Q&A: HGTV star Sarah Richardson on how to live with your collections

Sep 10, 2020

Toronto designer Sarah Richardson has hosted and co-produced eight HGTV series including Sarah Off the Grid and Sarah's House. The writer, producer and TV personality has a new book "Collected City and Country: Volume 1" and a rapidly growing YouTube channel. Richardson is known for her casual approach to creating elegant and functional rooms. She's adept at keeping to a budget while adding warmth and style to many different types of homes from farmhouses to modern urban getaways. Richardson is one of Canada's best known designers.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Welcome Sarah! I just looked through Sarah Richardson's new book "Collected: City + Country Style" and was excited about all the ideas for homes of all kinds. Sarah, who has had eight hit HGTV shows, presents solutions for many rooms of the house in yummy locations from city to waterside to farm life. Let's chat with her about her You Tube channel and her latest projects.

Hi Everyone! Sarah here :) Can't wait to kick off this chat and answer your questions today! Thanks for joining me

A coworker who collected items had her limit at 3 things. Her belief was to improve her collection instead of counting the number of items collected. My number is higher but it makes me think before adding to my collection.

That's a great approach and you can't go wrong by being restrained! I think the key is to buy what you love and feel you will be happy living with in your home. 

I have been searching for a perfect silver gray paint color for the bedroom. Do you have any recommendations for both lighter and darker shades of a silvery gray, that doesn't have strong undertones swaying the color? We have multiple bedding sets to looking for an adaptable silver gray. Thanks!

One of my all time favourite tried and true grey shades is "Universal Grey" by Ice/Glidden/Dulux. Not too blue, brown or purple - it's my go anywhere grey - hope it works for you too! 

I am moving into a rental in the Colorado mountains. I don't want to go overboard with the western or cabin look but would like just a hint. I'm planning to have a grey leather couch in a plain style in the living room/dining room/kitchen. I'd like to decorate with photos and pictures of natural elements. Any thoughts of a way to make it NOT scream western cabin but to have just a hint and maybe a little whimsy?

Sounds like you are already on the right track by approaching it with a sense of restraint. The key is to feel tied in to your natural surroundings and be inspired by the environment without feeling like you are living in a theme park. I think the key is to not go overboard with too much heavy wood. Black and white photos in white or black frames will complement the grey sofa well. have fun!

I love Sarah’s shows — due to her design sensibilities and humo(u)r. I favor a modern style and have a beautiful condo with high ceilings and plenty of natural light. I love my furniture, floor and lighting choices. But my space looks unfinished because I find it difficult to commit to accessories. I have some art, but few objects. It’s been 3 years since I moved in How do I finish off my space? Thanks!

When it comes to finishing touches I'd suggest selecting pieces that have character and soul. Since your space sounds like it is crisp and modern, some texture and warmth in the form of natural materials might help warm up your home. Think of handmade ceramics, chunky pottery pieces, nubbly wool accents, or chunky baskets - all of these have a modern vibe with a touch of warmth. 

Hi Sarah, I need to replace the flooring in my laundry room and I'm thinking of installing a "wood look" tile. However, this new floor will transition directly to the wood floor in my hallway. Do you think that would be odd or okay? Another option would be to install a porcelain encaustic patterned tile but I worry it is a passing fad and will look dated. What are your thoughts? BTW, I have been a fan of yours for years. I'd just like to say thank you for having the heart of a teacher. I have learned so much from you! Jody Schonberg Ham Lake, MN

Thanks Jody! So nice of you to say. I think it can be tricky to transition from real to imitation wood, so perhaps you'd consider another option? You are right that the patterned tile might be a fad...I worry about that too :) If you want to do the wood tile, choose a colour that is NOT trying to look like wood (white or black perhaps). Or, on a recent Youtube episode I installed a great hexagon floor that looked fab - maybe that would work? 

Sarah- is that a recent term for Master Bedroom? Seems like the Canadians might be more politically correct than us here in the States?

