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Behind The Scenes: with Sarah and Tommy Part II

by - Friday, December 17, 2010

Where to start and share with you all the nuggets of design knowledge that Sarah & Tommy imparted to us? For you non-Sarah fans, this post might be boring (lots of text, few photos, empty calories!). For the rest of you, read along and see what Sarah & Tommy had to say about:

(note: I've paraphrased the answers below and inserted some of my commentary)

Why have you done so many different shows?
Room Service was about artisans and craftspeople, and the fundamentals of design. Design Inc. was about exposing the amazing team that makes it all happen. It was celebrating that there is a big team effort and documenting that everything can and will go wrong - even for Sarah and Tommy! It wasn't a "reality" show (with manufactured drama), but a real show. Sarah's House was in response to all the house-flipping going on. I wanted people to understand the fundamentals of where to prioritize and spend their money.

We stopped doing a show when a better idea came along. We also stopped because other people started doing it. Sarah was the first to do a show about a design firm. Now everyone is doing it! We're always looking for what is interesting and challenging to the creative mind. (Sidenote: I think that's brilliant! Knowing when to stop is as important as knowing what to do. Sarah does a fantastic job of reinventing herself. Always giving viewers something new and never done before is what keeps her at the forefront of the design TV curve.)

What is the new series Sarah 101 about?
Sarah 101 is based on helping viewers understand the building blocks of creating a successful room. The format is like a simple checklist, a To Do list - so that it doesn't become daunting and difficult. I tried to break it down into case studies that show you when to save and when to splurge and answer the big question: WHY. We tried to inject a lot of "learning moments". It gives you a lesson in how to get the room you want while paying attention to price. We stuck to a $10,000 budget from the show (homeowners could contribute more) though Tommy was tempted to donate out of his own pocket for some of the shows! We called it "the cheapification of Tommy". The people selected for the show weren't involved in the design; they were people who needed help and didn't know where to start. The changes allowed people to see how design could improve their homes.

My question: You always seem to demystify the process with each of your shows. Is that something you consciously do, you want to share with your viewers? Because not all designers share that philosophy.
Its always been about sharing the knowledge. If its something I don't think you'll immediately understand, I'd like to share that with you. If there's something I learned along the way, I don't need to lock that in the vault. I'm happy to share my trade secrets because telling them to everybody doesn't mean I still can't do my job. That dialogue helps everyone achieve better results. Sharing challenges and how you handle adversity was a big part of Design Inc. Making it a learning experience for everyone means you get something out of it. I want Sarah 101 to be "time well spent" where you get a lot of payoff. If we achieve that, its good, but I never want it to come across as preachy, like a rules thing. This is how I do it, and if you want it to look like this, this is what I do.

What's next?
We're currently shooting season 4 of Sarah's House (new shows in October), then we'll shoot season 2 of Sarah 101. And we're talking about a 5th season of Sarah's House!

What are the trends for 2011?
Since we shoot up to a year in advance, we can't really focus on the trends. Instead we focus on what are the lasting elements of design, what is timeless. We focus on experiences and combinations (in materials, paint colours etc) we haven't tried.

If you had to choose another designer to design your home, who would you pick?
Tommy - I would let Thomas O'Brien do it. Sarah - I would say more like a Victoria Hagan.

How did you guys meet?
I've known Tommy's sister since high school and Tommy and my husband went to school together in grade 7. I was doing Room Service and had the idea that Tommy would be great on the show. (Sidenote: when Tommy came to work with Sarah, she told him he needed a cellphone and car - and he had neither!)

What happened to the Sarah's House houses?
Season 1 - the buyers loved it and bought most of the furnishings and kept it mostly intact. Season 2 - she bought basically nothing, and then she redecorated, and then she tried to resell the house on kijiji for a lot more. Season 4 - it is a whole new adventure in the suburbs, in the west part of the city - from a hole in the ground, from a plan to... that's all you need to know for now!

And other houses you decorated?
They go one of two ways: like a museum installation where nothing has changed. Or, where things go back to what they were before. Most people sell the houses. In the first season of Room Service., 7 of 13 people sold their houses. Great for them because their houses never looked better.

How often do you redecorate your own home?
Its my lab. This is my place to experiment, go crazy, like with my new line of paint from Para Paint. It changes frequently. Our bedroom now has hot pink, chartreusey tones. (Side note: As a result, even Sarah's 4 year old daughter is craving more colour and wants mom to repaint her white bedroom walls. Looks like there's another budding designer in the family!).


