There are few things that Sara Ray enjoys more than a challenge. Whether it comes in the form of picking a new paint color or keeping up with her two sons (ages 6 and 3), she is more than happy to rise to meet it. Growing up in Tennessee, Sara’s love of interior design developed at an early age. This love led her to study interior design at Watkins College of Art and Design and turn her passion into a career. After working as a full-fledge interior designer for 11 years, Sara started her own business in January 2013, when she was nine months pregnant and had a 2 year old. “It was a challenging time, to say the least, but I was really excited to work for myself and build my own business,” she shares. These days, Sara is owner and lead designer for Sara Ray Interior Design. Her designs mix the old with the new, making for a stunning final result. Find out why she’s our interior designer crush this month!
What is your design aesthetic and how do you translate that to a client and his or her home?
My design aesthetic can best be described as “old meets new.” I’ve always had a love for modern design and I like mixing clean lines and materials with vintage pieces to add interest to the space. When I’m designing, I think of a home as a book, with each room being a chapter. Each room tells a story and they all relate. For most people, their home is their most intimate and personal space and I want that space to reflect them and their stories.
How has this aesthetic changed during your career?
My aesthetic has changed a bit over the years but not drastically. When I was younger, I leaned a little more strictly modern. As I’ve gotten further in my career, I’ve grown fond of some softer touches mixed in with simple, modern lines.
What design services do you offer?
Sara Ray Interior Design is a full-service design firm, so we can do as much or as little as a client needs — from simple consultations to full-scale construction drawings, finish and fixtures specifications, exterior finishes, space planning, paint colors, furniture, décor, artwork and so on. I specialize in custom kitchen and bath design, and we have great resources for anything that goes inside or on the exterior of a home. There are so many options out there and we help simplify the process!
What has been your most challenging project to date and why?
One of my more challenging projects was with clients who had excellent taste but liked every style of furnishing, from very traditional to ultra-modern. It was initially difficult to pinpoint where to begin and the scope of the project grew daily. I ended up doing a little bit of everything throughout the home, from paint colors and furnishings to bathroom renovations. There was a lot of editing and fine tuning of the many different pieces they already owned, along with selecting new items to bring it all together. In the end, the finished space felt clean and classic, with an eclectic mix of pieces that worked cohesively. I love a good design challenge and finding creative solutions. It’s one of the best things about my job.
Where do you get your design inspiration?
Everywhere! I am inspired by texture and materials, whether in nature, fashion or interior spaces. I always have interior design in my head, so it overflows into my daily life even when I’m not working. I love finding inspiration at art events around town and I’m always so interested to see what other designers do with spaces.
What are your predictions for interior design trends?
I don’t like to make predictions for design trends; I’m generally not too concerned with trends. I prefer to stay focused on creating spaces that will last and not be dated to a particular year.
How do you incorporate trends in a timeless way?
I like to start with a clean-lined, classic base for the bigger, more permanent pieces and then mix in smaller pieces and accessories that can easily be updated as clients’ styles and tastes change.
Do you have any go-to stores for interior design finds?
I love shopping locally for clients’ homes. A few of my favorites, in no particular order, are Designers Gallery, Gas Lamp Antiques and Gas Lamp Too, BE. Vintage, Downtown Antique Mall, Wilder, Nashville Rug Gallery, White’s Mercantile, Julia Martin Gallery, Preservation Station and Welcome Home. I could go on and on! So many wonderful stores have opened in the last few years. I also like to find special pieces at estate sales, the Nashville Flea Market and on Etsy and eBay.
What are a few tips for mixing the highs and lows?
Mixing highs and lows is an easy way to have the look you love without breaking the budget. I encourage clients to spend more money on upholstered pieces and other large items — quality things that you will have for years if you invest a little more on the front end. Pillows and accessories can be changed out and they are also easy to find for less money. We are often times able to incorporate less-expensive versions of high-dollar items through our trade resources.
What brings you the most professional joy?
The part of my job that brings the most joy is seeing a space that we’ve designed come to life. Every time, it’s like a little miracle to see some plans on paper come together as a finished space. I also get so much pleasure in seeing my client’s reactions — install days are the best!
Are people starting to embrace color again or is the movement still strong with a canvas of white and neutrals, especially in kitchens and baths?
Whites and neutrals are still going strong and I think they will continue to but I am finding that more clients want to incorporate color. In kitchens and baths, clients are still requesting doing the main elements, such as cabinetry, tile and countertops, in neutral palettes but they want to bring in color in other ways, such as art, drapery and accessories. Colorful vintage rugs can add a splash of color, too.
What’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of interior design from those outside the industry?
One of the most misunderstood aspects is that design and construction are quick and easy processes. It doesn’t all happen in 24 hours like you see on TV. Many of the home improvement shows have created a false impression of what happens when you build or renovate a house. It takes some time to create thoughtful, intentional designs, and unexpected things come up with most projects during the construction phase. It’s just part of it.
Would you share one designer secret with SB readers?
One of my favorite designer secrets is using custom pieces. Whether it’s furniture or pillows or window treatments, having something created just for your space is a great way to get a unique piece that’s exactly what you want — and often for no more cost than a ready-made item.
Who have been your industry mentors/role models — your personal interior design crushes — and why?
I’ve always enjoyed spaces that Kelly Wearstler has created. I love her use of materials and color – very dramatic! She’s a risk taker and I find it really refreshing.
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?
Carefully curated and classically modern.
When you aren’t working, how do you like to spend your time?
I enjoy spending time outside with my two sons, ages 6 and 3. They keep me pretty busy! When I’m not out exploring with them, I love going to antique stores, local art crawls and flea markets.
Thanks to Alyssa Rosenheck Photography for today’s beautiful photography of Sara Ray’s interior design work.
For more design inspiration and insight, visit our Pinterest page — peruse beautiful interiors, amazing food and so much more!