Principal Bedroom is an appropriate term to describe the owners bedroom in a home. If you google you'll find lots of information. 

What's your take on "brown furniture" ? Should you paint it , mix it with white? Thoughts?

When you say "brown", I assume you mean wood, right? ;) You can certainly mix wood tones together - it's something I often do...but the key is to not overdo it. I'd say 2 wood tones MAX and you must have repetition of each colour (i.e. 3 or more pieces of each colour will create a balanced look...not a yard sale effect lol)


You seem to be a very positive person and get alot of joy from your work in the design world. What are your favorite rooms to work on and your least favorite?

Thanks - I do love my job (almost all of the time ;). Every home and space and room and client is different, so the unique combination of architecture and setting, environment, client and personal taste means that no two homes are ever the same so it's always exciting and fresh and new. I do love the transformation of a kitchen reno, but don't make me choose a fave..... ;) 

There are so many sources for inexpensive but well -designed furniture and accessories. Where do you think clients should spend their design dollars?

Great Q! I like to take a balanced approach to design. Unlimited budgets are FUN, but not the reality for most of us, so I think it's important to take a cohesive and consistent approach to design in an effort to balance the budget. It's not about where you shop, it's how you combine it all together in the end. The key for me is to buy pieces that have inherent quality, are made from natural materials, and will stand the test of time from both a durability and practicality perspective. 

Hi Sarah. What would you do with a big empty wall in a kitchen? I have an 11 foot wall that runs parallel to a long island. There was not enough space between the island and the wall to install cabinets on this wall and it is currently empty. It’s a blank canvas but I’m stuck, I don’t know how to decorate it. It’s so large and I’m overwhelmed!

Sounds like as dynamite place for a gallery wall of photos...these could be family photos that you print in black and white so they all look amazing together, or a collection of nature/travel shots. Print the images in varying sizes for a "collected over time" effect, or print everything in the same size. Use the same frame style for everything and Voila!....It will look awesome - check out my website in the makeovers section and you'll see I love gallery walls!

Please decide what you want done with your collections after death. My mother collected tea pots. Some of these were very expensive. They're fragile and hard to sell. Also, anyone want a tea pot?

Such a wise suggestion! It's hard to have to disassemble what someone spent a lifetime collecting, so I'm sorry for your loss and the challenge you have. How about sending a note to all her friends to come and pick their favourite teapot as a reminder? 

I have a 3 yr and 5 mo old boys. We recently moved into our house and I’m overwhelmed by decorating their rooms. Do you have any suggestions as to where I should start?

Of course I do! Start with furniture that will stand the test of time, not kiddie furniture as they will be growing up faster than you can imagine! Pick classic pieces that you could use for any age, and then inject fun accents like patterned bedding and pillows to brighten up and make it kid friendly.  Wallpaper or a peel and stick mural is also a great way to deliver max decor impact without long term commitment. make sure everything is all natural and washable so it always looks great too!

Due to a bathroom reno in another room, I have to repaint my 8 year old son's room this weekend. It is a very small space and I don't have any patterned or inspiration fabrics to choose from, unless you count Minecraft sheets and comforter. How do I choose a paint color that works with his novelty sheet sets now and transitions to another interest as he gets older? Thank you

Well that's a minefield...pardon the pun lol. I'm guessing perhaps theres's some blue in there somewhere? You can't go wrong with a soft, pale blue for a boys room that delivers timeless style. The key is to avoid anything too bright - go for a colour that is 2 shades lighter and 2 shades "muddier" than the colour you think you want, and it should actually work. Or...take the patterned sheets to the paint store and pick the palest colour you can find to match...if there's anything pale - I have 2 girls so not an expert on Minecraft- ha.

I’m planning a kitchen reno where I would like to open-up the space to the dinning room and make it more convivial with a big island in between. The challenge is that the wall between the two rooms is load bearing. What’s the best way to go about this challenge. Thank you!

Step 1 you need to consult an engineer who can come and assess the project and direct you on what CAN be done if you reinforce the structure to open it up as desired. Next, consult a contractor to find out the cost. It will be at least a few thousand dollars and it's very important to know that you are proceeding in the best way to protect the structural integrity of the home.

