Introducing 5 Basics! with Interior Designer Sara Gilbane

5 Basics

I'm so excited about today's post! 5 Basics will be a series of posts featuring people whose work I admire, starting with the wonderfully talented interior designer, Sara Gilbane!

Photo by Anna Wolf

Sara says, "I like to design comfortable, livable spaces for my clients. Whether it is for a party for 30 in their living room or just the two of them having cocktails and hanging out, the space should work for them.

These [below] are essentials to any living space I design."

5 Basics

1Basic: Several Seating Areas.
"In a small living space, that means 2 sofas - a couple can sit together on one or both stretch out on their own. In a larger living room I like to create several seating areas. A built-in banquette/window seat in the corner with a game table creates a nook for evening games, a larger gathering area with one or two sofas and a few chairs lends itself to great conversation over cocktails, while a chaise lounge or two is perfect for the person who is wanting their own space to read while others may be watching TV."

2Basic: Texture and Color.
"For those who like a monotone color scheme it is very important to bring in texture to create depth. Go for your all-white room, but you must add texture - grasscloth on the walls, mohair, velvet, linen fabrics. With a monotone scheme most people think that means the same color over and over, but what makes a monotone scheme come to life is mixing varying shades of that color - such as ivory, cream, snow, pale tan. If you must have silk drapes in your dining room, throw a burlap tablecloth on a table to add a rough, unexpected texture. This makes a space feel more inviting and less serious.

YUM! I am a sucker for wallpaper - I like using grasscloth in larger living spaces to bring in texture. Patterned wallpaper in unexpected small spots is great fun and gives your guests a surprise - such as in bathrooms, closets, backs of bookshelves.

I am also a huge fan of lacquered walls. In dining rooms, dens, entry foyers - a high gloss wall in a deep jewel tone color is amazing at night. Bring in candles, chandeliers and table lamps and the room just glows. Paint your ceilings! Do not leave them white! The ceiling is a space that usually goes forgotten in most homes. Whether you paint it a pale glossy grey or the same color as the walls - it adds instant drama. A pale lacquered grey ceiling seems to float like clouds, and a ceiling painted in the same color as the walls makes a room very cozy. You can also throw wallpaper on the ceiling - a shimmery gold or silver patinaed wallpaper on a dining room ceiling works well with candlelight. A heavy grasscloth on your library ceiling or in between beams adds a modern coziness."
3Basic: Lighting.
"It is so important to have lighting at various levels in a room. By that I mean a chandelier or overhead lighting, table lamps, sconces on the bookshelves and a few standing lamps. This allows light to hit all objects (your face included) in the most flattering way. Add dimmers to all chandeliers and sconces. Mood lighting anyone? At night, bring out the candles - the more the better. Everyone looks better with a soft glow."

4Basic: Mix the Old with the New.
"We all have a few pieces of furniture that have been inherited from a grandparent or flea market. Just because you want a youthful modern home does not mean every piece of furniture should be brand new. Keeping something old and reupholstering it (that old ratty wing chair can be spruced up in no time with a bold modern fabric) gives the room an unexpected twist and you get to keep an heirloom in the family."

5Basic: Great Linens.
"I am a total linen freak so I obsess daily over the bed, table, and bathroom linens. Right now I am in love with those by Sharyn Blond."

And just because I must . . .
"I am crushing on a Cameroon cocktail table, malachite bedside tables, a very large photo of Marilyn Monroe swimming in the green lagoon in Capri (such a happy photo), a Chinoiserie pagoda-style bed - off the charts, and a real turquoise chandelier."


Where Sara Gilbane gets her basics:

Favorite Design Book: Jeffrey Bilhuber Defining Luxury. I am a girl who loves color- his book is outstanding.

Favorite Furniture Source: Oly studios, Treillage, 1st Dibs and any antique store.

Favorite Fabric/Wallpaper Source: John Rosselli, who carries lines like Carolina Irving, Peter Dunham, John Robshaw, Robert Kime, Elizabeth Eakins. I cannot pick a favorite. Quadrille is a very, very close second. And Phillip Jeffries for grasscloth - they have every imaginable variation.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would it look like?
I have too many fantasies about this, but I must say I love New York. Every time I leave my building I am surrounded by inspiration. My dream would be an old townhouse in my neighborhood that I could renovate with a large garden for entertaining. It is not so much what is in your space, but the way it makes you feel.

What is the most important design rule to remember when decorating?
SCALE. This is what most people get wrong and it is so important to the overall feel of the room. And accessories - it is not the first $1,000 that makes the room - it is the last $1,000. Accessories can dramatically change a space. They make a space feel lived-in and loved - do not skimp on them. A room with no accessories is like a woman who forgot to put on her jewelry.

Accessorized like a pro.

Time for me to take these tips to the living room. Thank you so much, Sara!


  1. I need to print this out and have it handy in my purse any time I'm shopping!

  2. Wow...this is fabulous. It's totally getting printed and put into my wallet.

  3. Good hanging grasscloth wallpaper ..Keep Posting

    hanging grasscloth wallpaper