If you’re a regular around here, then you know that our team is no stranger to interviewing our fellow talented interiors designers! In fact, we relish the opportunity to get an inside look at where our industry peers are finding inspiration and learning about what makes them tick. Today we are so excited to share our interview with Sarah Robertson, design founder and principal of Studio Dearborn, who has built her kitchen renovation and design firm by mastering storage and organization while never sacrificing form for function. In other words: She’s our kind of gal.
On top of her obvious talent is admirable work ethic that has earned her industry-wide recognition, including back-to-back 2019-2020 wins in the National Kitchen and Bath Association national design competitions for Overall Kitchen Design. It doesn’t stop there, though. Her work has also been featured in House Beautiful, The Washington Post, Apartment Therapy, Luxe, and HGTV Magazine (among others).
Have I convinced you that she’s the real deal? I thought so! Keep scrolling for some tried and true kitchen design tips from Sarah, and don’t forget to follow her on Instagram for plenty more inspiration.
What are your top three pieces of advice to someone starting their very first kitchen renovation or remodel?
1: Invest in the planning process–it requires time to conceive the best layout for your kitchen, and a designer cannot do all the heavy lifting for you. The layout is critical, and I see a lot of clients getting distracted by finish selections–tile, lighting, hardware–the fun stuff. The layout is what is really going to make or break a successful renovation.
2: Invest in top quality cabinetry–Kitchen renovations are expensive, and its easy to try to save money by going with less expensive cabinets. But in the long run, you will get much more longevity out of quality cabinetry, and I just don’t think the savings, in terms of the overall budget, really justify the loss in functionality and quality. I try to encourage people to go with fewer cabinets, not cheaper. Better cabinets minimize air space and can hold more stuff!
3: Expect headaches and stress. Kitchen renovations are complicated, time consuming and expensive. But on top of that, I think they are emotionally challenging. It feels a bit like open heart surgery for your home. And I think that aspect can take people by surprise, and the stress and emotions can make the entire process harder, and the entire team miserable. It’s important to acknowledge the stress rather than brush it off as “first world problems.”
Where do you advise people to invest in their kitchens? (i.e. cabinets, appliances, etc)
I always advise for investment in cabinets. Appliances can be replaced—I have even bought used appliances as placeholders—but once countertops and tile is in, you can’t just swap out your cabinets.
What is the quickest kitchen renovation timeline you’ve completed? And the longest?
The quickest was around 4 months from beginning of design process to completion, and the longest has been going since 2014 and we still haven’t started work! Some clients take a while to make decisions…
What is your “secret sauce” when it comes to kitchen design?
My first love in kitchen design is storage, and my second is finding unusual and new designs for cabinetry, millwork and finishes. I don’t love repeating the use of any elements from one kitchen to the next. I’ve seen designers where you almost can’t tell their kitchen projects apart, and I don’t want to be that designer. Regarding storage, I obsess over what’s inside the cabinets, and that’s what most clients hire me for.
Is there a 2020 + beyond trend in kitchen design you can share with us?
Greater customization and focus on functional storage is definitely a trend I’m seeing mentioned over and over again. I’ve heard the past generation of kitchen designers referred to as “glorified cabinet salespeople” selling expensive boxes to put your stuff in. I think the industry (and the market) is ready for a shift in thinking towards really well thought out storage, which will lead to fewer, better cabinets in every kitchen.
Should someone expect a high-end, well thought out kitchen to last 10, 20, 30+ years?
Definitely. I have kitchens out there that are around 15 years old now and all we are doing is touching up the cabinets!
Do you have a favorite kitchen you’ve designed? If so, why?
My own! It serves as both the heart of our home and my personal showroom. It’s a hardworking space that we love spending time in. And it was the National Kitchen and Bath Association national kitchen design competition winner last year!
Thanks for sharing your design savvy and wisdom with us Sarah! Make sure to follow her @studiodearborn
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Want more specifics on kitchen design and how to renovate your kitchen? We’ve got all our designer tips complied in one place, just for you! Don’t miss our 50-page Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design PDF.