We have a split level and thus you can see the main level (which has cherry flooring) and the lower level (which has a kind of blond laminate flooring that looks like wood) in the same view. We want to upgrade the lower level. What would work best there? The base is concrete.

Tricky question. I always find the "flooring buffet" a difficult challenge as it looks better when the finishes are consistent. The q is...do you love the cherry? The most effective solution would likely be to use a vinyl floor over the concrete, but I've never seen it in a cherry wood tone. One idea is that you could install the vinyl and then connect it to the upper level by using cherry wood accents pieces like side tables etc. 

What are your best tips on how to cozy up a two story living room?

Sounds like a great space! Start with a large statement light fixture that can drop down into the room so the ceilings don't feel quite so voluminous. If you have a large wall space, consider doing something high impact with an art grouping or a gallery wall. Most importantly, make sure everything your eye sees at eye level is pleasing and beautiful so you aren't drawn to look elsewhere. 

Is it possible to mix Hollywood Regency with modern and touch of mid century. (Ie: greyish velvet bed frame with George N cigar lamps) what do you do for a night stand and dresser? (Was thinking high gloss grey nightstand with a walnut top and high gloss black dresser?)

The velvet with the Cigar lamps sounds nice. The key as I mentioned in a previous answer is to be consistent when it comes to wood tones so it's not a mishmash. 

We own a beach house in coastal North Carolina, built 6 years ago. It is open concept, happy colors throughout. When we built it we had wood, ceramic, and carpet floors. We have been slowly replacing the carpet with new vinyl flooring. We used three different colors; darker wood colors in two rooms and white, sandy color in the master bedroom and closet. Now that we are trying to sell the house, we hear "didn't like the different floor styles." Did we make a big mistake?

Lots of homes have multiple floor surfaces and colours. For your next home you might want to do one surface throughout so it flows seamlessly from room to room, especially in an open concept home. The good news is that vinyl is easy to change if the next owner wants something different!

I have a collection of pitchers. I have bought them all over the world, at charity shops, thrift stores, high end shops, local artists, discount department stores (TJMaxx & such) and I have inherited some. They are made from brass, cooper, sterling and plated silver, pottery, glass and porcelain. I love them and use them often. Some of them are valuable and some I just love them. For future generations, I have taken pictures of each pitcher, printed it out and written where I bought it or the story behind it. I have a file with the information I figure in years to come, my relatives can say she was a crazy old lady for thinking anyone would care or be grateful for the information. Do you have other ways to document collections?

That's a super idea! Can I suggest that you might also flag in the file which ones were a "steal/deal" and which were a "splurge" so your relatives will know what is important to treasure/save, and what is "just for fun". 

I’m such a huge fan. What is the best way to use a mixture of metals in a room. You regularly talk about how mixing metals adds character and soul to a room. Do the same rules for wood - limit 2 tones with 3 of each tone - apply to metals? Thanks so much

You're paying attention! :) Yes, limit metals or woods to 2 I'd say as an easy to follow rule, and 3 or more of each is a good plan. When mixing metals, try to find something that blends both together. I have a cool Willy Rizzo coffee table that is a mix of warm and cool metals that sets the tone for our living room. Lots of warm brass accents with some midcentury pieces that have chrome legs. It works for me :)

I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed your shows over the years--how I wish you and Tommy were gracing our screens with a new show to help us through these days!

Thanks - you can always find me on my Youtube channel - just search my name and you'll get weekly content from my design projects. I'm also working on a new series in development now ...and I think you can find me on DABL too. 

We want sitting but with sleep options for occasional guests in TV/office. Do you like fold out sofa beds or futons or are there better options?

The key is to think about how often it will be used, and by whom. The majority rules in my view and if it's only rarely/occasional use, perhaps you want to consider a blow up mattress that can be stored most of the time and used when needed? 

