Q&A with Sara Bengur & John Robshaw, the duo that teamed up together to create a colorful and global tea-room-inspired masterpiece at the 2019 Hampton Designer Showhouse.
It’s a jungle in here!
How did you get into each of your fields?
I actually majored in Economics in college and worked in finance for a couple of years both in London and New York. I remember an interior design firm next to my office in London, and how I peered into their windows every day when I walked by. I decided then interior design is what I really wanted to do. After transitioning fields by managing an architecture firm in Soho, I went back to school and studied interior design at Parsons. The last person I worked for before going off on my own was Stephen Sills, with whom I learned the skills needed to create a custom interior, and how to combine textiles and color.
Travel kick-started my company many years ago when I was a sequin mule, picking up sequins in Paris, dropping them in Mumbai and waiting for completed dresses to smuggle out back to NYC.
How would you describe your design style?
My personal design style is quite eclectic. I love to include objects and textiles I have purchased during my travels. My upbringing in Istanbul and in Europe, inspired my love of color and layering with unusual patterns, while always keeping it fresh and updated so its never a cliché. When I design for a client I spend a lot of time getting to know their likes and dislikes, before making suggestions. I feel that the design of a home should reflect the personality and lifestyle of the person living in it, so I embark on a creative journey with each client to manifest this. I think one of the keys to interior design is combining periods, styles and patterns in an unexpected way — that is what gives an interior lasting value.
The exoticism of bringing my love of travel, color, and texture all together.
Can you tell us about your inspiration for your room in the Hampton Designer Show House?
As John and I were throwing around ideas for the showhouse, we started discussing the walls as a starting point. We both zeroed in on a hand painted pillow with a jungle scene he carries. I had just come back from the furniture fair in Milan and was inspired by the grand gestures in their installations, so I suggested we take his design and blow it up to life size to make a whimsical statement!
The room was inspired by a Syrian tea room- I went to Damascus before the war and hung out for days in murky tea rooms but wanted to brighten it up here. It also started with a hand painted mural of some Indian folk art and then of course we kept adding old pals, like Harry Allen, who is an amazing industrial designer, who also happened to be my roommate at Pratt. And Alexander Gorlizki, who I met at a run down palace hotel in Jaipur years ago as he started working with a Indian miniature painter, installed an art installation in the closet. Dana of DBO Home is my pal from Connecticut who makes hand made porcelain so we made these Chinese-landscape-painting-inspired lamps with vintage turban shades.
How did you begin this project? Can you walk us through the various phases of your design journey?
John and I went to visit our front bedroom at the showhouse to brainstorm and come up with ideas. We agreed that rather than doing a traditional bedroom it would be more fun to design an exotic sitting room with low banquettes- and that’s how the process started...Once we decided on the walls which Twenty2 Wallpaper was skillfully making for us, we started selecting inspirations for color and the textiles from fabrics and pillows in his showroom. The seat and back cushions are our custom design and were made for us in India. John pulled all his strings to get them done in time! We then supplemented the seating with John’s collection of new and antique pillows. Our next step was to call on all our designer friends to complete the room, Harry Allen for lighting, Tucker Robbins and Ercole Home for tables and accessories, Veronique Gambier for the oil painting, DBO home for the lamps and the amazing Alexander Gorlizki for our art installation in the closet.
What was the biggest challenge in designing this room?
We were not allowed to paint the trim in the room and this was the biggest challenge for me. When having the wall mural made, we needed to make the necessary accommodations to create the white background of the paper so the white trim of the room looked intentional.
There were slanted ceilings in the room which were painted orange to give the room continuity.
Was there anything you had opposing views on while designing the room? How did you reach a resolution?
At the beginning, John really wanted to create a bedroom since he designs bedding! But I felt it would be so much more interesting and unexpected if we used his fabrics in a way that many people were not accustomed to seeing. After a few matcha lattes he eventually came around and we started on our jungle journey.
I think more is just right and I love adding and discovering connections, and Sara is just the right amount of tough to cut things out and keep me in line.