THERE’S NO BETTER WAY TO DISCOVER AN INTERIOR DESIGNER’S TRUE STYLE THAN TO EXPLORE WHERE HE OR SHE LIVES. SARA COSGROVE ON HER CAREER AND WHAT IT’S LIKE TO FOCUS, AT LAST, ON HER OWN HOME …
Sara Cosgrove’s career in interior design began with an internship with John Rocha when he was designing The Morrison Hotel. While Cosgrove crocheted shoes for Rocha’s London catwalk fashion show, she tuned in to what was happening elsewhere in the studio. “I thought, ah, that’s where the fun is,” she says. Her interest in interiors was further encouraged when while helping out McMurray Carpets in Connemara (now Connemara Carpets), a commission came in to design linen carpets for Bruce Willis’ beach house in the Turks & Caicos. “Due to the humidity in Parrot Cay they wanted pure linen carpets and this small factory in the west of Ireland was the only one which could handmake and customise them.” During a conversation with the actor’s interior designer, he told her if she wanted to pursue a career in interior design, she must train in London. She took that advice, secured a place at KLC School of Design in Chelsea Harbour, the location also home to the biggest collective of interior design brands in the world. Now, almost 20 years on, the Sara Cosgrove Studio London is established there. She is on the KLC alumni board and this year has been chosen to design the champagne bar at international interiors showcase Decorex, an honour that signifies her success and respect from the industry.
Part of Cosgrove’s official role at KLC is to work on an accreditation framework for designers, currently lacking in the profession. Her training was in pre-CAD days, so every student had to be able to draw to scale. This grounding led to roles at Allegra Hicks and Helen Green among others before she joined luxury property firm Candy & Candy, known for their trophy houses and lavish developments and where she spent three years designing the most luxe of the luxe 30,000sq ft penthouse apartments and a superyacht. “It was a parallel universe,” she says. “I travelled the world.” In 2009 she took up a role as chief designer at Harrods, with then owner Mohammed Al Fayed selecting her as the person to spearhead the department store’s interior design service for clients. Al Fayed, she says, considered interior design his true calling. “It was his real joy. With his support, we built a team of 42; I found myself in the Middle East for a week every month.”
A magnet for any global wealth that remained in the world after the global recession, London was attracting a new influx of investors, and projects became abundant and lavish. In 2014, Cosgrove left Harrods (“people say you stay there five years or 35 years”) to establish her own studio. It wasn’t long before she was approached to oversee the redesign of 64 hotels for a European chain. “I was on four planes and three trains a week,” she says. By this point Cosgrove had married Damien, and her first baby was on the way. It was time to rethink. She recalls that it was only after Lochlann was born, in 2017, that she and Damien actually got to live together. Establishing a studio in Ireland was the obvious next move. “I could see the potential, and the amazing opportunities.”
The Sara Cosgrove Studio Dublin now comprises a team of eight. The work is varied, from private residences, boutique developments and five-star hotels to large luxury commercial projects. As many of her projects involve her network of UK suppliers, Brexit, she says, presents ongoing challenges. “I was devastated about Brexit. It has caused major problems for many of our suppliers, many of them have worked very hard to keep their European business in spite of the obstacles.”
The past year has shown Cosgrove that she can lead her operation in London without needing to be there quite as often as before, or for as long.
“Virtual meetings, even virtual site meetings, work far better than we expected. They are extremely efficient.” The restrictions on travel have given her back some spare time, and the mental space to regard her house as a longterm project. “I am learning to resist the familiar urge to move on. I like to think my future includes taking on the romance of a ruin, but that’s another day’s work. Home doesn’t need to be work!”
Photographs by Simon Watson
The sitting room is decorated in Cosgrove’s favourite palette of blues and greys. The armchairs were made to her design and upholstered in a Rubelli velvet.
A pair of acrylic pieces by artist Fionnuala Ní Chiosáin hang either side of the fireplace. The accessories are from a mix of sources, the large coffee table in brass and shagreen is from London, the rug from www.rugs.ie, the blue and white lamps from Paris and the drinks cabinet from her parents’ house in Co Mayo.
The overmantel mirror is from Artemist.
The dining room has a traditional air and features an old mahogany dining table and chairs found at auction. A table in the window serves as both card table and desk. The wall paint colour is Peignoir by Farrow & Ball; the ceiling Silk Seal by Colourtrend; the chandelier is by Pooky.
The kitchen has a Saarinen-style table surrounded by blue velvet upholstered dining chairs: “It’s practically unheard of to have velvet chairs in a kitchen, especially with children but these are a contract-grade wipeable velvet, very practical,” says Cosgrove. The curtains too are an unusual choice, muslins with frill detailing. “They create a soft light in the evening.”
The walls are painted in Parma Grey, the cabinetry in Borrowed Light and the mustard in the door frame is Baboush; all by Farrow & Ball.
The fretwork wardrobe in the master bedroom, designed by Cosgrove, was inspired by an old trellis in one of her garden books. It is lined in linen.
The upholstered silk screens were designed by Cosgrove.
On the landing, a jardinière from Mullens Antiques and a painted console from Brissi, London. The curtains are in a Rubelli silk with a patterned leading edge.