Sarah Burghard is not a typical textile designer, nor does she intend to be. A former actress – with a number of West End productions and TV appearances under her belt, Sarah retrained at some of the design world’s top institutions whilst raising a young family and, at this year’s Independent Hotel Show, she proudly launched her own bespoke design company to the trade. Hospitality Interiors’ Gemma Ralph caught up with Sarah to find out more about her deep-rooted passion for textile design, and the niche she has carved for herself in the thriving hospitality sector.
Whether it is on stage or from behind the drawing board, Sarah’s desire to absorb and capture narratives has been, and continues to be, a prevalent force within her professional life. Departing from traditional conceptions of textile design, Sarah’s work is motivated by the belief that even the smallest or seemingly insignificant object can provide inspiration for a unique design piece.
Whether the client is setting up a new venture, or simply refreshing existing finishes, Sarah can create bespoke, visually rich fabrics which can be used for almost anything – from upholstery on lampshades, chairs and cushions to framed pictures or murals – using image manipulation and digital printing.
“I want to change the perception that textile design needs to feature a check, flower, pattern, stripe or a swirl, when actually it could be the contents of someone’s handbag, or the view from their window, or a domestic scrap of their diary, or even a combination of things they’ve bought shopping,” she says.
Textile design is, you could say, in Sarah’s blood. Her great-great-great grandfather William Ball set up specialist warp knitting firm, Baltex, in Derbyshire in 1830 – a company that continues to thrive today in the design, manufacture and supply of high performance technical textiles.
“Textiles was never a question for me – it goes back through the generations of my family,” she affirms. “I think textiles are fundamentally part of what we are and how we operate really – it’s a brilliant vehicle and medium to bring people to life.”
Aside from her natural propensity for capturing these narratives through her designs, Sarah has dedicated several years to formal training in the sector – a considerable undertaking whilst raising a family.
“I went back to college after having had a couple of children, and started right back at the beginning doing a Foundation in Art and Design. I then went on to do an HND in Fine Art, before studying for a BA in Textiles at St Martin’s,” she explains.
Following her professional training, Sarah spent 18 months refining her business plans, making key contacts in the industry, and embracing every opportunity to design.
One such project was The Boat House Cafe in Oxfordshire – a Grade II Listed structure for which Sarah contributed an all-encompassing interior scheme, from the furnishings right through to the branding itself. This significant commission in some respects confirmed the pull of the hospitality world for Sarah, as well as affirming that there was a gap in the market for her specific creative approach.
“It’s the element of theatre that interests me about the hospitality industry,” she explains. “I started working in the hotel sector because it’s a bigger arena for interior design, you’ve got that customer care, and you’ve got that show – a sort of magic and glamour really which I suppose matches theatre. I’m a show girl at heart!”
Hospitality spaces are coming more and more to represent a site of creative freedom and experimentation for designers, and the variety and spirit of differentiation within the boutique hotel sector marries particularly well with Sarah’s design philosophy.
“Boutique hoteliers are incredibly versatile people, they deal with an absolute myriad of tasks – everything from the food and the chef to the service and the presentation, their team, finance and interior design. And because of this they’re open and broad-minded people that I believe are intrinsically creative,” she says.
Committed to bringing the quirks and characteristics of a particular space or brand to light, Sarah emphasises the importance of an active and collaborative process with her clients.
“The process starts off very informally. It’s a case of having a chat and finding out what it is that they’re most proud of and what it is that’s perhaps tucked away in a drawer. My conversations always start verbally and end up with them excitedly taking me to look at something in a bedroom or a view out the window. It’s a very active process and it’s also a case of giving the client a space within which to enjoy that creative process,” she says.
“They have all this knowledge of their building and their business, and it’s just extracting that from them and saying ‘do your customers know that? How can we communicate that?’ ‘Let’s take those golden nuggets of history and interest and make something entirely unique from them’.”
The trend towards infusing a sense of locality within a hotel’s interior scheme is certainly taking off in a big way, and Sarah’s innovative approach to enhancing or in some cases reimagining the way in which guests connect with their destination is an important one.
As well as keeping those who will experience a space in mind, however, Sarah is also fascinated by the human process of creating the venue in the first instance.
“Sometimes these projects can take years and years to develop and build, and what actually started it all off was an architect at a drawing board with notes discussing the project,” she explains. “It came from human activity and it’s turned into an enormous great building and that’s great, but let’s rewind seven or eight years and look at the notes from those very early meetings and have a look through the files or the plans/permissions.
“There’s all sorts of paperwork which I think is really useful and interesting to use, which again doesn’t normally constitute textile design.”
With these unique designs in mind, The Independent Hotel Show provided the perfect stage upon which to launch Sarah’s business, Sarah Burgard Designs.
“It really was such a good platform to announce the business to people that otherwise wouldn’t have come across my work,” she says. “We were talking to people all day every day and my stand seemed to catch the attention of open minded people with a passion for design and interiors. What I do is unusual, it’s eye-catching, and it doesn’t look like normal stuff – which is exactly what I wanted to be.
“I’m proud that I’ve since been contacted by all sorts of exciting people, both really small boutique hotels, as well as the big architectural firms that have an interior design arm in London. It’s a really wide range and a fantastic opportunity, because I don’t have one way of working. I could work for three hotels next door to each other and they’d all have completely different products.”
Sarah’s versatility, and her passion for creating something entirely unique from unexpected or alternative sources certainly make her a valuable resource for those looking to create an authentic and individual interior. After all, everyone has a story worth telling ...