Known for her serene, contemporary environments that prioritize healthy living, designer Sarah Barnard brought her talented touch to a beautiful coastal retreat. The home is open and modern, and relies on minimal, impactful furnishings and accessories hand-crafted from sustainable, non-toxic materials; Barnard even included two sconces that she designed herself. Nature — and particularly the nearby ocean — inspired each step of her design process. “The clients are eco-conscious and passionate about nature, and I wanted to create pieces for their home that reflected their ethics and aesthetics,” she says.
Barnard references “ethics” as a key consideration in her design because, frankly, it’s her specialty. Her designs are always holistic, from open, stress-free layouts that impart a sense of calm to non-toxic and vegan materials that improve air quality, and she has become a favorite among clients who want their home to enhance the joy they find in their lives. “I’ve found empathy essential to the overlap of wellness and design,” she says. “I try to help my clients live happy, productive lives by being empathetic and kind, and by creating physical space for them to feel comfortable and mentally / emotionally nurtured.” Here, we look through the home room by room and talk with the designer about the empathetic practice that motivates her.
In the living area, the beamed ceiling is original to the house, which was built in 1949. Barnard had it painted in a bright, serene shade of white that contrasts slightly with the creamy tone of the walls. Vintage poufs allow the family to lounge comfortably across the space, while the Cisco Brothers sofa provides slightly more formal seating. The coffee table was crafted by William Stranger, an artisan in Pasadena whose minimalist furnishings are modeled after the structure of trees.
The clients’ dog also enjoys the living room that the designer created. “Using sustainable, non-toxic materials is essential when designing with pets in mind,” she says. “We used natural and enduring materials throughout the space and kept common areas open and clutter-free. Animals are often in constant contact with floors and furniture, and use smell and taste to explore their spaces. Ensuring that they are not exposed to toxic particles during their day-to-day routine can optimize their health and wellbeing.”
Barnard designed the sconce above to suit the home. Trained in fine art, she found inspiration in underwater creatures and other natural shapes, and drew this sconce by hand. Later, the concept was transformed into hand-made models and further edited, until the final version was passed on to a woodworker, who brought her design to life, crafting it carefully from American walnut. The sconce is available as part of her new product line, Kale Tree. “Kale Tree allows us to share a piece of our unique design practice with a broader audience,” she says. The console table was built by William Stranger, and the vase is vintage.
The designer’s interest in wellness impacts every aspect of her design practice. She believes that design powerfully affects both our physical and mental health: “We often have a direct emotional reaction to our surroundings, and being in a cluttered and visually chaotic environment can make us feel anxious and disconnected,” she says. “Creating open spaces, using organic materials, and including natural light, is a solid foundation for creating a peaceful design that promotes wellbeing.”
The fireplace was custom designed in concrete with horizontal etchings modeled after the shape of waves, and designed to reflect the ocean views outside. The mantelpiece is finished off with decorative rocks and precious stones, wood objects, and black-and-white photographs featuring sea creatures by Renae Barnard.
A live-edge console table by William Stranger sits beneath a large-scale artwork in blue. Eric Zener, the artist behind this painting, is known for his inspired depictions of water. “Commissioning handmade furniture or locally crafted artwork can encourage feelings of community and connection in the home,” says Barnard. “Art and nature are both known to have a mood-improving effect, so incorporating them into design choices whenever possible can contribute to a healing living space.”
The communion between Scandinavian and California modern designs continues into the dining room. Like the sconces in the living room, Barnard custom designed the light fixtures on either side of the fireplace. She was inspired by the ocean — the round cut-outs seem to reflect the dappled look of the surface of the ocean when light hits it — to draw these orb-like sconces, and then she commissioned ceramic models for the clients to review, before an artisan sculpted them. The designer also created the custom fireplace, with a concrete surround and deep blue Ann Sacks tile. In the painting on the left above the mantel, clouds form over the surface on the ocean; on the right, a path of rocks leads out into a body of water. Both paintings are by Louise LeBourgeois.
When designing, Barnard thinks about how a client’s needs may shift as they age and how guests with varying accessibility needs may experience the space. “Removing barriers, ensuring smooth floor transitions, and utilizing hands-free faucets are great ways to increase efficiency in any home and ensure that the design stands the test of time,” she says.
The mid-modern chairs placed around the dining table are from the Cherner Chair Company. An Arturo Alvarez chandelier hangs above the space.
Barnard custom designed the floating vanity and selected a vessel sink in soft-hued limestone to complement it. The vintage mirror and droplet-shaped sconces add a touch of personality and eccentricity; Walker Zanger subway tile in gray surrounds the space, as the pebbling flooring references the natural world. The faucet is from Kohler.
The handcrafted kitchen cabinetry was locally made and painted in a powder blue from Dunn-Edwards; its softness contrasts with the red brick of the fireplace wall, which is original to the house. The architect of the home had designed brick into much of the home, and although Barnard removed most of the brick — red is not known as a calming color — she and the clients decided to keep the brick of the fireplace as a nod to the architect’s vision. The sink here is from Kohler, and the photograph was taken by Christopher Medak.
Natural materials and inspirations — from the glossy pebble flooring to the light wood vanity and even the mother of pearl present in the terrazzo countertops — complement the serene blue of this bathroom. The cabinet maker applied the same veneer to the custom mirror as the vanity to achieve aesthetic cohesion. The floating bathtub here is from Victoria & Albert, while the sinks are from Kohler.
Coral-like sconces from Moth Designs adorn the entry hall. Like other pieces in the home, the console table crafted by William Stranger uses non-toxic finishes, which enhance the air quality of the space. “Breathing is integral to so many avenues of wellness and stress reduction,” Barnard says. “Still, we don’t often address the quality of the air we breathe when we consider our wellbeing.” She notes that many materials and objects are installed using toxic adhesives, even when the materials themselves are non-toxic, and the sustainability of the materials and application process affects air quality. “Being mindful of air quality when we select our materials improves all areas of wellness in a client’s home, and air quality was considered continuously on this project,” she says.
With a deep commitment to mindfulness and environmental responsibility, this nature-inspired home is a model for healthy, holistic living.
For more information about Sarah Barnard, visit her website.