Do you see anything taking over the popularity of the grey/white theme in homes? Even looking at some of your makeovers on your website , that neutral palette seems to be dominant.

We can't live in grey forever and there has been a return to softer, warmer tones over the past few years. My approach to neutrals has always been to mix warm and cool neutrals together - a bit of oyster with a touch of platinum, a hint of flax, and a bit of linen. if you look at my wallpaper and fabrics on my site you'll see they all blend these combos together for a not too icy end result. Most importantly, do what you love and what makes you happy!

I have a large collection of beauty products (makeup, hair styling tools, skin care, etc) but minimal bathroom storage space. What is the best way to store these items outside of the space they will get used in?

First step...edit! Many of us have more than we actually use, and more than we need. I love to edit, purge and streamline. If that still leaves you with lots, consider adding a wall mount medicine cabinet on an available wall (just close the seat if it's above the toilet lol) 

I have a postcard collection. For the life of me, I can't figure out how to display even a fraction of the collection. Help!

Sounds like a really fun gallery wall to me. You could create a series of collages within larger frames, or you could frame them individually within smaller frames and create a grid on the wall. 

Sarah, You're my favorite TV designer, bar none. I love the personality and livability you infuse your projects with. I wish you were on American TV more but was happy to find your YouTube projects. I have noticed your recent projects have used more mass market furnishings, less repurposed vintage than usual. Is that due more to the nature of the projects I see?

Good eye- it's all about the individual project and what the style of the home is. Some call out for vintage and fun, while others seem to need a more streamlined effect. Since my last project was done during the pandemic, all stores were closed, so I had to source online, hence not much vintage :( But I still  love the look. 

First of all, love, love, love Sarah Richardson and her tremendous decorating talent. Question: Whether it be the living room or bedroom or office, do you have any creative tips or tricks for hiding electronics, particularly the cables, wires etc.?

There are lots of great tricks for cord management - try searching it on Pinterest and I bet you'll find some inspiring ideas to keep you powered up and looking good! 

Has this type of flooring improved from the old style? Would you recommend that to go on top of a cement slab in a basement level room?

YES YES YES! Vinyl has improved vastly. I'm a big fan of the click plank with the foam backing. It's a floating floor that's a snap (literally) to install...and affordable too! 

Sarah- how long ago was that first show? I have not really followed you since but was excited to see your website/books etc this morning before the chat. You are ageless ! What's your secret?

It was launched in 2000 - can you believe it's been 20 (!!!!!) years, hundreds of rooms, and 8 series? I'm working on the next one now...so stay tuned!

Thank you for offering this fab idea ! Often we watch your shows but our dilemmas can’t get addressed that way . Any direction to go for windows that need black out blinds but have the rads right under the window . There’s already white wooden shutters installed for light . Curtains with black out liners only half way for safety but they feel kind of dated ?

How about a roman blind mounted on the wall above the frame so it doesn't compete with the shutters? This way the rads aren't an issue and you can get the blackout you need. You can mount on the ceiling if not too high, or halfway between the frame and the crown moulding if you have high ceilings. Good luck.

That really is a great idea and anyone with a collection should take the time to do that and now with photography in your pocket and creating an album on line so easy- it should be done by all collectors.

Right? Such a great suggestion that we can all learn from so our treasure hunting can be appreciated by others!

Hi Sarah, I can’t explain how much you mean to me.. you would be my one dream celebrity to me. So corny to put in writing! Anyhow, I’m in the preliminary process of a new build. A one level on slab, accessible for my daughter. I’ve renovated many homes and have built and sold within the past year but have never designed a home on a slab, I’m extremely nervous about walking into a bathroom and thinking ‘oh shoot, the layout would of worked better this way’. Where as in the past I could just change the layout before plumbing. I’d love your advice. I admire your design and respect your work ethic and drive. Congrats on your successes. You’re amazing. Erin

You made my day! The key is planning, and thinking, and rethinking before it's set it stone...literally. The challenge of accessible should be balanced with the desire to also make it lovely for you. my advice is to make it so you walk in to look at something pretty like the vanity, not the toilet. Choose materials you have always loved so they will be timeless and classic. You've got this! 

