but one of my favorite ways to explain my design aesthetic is like describing my favorite outfit: girlfriend cut jeans, a white silk blouse, a navy blazer, minimal gold jewelry (just studs and a pendant necklace if I remember to put them on), all paired with a colorful pair of shoes. It’s classic, approachable and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Tell us a bit about your background in design.

I received my degree in Interior Design from Auburn University, but not without a few hiccups. It’s a funny story. I didn’t get into the very competitive Interior Design program immediately and was just about to give up on Auburn altogether and transfer to a different school. I wound up getting a phone call the first day of the next semester saying that two of the girls had dropped out and they had a spot for me if I would literally come to the class right then and there, which I did! And here I am now. So, to those two girls, let me say, “Thank you.” I pretty much owe my career, the amazing friends I made in studio and meeting my husband to you. My husband was actually a childhood friend of one of my best friends I made in studio, so this isn’t an exaggeration!

Nequette

The Office of Nequette Architecture & Design at The Thomas provides a unique urban working experience in one of downtown Birmingham’s most active and growing districts that has led the renaissance of the city over the past several years. The architecture office sits atop the three-story historic brick building with 360-degree views of the city.

RELATED: Sneak Peek of The Thomas Lofts by Nequette Architecture & Design

Nequette

“The interplay of smaller intimate spaces, thresholds and tall open spaces flowing with natural light provide an experiential quality that delights guests, clients and the design team,” says Sarah.

Nequette

Imagine seeing this breathtaking view at work everyday!

Nequette Architecture & Design

Designed by Sarah, the beverage station and adjacent Parisian-style banquette provides a next-level “break room” experience for the team at Nequette Architecture & Design.

Are there any trends you’re loving at the moment, and alternately, any timeless aspects of design that you cling to?

I tend to shy away from trends, but I will admit I do love when the Pantone Color of the Year comes out! Despite the predominately neutral shades I keep as the basis of my color palettes, I do love me a good fun color or pattern.

In terms of “timeless aspects,” I prefer the ultimate power combo: white marble and antiqued white oak with unlacquered brass accents. Some people may say, “Unlacquered brass is trendy,” but I disagree! Shiny brass is trendy, but unlacquered brass, as it gracefully ages with a patina completely unique to itself, is truly timeless.

Do you have a favorite space in the home to design?

Kitchens and master bathrooms — you could design hundreds of kitchens and master baths and no two would ever be the same. The possibilities are endless!

Nequette

“Our goal with this residence was to create a legacy that would endure as long as the trees and landscape in which the home is immersed. To accomplish this, we designed the house as a series of experiences the family can travel through, bringing new insights and fresh perspectives that are informed by natural light, views of the outdoors, and a warm color palette,” says Sarah.

Nequette

“The exterior communicates the interior of the house as well, with public spaces grounded in stone, and private areas wrapped in dark wood,” says Sarah.

Nequette

“The home’s openness and warmth serve to inspire a sense of belonging in the close-knit Mountain Brook community,” says Sarah. “Interior spaces built to be flooded with natural light and views, with lots of height transitions that frame each space by their use.”

Nequette

This dreamy bathroom with clawfoot tub is to die for.

Elegant tile adorns this luxurious shower.

What brings you the most professional joy?

The people I work with bring a lot of joy to my life. Behind every project we do at the firm, there is an amazing crew of hardworking designers, architects, contractors, reps and vendors who make all the visions become reality.

I have to give a big shout out to the passionate girls on my team: Jessica, Kelly and Emily. They are the ones who keep me sane!

And lastly, I could never leave out my clients. I’ve had some wonderful clients over the years whom I am so thankful for. The friendships formed during the design process and continued beyond that have brought me immeasurable joy.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but these days Instagram is my go-to source for inspiration. I used to have the time to read all these beautiful design magazines, but now I have both a 3 year old and a 1 year old and one needy 100-pound dog, on top of working full time, so the luxury of reading a magazine isn’t my reality at the moment. Nevertheless, after everyone goes to bed at night, I lay in bed and spend thirty minutes — okay, let’s be honest, it’s more like an hour — checking out the work of other designers. That always leads me down a rabbit trail of finding yet another new designer. There are so many designers killing it right now, and I love how easy it is to be exposed to everyone’s work.

Sarah Jelks interior design

This well appointed room combines a thoughtfully curated selection of client furniture, furniture selected by Nequette and furniture selected by Richard Tubb Interiors.

RELATED: 11 of Downtown Birmingham’s Coolest Loft Spaces

Nequette

“All main rooms have generous windows and access to the courtyard that allows indoor living spaces to expand outdoors easily and comfortably,” says Sarah of this airy kitchen space.

Nequette

“I prefer the ultimate power combo: white marble and antiqued white oak with unlacquered brass accents,” says Sarah.

Who have been your industry mentors and role models and why?

Without a doubt, my number one would be none other than Louis Nequette. Louis hired me part-time on a whim, in a time when there were no design jobs because the economy was a hot mess. I was working three part-time jobs at once just to get by. I was really starting to doubt myself, but he took a chance on me. Maybe it was desperation or maybe he saw something in me, but whatever it was, I’m glad it happened. It’s amazing what you can do when someone is rooting for you to succeed. Everything I have learned I’ve learned from him and my coworkers. I am where I am today because of them — 100 percent.

Share one designer secret with us regular folk.

When in doubt, use TEC 949 Silverado for your grout color.

If you could choose one designer to redo your home right now, who would it be?

Michelle Cone with Jeff Dungan. When our firm was still Dungan Nequette, I used to sit next to and work with Michelle. She is amazing. Her design aesthetic and attention to detail is out of this world. Beautiful design just comes naturally to her, and she is so lovely to be around.

Nequette

Don’t forget to look up to see this bathroom’s striking elements, such as this intriguing beaded black chandelier above the tub and penny tile ceiling in the shower. Image: Sarah Jelks

Nequette

“The palette for this new Homewood home was white oak, white dove, and white marbles with a few areas like the powder bath and family den where we created a moodier atmosphere,” says Sarah. “This client has been my favorite client to date and I can’t wait for her family to enjoy their new home.” Image: Sarah Jelks

Nequette

“This brand-new home was built to be a family home with large openings connecting all the spaces and members of family together,” says Sarah. Image: Sarah Jelks

Hypothetical: You have to choose only three colors to use throughout your home. What are the three colors?

Benjamin Moore OC-17 White Dove, Farrow and Ball Pigeon and Farrow and Ball Pink Ground

I live in a stucco Spanish Revival house that is a pale pink. I immediately wanted to paint the house when we bought it, but now I absolutely adore our little pink house and couldn’t imagine it being any other color!

If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?

Let’s have a good time! (What’s the point of designing if you don’t love what you do and who you work with?)

All photos are courtesy of Chris Luker of Luker Photography unless otherwise noted.

Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your insights, inspirations and impressively diverse design portfolio. To learn more about Sarah’s work with Nequette Architecture & Design, visit nequette.com.

**********

See who else we’re crushing on in our interior design archives. Click here and enjoy a look around!