Sara Story. (Photo by Taylor Jewell)
Sara Story's Hill Country Home: The limestone façade of a guest house.
In a living area at SK Ranch, a René Gabriel chair and vintage Lucite side tables.
Slotted pivot doors at an SK Ranch guest house. Custom table by Sara Story Design.
In a bedroom, bed is by Jim Zivic Design, vintage lacquer side table and vintage light fixture.
In the living room, custom table by Sara Story Design, a Thomas Ruff photograph and Studio Drift light fixture.
From the steps leaving the guest house, a view of the pool house.
Hill Country vista from the pool.
In the pool house at SK Ranch, table by Sara Story Design and Richard Neutra side chairs.
At the main house, limestone steps lead to the second floor.
View from the main house.
Sara Story Design
Wallpaper by Sara Story Design in Bora Bora
Wallpaper by Sara Story Design in Vienna
Houston native Sara Story’s booming NYC-based international design practice put her on the global map years ago. A former protégé of Victoria Hagan, with a master’s in interior architecture and a namesake firm in Manhattan, Story has projects in Aspen, the Hamptons, Central Park West, Beverly Hills, Singapore and beyond. She has two wallpaper collections represented through Holland & Sherry, and a lighting and furniture collection in the early stages of discussion. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Veranda and Vogue Living, among other publications. But the Sara Story Design breakthrough was in 2014, when Architectural Digest devoted 12 pages to the strikingly contemporary Hill Country ranch house she created for her young family with architecture firm Lake/Flato. She had just turned 40.
“It was a huge sense of accomplishment because I’d always wanted to be in AD,” says Story of the 500-acre ranch that abuts an even larger spread owned by her father, London-based SOCO International oil-and-gas baron Ed Story and his wife, Joey, located in the Hill Country outside Austin. For their daughter, building SK Ranch (its name formed by the initials of Sara and her husband, Ken) wasn’t just another prestigious feather in her cap; it was her refuge. “I love New York, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. But I need to leave frequently,” she says with a laugh. “Texas is where I go to recharge.” Story was born in Japan and grew up in Singapore and Houston. She’s a grad of Memorial High School and remains close to her Houston pals. Her sister Katie Story lives in Dallas and is managing director of the global investment firm Forza Partners. “Texas is home for sure,” Story says.
It’s not uncommon for all seven bedrooms at the ranch to be filled with friends and family, including her husband, hedge-fund mogul Kenneth Garschina, their daughter Dagny and sons Edward and Duke. When friends from California come out (her undergrad degree is from the University of San Diego, and her master’s is from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco), they often spill over onto her dad’s property next door. “The ranch is all about family and spending time with people I love,” says Story, who loves to hit the hard-scrabble trails hiking and riding, much as she did as a child on the property her parents owned. Her own ranch is home to animals both domesticated and wild, including llama, sheep, chickens, turkeys, javelinas and white-tailed deer, and has all the amenities of a rambling Texas homestead, but without the cliché. More Mies than Marfa, the tennis court’s sleek stacked limestone and cedar pavilion is outfitted with a Gloster sectional sofa and cocktail tables, a spectacular infinity edge pool is circled by B&B Italia chaises, and the breathtaking glass pool house takes inspiration from van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavilion. The two-story L-shaped main house harbors contemporary New York and Texas art (she’s on the board of Ballroom Marfa, the contemporary art foundation and gallery), as well as Danish lighting, custom furnishings of her own creation and vintage classics by mid-century masters Eileen Gray, Thonet and Pace Collection. A modernist showplace in the rugged Texas hills to be sure, the ranch is nonetheless a home away from home. “I want my children to feel like Texas is part of their blood, because the quality of life in Texas is so great. The people are genuine, down-to-earth, honest and hardworking. We’re tough in a way — we can go hiking, get dirty and be strong. I always tell people, ‘Texas is so good for the kids’, but my friends are always reminding me, ‘It’s so good for you, too.’”
YOU SPENT PART OF YOUR CHILDHOOD IN SINGAPORE, AND WE HEAR YOU PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP POLO THERE— ON ELEPHANTS.
I’ve been playing elephant polo in Thailand at the King’s Cup for about 10 years. Sara Story Design has a team each year. It’s great fun, full of characters from all over the world. The goal is to raise money to give elephants a safe place to live and raise awareness for their preservation. My father spends a lot of his life in Asia. It’s a fun way to spend time with him, spend time in Asia with my kids and experience the beautiful culture and customs.
TOP TAKEAWAY FROM YOUR TIME WORKING WITH VICTORIA HAGAN.
Victoria Hagan taught me how important it is to run a professional business. Being an interior designer is incredibly creative, but you have to run your projects and business in an efficient and productive manner. There are a lot of schedules and budgets to adhere to execute a project well.
I toured Villa Müller in Prague and I was transfixed with Adolf Loos’ use of scale, finishes, colors and materials. Each room felt so wonderful in size, and the use of marbles, lighting, rich colors and wallpaper was fantastic. I love incorporating saturated colors, whimsical lighting and playful wallpaper. As designers, we are creators of atmosphere — this is something I think about a lot when designing a space. All the pieces need to come together to create a fabulous whole.
YOU’VE INCLUDED LIGHTING AND FURNITURE BY FINNISH AND DANISH DESIGNERS IN YOUR PROJECTS. SOME FAVORITES?
I admire Paavo Tynell, Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl and Ole Wanscher, as well as contemporary European designers Studio Drift, Hay and Scholten & Baijings.
ARTISTS WHOSE WORK YOU LOVE.
Sterling Ruby, Neo Rauch, Sarah Lucas and Jim Lambie are a few contemporary artists that inspire my work. I’m always going to gallery openings and museum shows, which are an endless source of inspiration. Seeing their use of materials, understanding their mediums, forms and thought processes is energizing and motivational.
YOU’RE SO STYLISH. DOES FASHION INFLUENCE YOUR WORK?
Some of my favorite fashion designers are Phoebe Philo for Céline and Raf Simons — particularly when he was at Christian Dior. I also love Rag & Bone, James Perse and Helmut Lang. Designers new and old inspire my design. The vintage images of Christian Dior couture are breathtaking — the forms, colors and textures are magnificent.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FATHER’S STORE IN COMFORT, TEXAS.
It’s called The Elephant Story. It’s a not-for-profit store to raise awareness and funds for elephant preservation. They have all sorts of interesting textiles, jewelry, objects and pieces from around the world.
THE LAST THING YOU BOUGHT FOR YOUR GRAMERCY PARK TOWNHOUSE IN NYC.
A cool coconut light fixture by Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker. It’s fantastic and adds so much personality to our living room. It’s quite large at 5 feet long and is made from ceramic molds of coconuts. Everyone comments on it!
LAST THING YOU BOUGHT FOR THE RANCH.
I just hung one of my favorite paintings today in our living room in Texas: a painting by Neo Rauch, a German artist whose surrealist works are mesmerizing. The colors add so much vigor to the space. It makes me incredibly happy! I love introducing my children to art and living with art.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW WALLPAPER COLLECTION.
It’s influenced by travels with my family. Vienna’s large-scale fan-shaped flowers are inspired by the Wiener Werkstätte. Bora Bora’s patterns reference the tropical blooms of the South Pacific. Bandol refers to the seaside region in Provence where the Mourvèdre grape is grown. It’s the foundation of rosé wines and the fields where it’s harvested are filled with flowers. Hana’s line and wave patterns are influenced by the ocean and topography from the eastern end of Maui, which is pristine and almost untouched. It’s block- and screen-printed in India on organic paper.