Vancouver-based designer Sahra Samnani approaches design with an eye for much, much more than aesthetics. Equally as important as the simple, clean lines of her individual take on minimalism is her keen understanding of the way in which space can inform life. From organizational layout to the placement of personal belongings, our interiors impact our moods, our behaviour, our thought processes. Samnani’s approach is one we’d describe as holistic, a practice that works from the inside out and places a lot of value on personal well-being.
We recently spoke with Samnani to learn more about her firm, its latest evolutionary offshoot, and a collaboration with Oak + Fort. And as for her own home — well, it may just surprise you!
You’ve described the approach of your firm, SMD, as “comfortable minimalism.” We often think of comfort as softness; how do you apply a philosophy of comfort to a style largely associated with sleek lines and sparseness? What’s your unique approach?
I was originally drawn to minimalism for its unique ability to distil everyday spaces into their modest essential elements. I thought it was the most fantastic thing — let’s bring everything down to its bones and observe how much excess these spaces really take part in. While working with just bones is beautiful, I noticed that it lacked a bit of what makes life amazing — those special details, ornamentations, moments, memories, etc. Through what we call comfortable minimalism, we bring everything down to its most essential, and then from there add meaningful bits and bobs. These “bits and bobs” or “moments” usually come from the clients’ personal stories. The “comfortable” we are referring to relates more to the “personal touch” in the space.
How did you arrive at a personal aesthetic as a designer? Do you feel that your sensibilities have been informed by design movements that preceded minimalism?
I was fascinated by the idea of removing all excess; I thought a simple long line and clean white wall were so beautiful and quiet. In a world where we have so much, what a wonderful thing to pull away from that and focus upon simplicity, quietness, and softness. To me, minimalism is a soft expression of life; it’s a gentle look at what is important and what is not. I think that my point of view in design really came from seeing the amount of excess in the industry. Flipping through magazines and seeing pages where we encouraged people to buy “trend” items like a new pillow colour, etc., really began to eat at me. I began to question why we were encouraging waste and disingenuous purchasing. Why we all needed to have a strange statue we found at a store on sale to just fill an empty spot in our homes. I wondered why “empty”—or “simple,” in my view—was so bad? Why did we all need to have this year’s “colour trend” or pattern? It was through minimalism that I found relief from this excess. However, over the years I have begun to really let go of the sort of strict minimalism I used to follow, allowing aesthetics to be directed by my clients’ personal stories, values, and passions.
You’re a Vancouver-based designer. Are there design trends you encounter through your practice that you would identify as unique to that city?
Again, I have a real problem with trends! I love movements. I think right now our practice and many around us are trying to push the movement of less waste — more focus on well-being, personalizing homes for our own unique hobbies, passions, and families. It is my goal this 2020 to really push for
the industry to move away from trend and trend objects, and for us to focus on well-being in the interior environment. How can we craft a space so people can feel less anxiety in it? How can we tune your home to tailor to your specific hobbies? How can we slightly tweak the things you already own so you fall in love with them again? How can we set an atmosphere in your space so that you feel a sense of tranquility, joy, and comfort?
In 2018, you created the re.program through h.t.be, an evolution of SMD. How would you describe this new initiative?
Our move from SMD to h.t.be really came from a discovery of my love for understanding how we live. I am fascinated by the way almost everyone lives; I love catching glimpses into people’s homes. I love to see how we all interact with space, how we craft it to be our own. Over the years, and through personal experience, I began to notice that people wanted to have better-feeling homes. They perhaps didn’t have the income to redesign and do a large overhaul of their space, but they wanted to feel better, and they wanted their space to be a part of that. We designed re.program to help people take the space they currently have and turn it into something that functions really well for them — a space they can feel ease, pride, and joy in. Re.program is an affordable way to get professional advice on how to curate and shape your space to suit your specific needs.
Were there key factors that influenced this shift in focus or was it an organic evolution?
