The Style Files: Sara Gilbane

Sara Gilbane Portrait

Sara Gilbane is a young designer whose work I’ve watched closely since around the time I began blogging. Between 2003 and 2008, Sara worked for acclaimed designer and fellow Style Files interviewee, Celerie Kemble. Upon graduating from Brown University in 2003, Sara moved to New York where she had intended to work in fashion, but her career path took an unexpected turn when Celerie asked Sara to help her open a New York office for Kemble Interiors which until then, had been headquartered in Palm Beach. She immediately fell in love with the world of interiors and over the years, honed her point of view as her style evolved from New England preppy to a penchant for color, pattern, texture, and ethnic influences, oftentimes all at once. Sara struck out on her own in 2008, establishing her eponymous design firm rooted in a style that is bold, yet polished; fearless but elegant. As I worked on writing this feature, I was struck by how many rooms she’s designed that I have loved for years now!

Sara has been named a “Next Wave” designer by House Beautiful as well as one of TradHome’s Top 20 New Traditional Designers. Her work has been published extensively in the aforementioned magazines as well as ELLE DECOR, Luxe, Traditional Home, Domino, and Lonny. Sara recently did a beautiful fabric collaboration with Peter Fasano and is working on a fabric collection with The New Traditionalists. Sara has already accomplished so much, but I have a feeling this is only the beginning for her. I am glad to have had the chance to meet her in High Point last week because she is as lovely as she is talented. Enjoy!


Paloma Contreras: How would you describe your style?

Sara Gilbane: New traditional with a touch of well traveled whimsy

sara gilbane bedroom

{A Beautiful, Vibrant Bedroom}

PC: Has living in New York influenced the way you decorate?

SG: Absolutely. Living in New York is so inspiring. I am constantly inspired by new clients and their homes. It is such a melting pot, it is wonderful to bring all those flavors into my designs.


{Chic Mix}

PC: What does your home say about you?

SG: Oh gosh, I am in a state of flux so I am not sure I would want anyone to take a statement away from my home right this moment. However, you can definitely see my love of pattern and color, as well as my love of family. I am the sentimental sort!


{This is a more recent project and is among my favorite of Sara’s work. The home in Rye, New York was featured in House Beautiful this year. I love the mix of traditional and modern in each room.}

PC: Where do you turn for inspiration?

SG: Travel is the most inspiring thing for me, seeing colors used in different ways and seeing beautiful architecture totally inspires me. Textiles also play a large role in designing a clients space as well. Depending on how far a client is willing to go, textiles can be used in a multitude of ways to create memorable spaces. I love the idea of creating homes that will inspire my clients and their children and create vivid memories for them.

Sara Gilbane Rye

{This room is also in the Rye house. The use of color is fabulous! I love that the room is at once ultra-bold, yet cozy and inviting.}

PC: What is your guilty pleasure?

SG: Carving out alone time with two young children is a challenge, so whenever that presents itself to me, I jump on it. On the design front, upholstered walls are truly fabulous.



{One more from the Rye house– this beautiful sunroom is SO good! I love the blue and white fabrics and natural grasscloth wallpaper.}


PC: What is your definition of chic?

SG: A blend of high low, a riot of pattern and color, and an easy elegance is truly chic to me. I am a fan of the layered, well-curated space. This type of space lets you know a person is comfortable in their own skin and they are not afraid to bring things into their home that they love.

sara gilbane living room

{Sarah is so skilled at mixing classic, preppy silhouettes with unexpected ethnic textiles.}

PC: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

SG: Think of how you ( or your client) want to live in a house and proceed. This helps you figure out color, texture, and flow. The high end should be paired with the humble and if you have the scale right, your space will sing.

sara gilbane vignette

{A Striking Vignette}

PC: Who or what has been your greatest professional influence?

SG: Celerie Kemble – gave me my start and I am still running things by her to this day. All of my peers inspire me daily- magazines, blogs, and their books are a constant source of inspiration.

Celerie and Sara

{Celerie Kemble and Sara Gilbane via Sara’s Instagram}

PC: What is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?

SG: My cottage house outside of the city with a beautiful view of the Long Island Sound. Friends over for a glass of rose while the kids run wild on the lawn.


{An Idyllic View via Sara’s Instagram}

PC: What can we look forward to next from you?

SG: I was lucky enough to be asked to design a fabric for the uber-talented Peter Fasano which was just released in September and is sold through Peter Fasano and John Rosselli. I am also thrilled to be working on a furniture collection for The New Traditionalists which will debut this fall.


{Sara’s Chic Gypset Fabric via her Instagram}



Go-To Outfit: Isabel Marant, J.Crew, Lela Rose

Style Mantra: Effortless and Polished

Scent: By Killian – Beyond Love

Piece of Jewelry: Aries Necklace by Valentino and my Wedding Bands

Color I Never Tire Of: Blue in all Manners, Shapes, and Forms

Flower: So hard to choose one and I decorate with a variety- Peony, Poppy, Fox Glove, Lilac, Hyacinth, Ranunculus, Gardenias

Indispensable Design Element: Wallpaper. It packs the most pow and it usually can be hung relatively quickly.

Era for Design: Right now! I find myself and my peers pulling from various era’s and projects these days are the better for it!

Dream Project: Beach home/ mountain home for a client who wants to push the envelope in terms of color and use of pattern.


Fabric/Textile: I am excited for my fabric line with Peter Fasano. Lately I have been using a lot of rattan, paper mache/ plaster, and brass.

Design Book: Both of Celeries’ books, Tom Scheerer, Katie Ridder, Susanna Salk Decorate Fearlessly, Bunny Williams Affair with a House are my current faves.

Hostess Gift: If I am sane enough to remember one, I try to bring something sentimental that reminds me of them. A scent (candle or drawer satchet, framed photo, and at the very least wine.)

Meal: Sheeps Gnudi from Spotted Pig

Drink: Margarita of any variety

3 Things I Love About My City: I live in the West Village and I am surrounded by fabulous street style, beautiful townhouses, and a view of the Hudson River. I love the Highline, the West Side Highway, and all of the fabulous restaurants in my neighborhood.

Weekend Destination: Locust Valley, NY

Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: Happy by Pharrell

Prized Possession: wedding rings, photos of my children through out the years, and my grandmothers’ china.

Risk Worth Taking: All of them! Live and learn and keep your life exciting. “ What if I fall, oh but my darling…what if you fly.”

Paloma Signature

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  1. “Think of how you ( or your client) want to live in a house and proceed.” I’ve read words to that effect in various blogs and decorating magazines, but I’m not sure what it means. I mean, don’t we all eat, sleep, bathe, do laundry, etc.? How else does one live in a house?

    1. Denise, that is a great question. When I ask my clients this question, it is more about lifestyle. Do they like to entertain frequently? If so, additional seating in the living and dining areas becomes a priority as does the flow of the kitchen. Do they have young children who frequently have friends over? Then we might explore the use of durable outdoor fabrics instead. Are they voracious readers? If so, we need to account for book storage and might convert a formal living room that wouldn’t get much use into a library and so on.