Sarah Kay | Designer Of The Month

Sarah Kay has been designing and making things in wood since studying fine cabinet making and furniture design at Parnham College in Dorset. She first set up her design and making practice in Hackney in 1996. Today she splits her time between London and the south-west of France. Once part of the renowned partnership Kay+Stemmer, her first collaboration with SCP in 2007 resulted in the Agnes collection. Since setting up her own studio, Sarah has designed the Quick-step stool for SCP, as well as the Pyxis range that she made as part of SCP Editions in 2015. Sarah’s reputation rests on sensitive, carefully considered design which has a quiet, timeless appeal; the objective being longevity through quality design and craftsmanship. For the SCP 2019 Collection,  Sarah Kay has created Jethro, a solid oak dining table and bench, which are based on the classic barn table and bench, but are elevated through intricate and beautiful woodworking details. We caught up with Sarah Kay to talk about her personal approach to life, inspiration, and design:

Where do you live?
I live in both East London and the south of France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

How have your design principles influenced your home?
The house in France is a classic ‘project’ i.e. we’re restoring a semi-derelict stone house which is taking far longer and far more money than we imagined. But if we’d known we might not have bought it, so no regrets really. The fact that it is taking so long means that it has developed very organically, it’s not as homogenous as our flat in London which is small and was well planned to be functional and maximise the limited space – it was refurbished in about 6 weeks. I enjoyed the challenge of getting the most out of a small space.

How have your views on design changed since you began your career?
I studied fine furniture making at Parnham College and I didn’t immediately realise how rudimentary my design skills were when I left. When I realised that I needed to educate myself my views evolved constantly.

What have you learnt?
That I will never be able to design just by drawing something, I need to make – it might be a detail only or even just a cardboard mock-up, but I need the 3D element.

Where do you seek inspiration?
I don’t really seek it. It’s absorbed by osmosis everywhere. Architecture, art, nature, materials, all the usual suspects.

How do you begin working on a project?
I write a brief – it might be something I need to share with a private client, or if I’m working on a project for SCP for example (where the briefs are notoriously vague!), I’ll just write it for myself. It might be just a list of associations with the objective but it helps give me focus

What do you prefer to work with? Computer? Pencil? Pen?
They all have a valid role.

How do you reconcile design with consumerism?
The design, materials and making need to have integrity. Longevity is the best answer I think.

What is the one thing that every home needs?
A bathroom.

What could you not live without?
Water and love.

What is your favourite material to work with?
Well, wood is what I know more about so I’m comfortable with it. Which kind of wood depends on what I’m doing. Sycamore is a dream to sculpt for example.

If you were asked to give the world a single piece of advice, what would it be?
I don’t think I lead a very good example but the message is loud and clear, we need to change the way we abuse the planet and each other.

What next?
I’ve found a small bronze foundry near where I live in France and this summer I’m going to experiment. Since I work alone I actively look for collaborations, it’s enriching and always leads to something unexpected.

Thanks to Sarah for giving us the time. Here’s to a lot more years of successful collaboration.

Browse Sarah Kay’s designs for SCP here.