A Life in Style with Sarah Ellison
Tastemaker Sarah Ellison has worn many hats during her creative career, traversing the fields of fashion, styling and interior design with ease. With each vocational pivot, she’s honed an aesthetic that is at once curated and relaxed, luxe yet down-to-earth.
Her latest venture is an eponymous furniture and home accessories line, launched last year with ten exquisite pieces that bring an urban twist to coastal living and are sure to quite literally make Sarah Ellison a household name.
What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?
In the 1980s my mother bought an Art Deco kidney-shaped chaise lounge, she had it covered in leopard print velvet. She still has it in her bedroom to this day and recently re-covered it in a rusty coloured velvet which I sourced for her. I’ve always adored it.
Describe yourself as a child. Have you always wanted to do something creative?
As a child I was quiet and introverted. I was very creative – my favourite things to do were things like pressing flowers, sewing and decorating my room. As I got a little older I used to dress my friends up and take photos of them in my mum’s clothes. We still laugh at those photos today!
Tell us a little about your career to date.
In the beginning, I really wanted to be a fashion designer. I studied fashion but soon discovered how tough the fashion world was. I sidestepped into interior styling and began by assisting. This led me into magazines and from there I got my first serious gig as Style Editor at Real Living magazine where I stayed for seven years. I’m now a freelance interior stylist and designer and have my own furniture and homewares brand.
You were Style Editor at Real Living for 7 years. What did you enjoy most about working there?
I was very fortunate at Real Living to have had an amazing Editor – Deb Bibby. Deb really pushed my ideas and creativity to be the best they could be without putting too many limitations on me. I also worked with an incredible team who nurtured and supported one another. There was such a strong synergy between all of us as to where we wanted to take things. Everyone was equally passionate. It was a really special time in my career.
How would you describe your approach to styling these days?
My approach these days is a bit more minimal. As a stylist you have access to so many beautiful things so it can be overwhelming. I think it’s important to remember you only need to use “the right things” rather than “lots of things” in a scenario.
Are there any design eras that you regularly reference?
Yes, absolutely, the late 1970’s. However, I try to do it in a contemporary way so it’s not too literal.
Have any recent trends really spoken to you?
I think the importance of real and handmade art and objects is an important trend. With all the noise of social media and access to so much good and bad design at our fingertips, I think we are all starting to appreciate the allure of things that are of good quality.
What does a typical work day involve?
Firstly, it involves getting my son off to pre-school. Once that’s out [of] the way, it’s coffee time to get me in the zone. The only way I can calm the noise in my busy brain is to make a list and start crossing things off as I go. If I’m planning a shoot I’ll spend a lot of time on my computer mood boarding and making a strong plan of what I want to create. Once I have a good plan in place I get out and about and start visiting showrooms. It’s good to see product in the flesh as it can help spark other ideas.
Styling seems like a glamorous affair but it can be hard work! What do you find most challenging about your job?
Yes, it’s definitely hard work. It’s quite laborious and exhausting as you have many hats you need to wear. It’s important to have a great team supporting you – that really helps. The most challenging thing is juggling your family life with the demands of a long shoot day. Early starts, late finishes, a car full of props and a tired mumma who can’t be bothered to cook dinner!
What’s the most memorable project you’ve done?
Shooting my own furniture collection campaign. It was so rewarding conceptualising a shoot for the pieces of furniture I had designed.
With your background in fashion design, does your interior style influence your personal style at all (or vice versa)?
Yes, absolutely. I’m always dressing in the tones and fabrics I’m into in interiors, and I’m also really influenced by fashion in my interior concepts, so it works both ways.
Last year we were excited to see you launch your namesake furniture and home accessories label. What prompted you to branch out into design?
As a creative person I’m always looking for what’s next, how I can push myself further and grow creatively. Designing my own line was just the next step for me, I guess. I also felt like there was a gap in the market for design-led pieces that were affordable.
What are your plans for the label? Can we expect to see it evolve and grow?
Yes, I have three new lines launching this year so watch this space!
Do you think the Australian design scene has changed over your career?
Everything changed once social media arrived around 5-6 years ago. Design has become very accessible. The average person has access to high-end design and style, and is becoming a lot more savvy. Although it sometimes feels overwhelming I find it a really positive experience through idea sharing and community.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
They are one and the same for me. For my son’s sake I try and switch off my emails and social media on the days I’m with him so that I’m present, but some days that can be hard. It’s a juggle and you never feel like you’re doing it right but I think that’s just life now, it won’t ever be perfect.
Whereabouts do you live? Do you have any favourite local haunts?
I’ve recently relocated up near Byron Bay but I still fly back to Sydney for work. Favourite café in Sydney is Ruby’s Diner on Bronte Road. Best florist is Hermetica Flowers. Favourite beach is Tamarama.
Where do you go in Sydney when you need a jolt of inspiration?
Ken Neale Twentieth Century Modern [an antique furniture store], Becker Minty, Hub Furniture, Hermetica Flowers.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Stay true to yourself and find what makes your style unique.