As I mentioned, my personal experiences played a big role in the shift from SMD to h.t.be. I really began to question my purpose in design; was I just here to create beautiful, minimalist spaces? Or perhaps I had something more to share. While I love a beautiful space, what I love more is a space that feels amazing. Have you ever been to someone’s home, and it may not be your aesthetic preference but it feels cosy? Comfortable? Relaxing? That atmosphere is what I have become somewhat obsessed with, that sense of well-being in a space that, from my experience, often has little to do with aesthetics and more to do with the rituals created by individuals curating the space.
You’ve described one purpose of h.t.be as to teach people the art of “being”, of rituals and living well. This will definitely resonate with our readers as our magazine’s key mission is to promote “the art of living well”! What does living well look like for you on a personal level?
Being is simply us consciously partaking in life. Well-being is us taking part in life in a manner that positively serves us. The path of well-being in my opinion is the very conscious choice of choosing actions, rituals, thoughts, environments, etc. that positively impact us. Well-being, for me, is this conscious way of living where thoughtfulness is at the forefront of my daily practices. The wonderful thing about well-being is that it is so individual. Our understanding of what it means to “be” in our lives and what makes us feel “well” is, in my opinion, one of the most important journeys an individual can take in this lifetime. From this understanding, we can begin to craft a set of unique and personalized rituals that, when we are not feeling so great, will always bring us back to that sense of well-being (joy, harmony, peace, love, etc.).
I have a deep love for all things related to home, and home living. Therefore many of my personal rituals revolve around the tending to my home. For example, I like my home to feel lived in, alive, engaged with, and never stagnant. Most mornings, I wake up, air out the house, light a candle, move a few things around, make the bed, walk throughout the space etc. I like to set an atmosphere for the day that will allow me to feel inspired, joyous, happy, relaxed and elevated. Someone who likes to cook may have the ritual of making a beautiful breakfast for themselves; another person who enjoys the outdoors may plan a walk in the morning.
How does one teach the art of living well? In practical terms, how do you and your team share this philosophy with others?
I’m not sure you can teach the art of well-being. I think you can live by example and encourage people to dive into a deep self-discovery of what well-being means to them. When working with a client, my favourite thing to know about them is what makes them forget to eat, sleep and drink. Strange right? What I mean by that is, most of us have done something in our lives that brought us to a place where we lost track of time, forgot to eat, to go to the bathroom, etc. Usually it’s something enjoyable, and something that brings us deeply into the present moment, where we forget about everything else going on in and around us. I like to know what this is for my clients, because this helps us to help them identify rituals for well-being. Some people lose themselves in their garden — guess what? Your well-being rituals should be based around that. We would encourage areas of the home to be filled with plants they love, ones they could tend to daily. We would encourage a resting area where the garden can be seen by the window, a spot to have morning coffee while staring at their passion. We encourage people to find what brings them deep satisfaction and joy in life, and to shape their spaces and rituals around that. Find what corner of the room gets the best light, and in that space we will create a reading nook, or perhaps that’s your coffee corner.
You recently worked with Oak + Fort on a couple of features. Can you tell us more about that collaboration and how it came about?
I have been a big fan of Oak+Fort for so many years. I was so excited when they wanted to do a feature on my style. We did three features that highlighted my personal style (kindly curated by their team). One for work, home, and a weekend style piece. I believe we are very aligned aesthetically and that’s how they found me to do the feature.
We understand you are working on a tea house! Can you offer our readers a sneak peak of this project?
Unfortunately this one is still going through design changes etc, and the clients prefer to keep it quiet until opening!
Finally, what’s one thing that our readers may be surprised to learn about you?
That I actually have a deep love for heritage architecture, homes, traditional farmhouses, etc. We just moved to Victoria, into a Victorian heritage home, and I absolutely love it. I think people assume through looking at my portfolio that I have a strong bias towards modern design and architecture, but I actually just love a character space/home!
Images by: How to be