Hope you enjoyed learning some insider secrets, straight from Sarah and Tommy! They were full of stories and were so honest and candid in their answers. I left an even bigger fan than before. I cannot wait to see Sarah 101. I saw a preview of the first episode and there is nothing like it on television; its chock-full of practical and doable tips to help you transform your space into something spectacular. Catch it starting January 4th on HGTV Canada!

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  1. great recaps! Can't wait for it to begin!

  2. Thank you. I did enjoy that.

  3. Geeta4:00 PM

    that's awesome Jen! thanks for sharing! i'm excited to see Sarah 101 too...i still watch reruns of Design Inc. and Sarah's house and always take inspiration from them when renovating and decorating my house! you're a lucky girl to have spent that time with them! :)

  4. I love Sarah. Great interview!

  5. fun! thanks for the recap of your day....cannot wait to see the new show :)

  6. oh my goodness, so exciting. I adore both Sarah and Tommy. Sadly being in the states, we don't get as much Sarah action on HGTV as our northern neighbors :(

  7. I need to move home from LA and get in to the Toronto design world head first!! Love Sarah and totally wish I could have met her with you! Funny how small the world is - Tommy's sister is also my mum's patient, and I have two friends who know Sarah and/or her husband very well! Maybe meeting her is in my future.... :)

    Love your blog too!!

  8. *** I love just about EVERYTHING to do with design/decorating... and Sarah and Tommy are simply THE BEST... T*H*E ones to watch... They not only KNOW WHAT they're doing, and WHY, but they make something that COULD provide LOTS of headaches into sheer joy (at least for those of us who WATCH!!!)... My kinda people!!!

    Love you, Sarah and Tommy... truly do!!! Please, come see me/us in Arizona!!!!!!!!

    Linda in AZ *

  9. I have totally enjoyed watching Sarah and Tommy on HGTV. There's something about who she is that totally comes through on camera.

    Thanks so much for the recap!

  10. Anonymous7:57 PM

    Did she mention what happen to the house in the country in Season 3?

  11. IG.muse11:18 PM

    Sarah and Tommy make me want to immigrate to Canada. Or at least rent a hotel room (with cable TV) over the border one night a week.

  12. What cool people to meet up with you all. I knew I liked Sarah and Tommy but now I like them even more. Great recap of what you chatted about. How did you get to be a part of this?

  13. Thanks for that! I love Sarah, and Tommy is hysterical. They're both so talented, and what great attitudes they have.

  14. THIS IS RIDICULOUS!!!! I AM INSANELY JEALOUS!! I adore Sarah and Tommy (who doesn't really), and I want to be you! What an amazing experience (and your outfit was totally cute!).

  15. Saara - thanks! Toronto really does have a lot of great designers!

    Anon - Sarah kept the Sarah's House 3 farm house for herself!

    Sarah - I was contacted by Sarah's PR person. I guess mentioning Sarah a lot on my blog helped ;)

    Melissa - thanks. If it wasn't me, I'd be insanely jealous too, haha.

  16. thanks for the great interview! love it .. . .and now i can't wait to watch the new shows!

    so jealous . .. . i would love to have the opportunity to meet Sarah and Tommy in person! I will have to work on my blog more .... so maybe they will pick me one day as well..

  17. Wow, what a cool opportunity! I always thought those two were so much fun to watch on Sarah's House. They seem like people you'd want to hang out with!

  18. Anonymous1:00 PM

    Well, how cute are you?! They could put you in their pocket. So glad you had such a fantastic time.


  19. Love the recap and I am insanely jealous that you got to meet her! I should contact her PR person about where she bought her maternity is one of the top google searches that bring people to my blog!

  20. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. I love Sarah & Tommy and wish we could see more of them in the states.

    You did a terrific job on the recap...thanks again.

    BTW...I love your blog!

  21. Wow!! So lucky! Great interview questions and I love both their views/theories about design and how to approach and tackle it.

    I'm so excited (even more than before) to see Sarah 101 now.

  22. so jealous!! I LOVE Sarah's House and I caught my first episode of Design Inc. the other day and of course I loved that too! How awesome you got to meet her! xoxo

  23. Loved this post! Thanks for all this Sarah information, I am a huge huge fan!!!!!

  24. you lucky duck! I love everything Sarah and Tommy do! can't wait to see the new show, hope it airs soon in the US!


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