Filling in the Blank

Sarah Blank says that any good designer or architect must have an excellent understanding of space. That may seem obvious, except that sometimes it’s the answers to the simplest questions that reveal just how much we may or may not know. And with 40 years’ experience as a kitchen designer—one who has worked on a multitude of projects, and often on more than just kitchens—Sarah’s ability to transform a home, all while keeping it practical, is truly remarkable.

Sarah started her design studio business in 1981 in Fairfield County, where she began specializing in kitchens. (“I always loved architecture, but I somehow ended up going to interior design school,” she tells me.) Quickly, she realized there was a lot more to a kitchen than cabinets. “Yes, there’s the functional part,” she explains, “but the aesthetic part of it really comes from the architectural aspects of a home—and the kitchen has to be integrated into the architecture.”

Clearly, there’s a delicate balance between incorporating a kitchen into the original architecture of a home and making sure that it’s extremely functional … and fitting in appliances with fixed sizes that sometimes aren’t user friendly to the proportions of the room. “You’re always tweaking to make sure that once you understand the room itself, that all the dimensions work—and it’s harmonious.”

That sentiment goes for other rooms in the home as well. During a phone call, Sarah tells me about a project she recently worked on in Palm Beach, at an apartment in a condominium complex. This apartment, while filled with large floor-to-ceiling windows, had no light coming in from the sides. “It was all windows in the front and back; we had to get more light.” She racked her brain and thought of a solution. 

“The way it was built—it had all these large walls, so we designed etched glass walls and sliding glass doors to let the light in.” She then took those walls and removed them, which made the living room and kitchen wider. Light now filled the room—and there was more space. After the project, Sarah’s client brought in three architects; one said Sarah had aptly solved the problem many people had in this condominium. 

Although she has completed projects in many cities, the Sarah Blank Design Studio works mainly in Greenwich, a town filled with wonderful estate homes that date back to the 1920s—with some even built in the late 1800s. “You have Carrère and Hastings, you have Mott B. Schmidt—really wonderful architectural names. And one of the things about Greenwich is there’s something about this community that really respects its history.”

Sarah recognizes that there’s so much involved in good design, and the ability to visualize what a kitchen or room is going to look like. “I know where there’s going to be trouble; my mind becomes an encyclopedia of past experiences. People will express what they want and I’m going back into my library and pulling out thoughts and idea—keeping a homeowner in mind, but also resale value.”

Sarah’s mindset and knowledge has allowed her business to thrive. Sarah says that education is extremely important, too. (She is involved in both the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and the Decorators Club of Manhattan, where she has worked on the education committee, giving scholarships to students for interior design schools in Manhattan.) “You’re born with the direction you’re going to take,” she says when asked about if design is a skillset you inherit or are taught. “But then,” she says, thinking back on her own education and practices, “you really fine tune it.”