Sara Eliason in her living room. Mid-century Danish leather armchair from Uncommon Objects, Austin. Brass deco side table from The Guild Shop. Vintage coffee table from from Amelia Tarbet in Austin.
In Sara Eliason’s studio, a tumbleweed found during a treasure hunting session in West Texas. Encaustic artwork in progress by Eliason.
Victorian cloche from August Antiques holds a wire branch with millinery flowers.
Materials palette for a current design project.
In a child’s room is a desk from August Antiques. Vintage truck and tank are estate sale finds.
The dining-room walls are painted Benjamin Moore White Dove. Cobra candlestick from Uncommon Objects. Vintage Thomasville table from Lynn Goode. Ceramic bowl by Sharon Engelstein. Vintage Victorian cloches in background.
Handmade lamp by Sara Eliason. Vintage Sarreid Ltd. bull from Amelia Tarbet, Austin. Vintage chairs are flea-market finds.
White ceramic bowl by Sharon Englestein brims with found treasures.
Sara Eliason in her studio. Wall painted Benjamin Moore Black 01. Painting by Lowell Collins, from William Reaves Gallery
Sara Eliason obsesses about color. “No matter where I am, I’m always trying to correct the color to create a more harmonious environment,” she says.
A professional colorist and designer in Houston, Eliason consults with residential and commercial clients, interior designers, architects and builders. “I’m one of those people who are highly sensitive to color. Things that are slightly annoying for others are really palpable for me.”
Picking the right hue for the mood has become her life’s work. A fine artist who cut her chops with Benjamin Moore as a color consultant — she helped roll out its all-natural paint line, Aura — Eliason has specified color for just about every type of surface, including customized grout.
“Every detail and hue is a part of the visual narrative,” she says. Color can be fun, but it’s also serious stuff. Pick the wrong one, and it can make you unhappy at home or less productive at work.
Eliason took the TED stage recently to talk on the topic, explaining how the manipulation of color in buildings isn’t just cosmetic; it can also create order, harmony and happiness. Her own home — a 1979 condo near River Oaks that she shares with her two children, Michael Connell and Everett Cooney — is rendered in subdued tones of black, white, gray and gold, similar to her preferred style of dress. It’s subtle for what a colorist’s living environment and sartorial statement might be, but at this stage of her life she’s traded a shout for a whisper.
“Color is a lot like music; it can be very stimulating,” she says. “The older I get, I like to live with less and less color, so that it’s more of a sanctuary.”
Eliason spent her formative years in Alaska, surrounded by wilderness. “Nature really influenced me as a kid,” she says — and it still does.
Her place is filled with richly figured and rustic wood furniture, natural linen and worn leather upholstery. She decorates with found elements from the natural world, such as wasps nests, naturally shed horn, tortoise shell and feathers. There’s a bowl of delicate, dreamy items such as broken bird eggs and millinery flowers displayed under a Victorian cloche. The natural world can take many forms — vivid greenery, a field of red poppies, a blazing azure sky — but Eliason is attracted to the quiet side of nature, with its pale and solemn tones.
Her love for the nuances of understated hues makes her suited for choosing the most challenging paint color on Earth: White. “One of my greatest inspirations is Donald Kaufman,” she says, referring to the founder of the famous New York-based hue house Donald Kaufman Color. “He’ll go into an art gallery and paint every wall a slightly different shade of white. That’s my ethos. To me, it’s the layers and the nuances that makes color so wonderful.”
Ruth Davis, co-owner of the Houston retail store Found, hired Eliason to help select the wall colors for her new house in River Oaks when she became overwhelmed searching for the right shade of white. “I felt like I’d gone through 50 cans of white paint,” says Davis. “It’s scary picking a color when the finishes and flooring are not in yet. But Sara looked at the fabrics and furniture choices we had, and in a very short time put us in the right direction. She can tell if there’s too much blue or pink in a color just by looking at it.”
In the end, Eliason settled on Benjamin Moore Cloud Cover. She also helped Davis choose bright color surprises, such as royal blue for the inside of the butler’s pantry, a funky green for the coat closet’s interior and eggplant for the powder bath.
At Eliason’s studio, the walls are painted Benjamin Moore Black. “I’m very much interested in black as negative space,”she says. “It helps me when I can look at materials, design work and art projects against it.” Black can be surprisingly restful, she says, but it’s not for everyone. “I painted a client’s space inky black, and it is incredibly calming.”
She cites the Rothko Chapel, with its black canvases, as an example. “If you’re comfortable in your own skin, then that space is so peaceful. But if you haven’t wrestled with your demons yet, the chapel is a very difficult space to be in.”
So how do you find the color that speaks to you? “Everyone has a specific and unique color palette, not just what looks good on them, but what feels good. We tend to gravitate towards colors. Look at the cues around you. We buy cars and clothes in the same color.
“We gravitate toward the same things over and over. That’s the baseline of what makes you happiest.”