Design Changemakers 2021: Sarai Reed is Reclaiming the Art of Homemaking, Starting With Her Own Space
The Apartment Therapy Design Changemakers Class of 2021 is made up of 24 of the most talented and dynamic people in the design world. We asked an assortment of last year’s Design Changemakers and Apartment Therapy staffers (and you!) to tell us who we needed to spotlight — see the rest of the list here.
Who: Sarai Reed, home consultant and lifestyle blogger
Nominated by: You!
Where to follow her: Instagram
Why Reed is part of the Class of 2021: For the 2021 Reader Pick, we asked you, Apartment Therapy readers, to nominate up-and-coming designers, entrepreneurs, and personalities making a huge impact in the world of design — and you seriously delivered. After looking through all of your submissions, we selected Sarai Reed, the empowering home consultant behind Apron Saint with the coziest mid-century modern and plant-filled condo in Washington, D.C. Through her consultations, Reed helps people make their homes more functional and brim with warm, welcoming vibes. And on Instagram, she regularly drops wisdom like, “Let’s normalize loving and thanking your space not for how it looks, but for what it does for you.”
For as long as she can remember, Sarai Reed has moved around the furniture in her bedroom at least once a quarter, and as often as once a month. It’s a common childhood trait among design professionals, but Reed took it to the next level: “I wasn’t just rearranging the room; I was making these detailed drawings that were to scale in my notebook, and planning out what I wanted to do with my room and then executing it,” she says.
It’s no wonder, then, that Reed now helps other people rearrange their spaces, or that she has been working toward completing a vision for her own home for three years now. Her fascination with assembling domestic spaces comes from a specific place. “My ethos is about reclaiming the art of homemaking, in the context of me being a Black woman,” she says. “[Homemaking] is an art that has been co-opted over centuries by rich white women.”
To her, successful homemaking means curating a space that feels homey to whomever is in it. “Being able to walk into someone’s house and take your shoes off and flop down on their sofa and feel immediately like you belong there is something that you don’t experience too often,” she says. “It’s something that you know when you see it, but you might take it for granted. The person who that space belongs to intentionally curated those feelings for you. A space doesn’t just feel homey; someone has to make it feel that way.”
Apartment Therapy: What were your design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?
Sarai Reed: The women in my family have great taste when it comes to decorating a home. My mom, my grandmothers, my aunts, they all are great at that. I was surrounded by well-curated spaces. And also, I come from a family of entertainers. When you’re going to bring people into your space, obviously, you care a lot about how it looks, but also how it feels to be there.
Now I’m inspired by all of the spaces that I spend time in, whether that’s an Airbnb or a hotel or a restaurant I happen to be eating at, I’m always looking at things. I also spend a lot of time scrolling [Instagram], I’m on Pinterest, and I’m always sort of collecting ideas in my head.
AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2020, and why?
SR: That’s hard. Because 2020 has been a project. It’s just been one thing after the other. But I have spent a lot of time on my home this year, because I have spent a lot of time at home this year. It started with painting the bedroom. We updated some of our furniture and we’ve moved some things around. I created a little work-from-home nook for myself, when I realized that my work was sort of taking over the living room, which is, of course, not fair to my girlfriend, April, who I live with. Right now we’re working on our kitchen, which I’m really excited about, because I had sort of a list of things that I wanted to get to before three years were up in this place.
AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?
SR: Mid-century, minimal, and green.
AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?
SR: When you say piece, it makes me think about furniture. My favorite piece of furniture that I have in my house is a Broyhill credenza that I use as a media console. And I got it on Craigslist four or five years ago, for a steal, and the guy even dropped it off at my house. It was just the greatest thing. I feel like that piece is now a precious family heirloom of mine, like it’s going to be in every home that I ever live in. And it speaks to me because it’s from Craigslist — ultimately, I have Champagne taste on a Sprite budget, so Craigslist is where I look to do a lot of my secondhand furniture shopping.
AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?
SR: My girlfriend definitely makes me feel at home. I moved in three years ago, but it didn’t really start to feel like home until she started coming around. And we also have a puppy who probably merits a shout-out. His name is Lambo, as in Lamborghini. We’ve filled our space with the things we love, the books we love, the plants we love, music that we love. Anytime I come home, the room just sort of shouts all of those things back at me.
AT: How do you think the past year will impact the design world moving forward?
SR: On social media, I’m seeing a lot of Black people and people of color in the design industry really demanding more of the industry and of brands. We are really starting to insist upon representation in a way that I haven’t noticed previously in my lifetime.
AT: How has 2020 changed your perspective on or approach to your work?
SR: I think that, working in my home, I have a little bit more time in the day — even though it doesn’t always feel that way.
I’m growing a business, but I also have another career that I really love: I am a full-time sixth-grade English teacher. In 2020, I won’t say that it [felt] like there [was] more time; I have made more time for this work — design — and showcasing some of what I’m working on, on Instagram, which takes up a lot of my time. Working at home, I’ve been able to multitask more, and so I’ve been able to just put more of my time and energy into this. People [working from home] are fortunate enough to have some autonomy in how they structure their day now.
AT: Any big plans for 2021 or beyond you can share with us?
SR: So right now I’m talking to you from an Airbnb, because we are having our kitchen renovated. And this is huge. I bought my condo when I was 24 years old, and as soon as I walked into the space, I had visions of what it could be.
Having a kitchen that reflects my love of cooking — and my love of hosting by extension of that — is going to be amazing. I’m really excited to bring more kitchen content.
AT: What, in your mind, is the power of good design?
SR: The power of good design is spaces that reflect the people who live in them, and use them. It brings people together.
AT: There’s already a big responsibility without a pandemic, but knowing that people are spending so much more time at home, what does your interior design consultation business look like?
SR: One thing that has come out of the pandemic has been that I’m doing [interior design] consultations virtually now. So I’ll have folks register online, send me a few photos of their space, answer a questionnaire, and then we’ll sit down and talk for 45 minutes and try to address their main areas of concern. The fact that I’m doing it virtually has allowed me to work with more people than I otherwise would be, because of access. Those calls are a lot of fun and very rewarding. It’s a lot of problem-solving. Getting to do that online with people that I otherwise might not get to meet is great.
AT: Have you seen any change in the way that people view their space? How has the tone of those conversations shifted now that people are spending so much more time at home?
SR: Well, two things. One, I think that people are putting more time and resources than ever before into what their particular space looks like.
And our spaces feel smaller than ever before, because they have to hold so much of our life. People might be feeling a little cramped in their space, because we’re used to coming and going, not spending every waking moment within four walls. So it’s added an urgency to people just wanting to feel more at home.
AT: You have a lot of plants in your home. How did that come to be? And what role do you feel the plants play in that homeyness of your space?
SR: I think it boils down to having something alive in your home besides yourself. Just literally bringing life in. And I think that having something to take care of will make you feel at home if you weren’t already feeling that. I have things in here that I need to take care of so I need to be here. And it’s a reciprocal relationship, me and my space: I take care of my space — and the plants in it by extension — and it takes care of me.
Interview has been edited and condensed.