What pale blue paint color, preferably Benjamin Moore, would you recommend for painting the indoor side of a front door? I'm looking for a timeless, elegant color that would complement white, black, and blue tones around it without clashing. Thanks!

I just happen to be sitting beside my BM deck - Silver Grey and Harbour Haze both have a blue undertone with a bit of grey so they don't look childlike

My husband inherited his Dad's camera collection which now resides in boxes in the basement (I know, not smart). How can we display them? In one location or scattered throughout our house? Are there furniture pieces that lock so we can protect the valuable cameras? Sarah, thank you for ALL of your shows and videos and books over the years!!!

A sleek bookshelf would work if you want them open (but that means dusting)...or perhaps a vintage library cabinet would be a good idea with glass doors? You might want to paint the inside white so the cameras appear like sculpture inside and can be appreciated (and seen!) 

I’m getting ready to redecorate my family room and dining room. I have recently purchased vintage orientals with bright colors. So essentially I’ll be decorating around those rugs. Suggestions?

Yes! Let the rug be the star. Choose pale neutrals for the big upholstered pieces so you can appreciate the dynamic colours in the rugs. Then pull a few of your fave accent colours from the rug and use as pillows, smaller upholstery pieces, a footstool etc. Skip busy patterns and go for more solids - look in my recent book Collected for inspiration on this. 

I got bored during covid-quarantine and redid my powder bathroom (which was builder-grade). New paint, new hardware, new art, new storage. I'm iffy on whether I should change the lighting since all the bathrooms have the same sconces and style. Would you change the lighting? Do people really care if bathrooms have matching lighting as long as there's lighting?

100% change the lighting - it will make a huge difference and I never match the sconces in all baths - it will look awesome so have fun and good for you!

Thinking of a macassar ebony 1930's ish buffet - plain rectangle with 4 doors with shelves and doors inside. Have red oakish hardwood floors walnut oblong dining table - -- would it be too much?

I hate to say it but....maybe....that's a lot of strong woods all together. I think the buffet and table should match - sorry!

As a HUGE fan, I have been following your TV and You Tube shows and all of your books and am so amazed by the timelessness of your designs. In fact, my home office is a close replica to one you did years and years ago in a green and hot pink color scheme. It still looks so fresh and current. What factors go into the timelessness of your designs?

Well, aren't you lovely! Thanks so much! I choose pieces that I think have timeless elements and try to avoid trend based decisions. If you buy what you love and buy simple, quality pieces, they should stand the test of time! Speaking of time...mine's almost up here so only a couple more q's to go-- wish I could answer them all!

I’m considering an robins egg blue Swedish gustavian style bed to mix with mid century dressers and white bed side tables. Is the blue a classic? PS I love everything Scandinavian

Blue is always classic in my view, but since you already have midcentury wood (teak?) and white, I think you might be better to do the bed in one of those, and then use blue on the walls and mix it with white for bedding, drapes etc so it all looks coordinated. 

Hi Sarah! My husband, Chris Willmot, and I have a cottage on Lake Rosseau in Canada. We also live part of the year in Charlottesville, Virginia. We would love to bring elements of Virginia (mountains, rivers) into the cottage but have been unable to find an easy design aesthetic to do so. Any suggestions welcome. Thanks, Sean Miller

Hi Sean - nice to hear from you! I know you love home in the USA and also Canada. I think it makes sense to let each space feel unique and grounded where it is, so I'd savour the opportunity to live in 2 distinct areas and not try to blend them together. Wish I had more time...but that's it for today. Great to hear from you and everyone on this chat! xo Sarah

The hour is coming to a close but wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading all the dilemmas and having my question answered in a way I hadn’t thought of before after months of racking my brain !!!!!

Sarah rocked the chat today - so many questions - thank you so much for being here today. Next week tune in for a chat on making your home cozy with designer Myquillyn Smith. Post your questions here now.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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