5-minutes with Sarah Sham, Interior Designer
“Over the years I’ve done so many jobs and have failed at all of them because I realised I have a very short attention span”
However, Sarah Sham’s short attention span is what has led her to have an interesting career graph, one that some may even be envious of. The Mumbai-based interior designer and founder of Essajees Atelier, however, is happy to have these experiences under her belt. “With each new job I went in and soon realised that this is exactly what I don’t want to do. But the good thing is that it drew me that much closer to what I do what to do, what I love”, she says.
Moving back home after university, Sarah started working with her father in the family’s antiques, collectibles and furniture business. “I didn’t enjoy it too much. I felt very trapped and found it very difficult to adjust back to life in India after studying and doing so much at university.” Soon enough she had had enough at the job and wanted to explore what’s next. So, she sat down and drew up a list of all the things she wanted to do in her life. “I wanted to learn how to play the violin. So, I wrote that down. I was also very interested in news and political affairs and wanted to explore that. So, I wrote that down too. The next step was to quit the job at my father’s company and work on this list. And that’s what I did”, Sarah quips.
After a failed attempt at playing the violin – “there’s nobody worse than me at that instrument” – and a brief stint at Bloomberg where she worked as a news anchor for a year, she decided to move on. “It was nice at Bloomberg. I directed and wrote my own shows, tracked the commodities market on the NCDEX and learnt so much. It was all completely new for me and very interesting initially, but I also recognised that this way of making money sadly didn’t excite me at all.”
Following this she went back to working with her father for few more years and this return is what potentially changed her life. “While working with my dad the second time around there was one client who had come to us to buy lights. She had a 16,000 sq. ft. house on Worli sea face and was doing it up. I’d gone to sell her the lights and she just said to me, “your aesthetic is amazing, so you design my house”. I obviously thought she had lost her mind. The house was a bare shell and I had no experience doing up homes; I wasn’t an interior designer! I told her I was extremely flattered and happy to help but maybe I should start with a smaller project like a bedroom or bathroom or something. But she didn’t budge. We almost had an argument, me telling her I couldn’t do this and she insisting that I could. Anyway, the next 2 years I spent time working on her house and simultaneously enrolled myself in an interior design course. I finished the course and work on the house at the same time and quickly realised that this is what I like. This is what I should be doing with my life. That’s how I set up Essajees Atelier. And it all makes sense now.”
Over the last four and a half years, Sarah’s company has finished work on 30 projects and have 15 more that they’re working on currently. From holiday homes in Goa and Pawna to restaurants, offices, building lobbies and even a 5000 sq.ft. gym in London, she has her hands full.
“I’m very thankful to that lady, she showed me what it is I want to do. Because I have a short attention span I don’t like things that go on for too long. I like to know that whatever I’m working on has a beginning, a middle and an end and that’s why interiors is perfect for me. This is now the longest period of time I’ve done something for and I really, really enjoy it.”
Sarah’s aesthetic in her work is very clean, very minimal. “When we’re working on residential properties the first thing we always ask the client to do is declutter. Only then do we go in and build storage. Even with furniture and other elements, my brain doesn’t understand how to put too many objects together. If there’s a design element involved I’m very comfortable doing one strong element that pops but I can’t do everything everywhere.”
This affinity for all things minimal and clean and simple is reflected in her life, her own home, her wardrobe and the way she dresses. Unlike most women, the fitness-enthusiast’s wardrobe is populated with select items that she can call upon at any time. However, this urge to cut down wasn’t always the case and is mostly thanks to her mother. “When we were kids every six months my mum would walk into our rooms, pull everything out of our wardrobe, throw it on the floor and tell us to clean it. I remember this so distinctly. Obviously as kids we were not pleased and would look at her incredulously. It was always a really sore topic at home. However, after years of her doing this to us, we’ve now grown to do it ourselves. Even to this day, every six months I do a big clean and about 50-60% of my wardrobe gets passed along. I can’t imagine living with multiple clothing options now. I have very few pieces in my wardrobe and it saves me a lot of mind space in the mornings. Overall as well I think decluttering is really important. I don’t want to have too much stuff. I’m very happy with the basics.”
But quizzed if there’s one thing that throws this logic of minimalism out the window and she’s very quick to reply, “make-up! I have so much make-up!”