In 2012, Sarah Sham went to meet a potential client for her family business Essajees, which specialises in home decor accessories, including antique furniture, fine art, vintage items, showpieces and more. She wanted to show the new client some decorative chandeliers.
The meeting with the client, who had a sea-facing home opposite the famous Haji Ali Durgah in Mumbai, took a dramatic turn after Sarah recommended a few creative suggestions. The homeowner revealed she was facing major issues with the contracted interior designer and asked that Sarah take on the project instead. Caught off guard, Sarah scoffed at the idea. A fourth-generation member of the family (and its business), 35-year-old Sarah had always known she would work for the family business. But she’d never, ever, wanted to be an interior designer. Yet, when that homeowner insisted, Sarah discovered her abundant talent for the work and confidently took on the project.
Two years later, Sarah Sham started her own firm called Essajees Atelier, an offshoot of her family business, and has been inundated with work ever since.
Even as a child, Sarah was ambitious, strong-willed and a determined overachiever, with a very vivacious personality.
She completed her undergraduate degree at Duke and then Oxford University in 2009, with a major in art history, and also completed the NYU Stern Advantage Program in 2008.
At the start of her career with her family business, Sarah worked with the projects department that created bespoke high-end furniture and lights, and she was content with this trajectory.
“One of the pros of working in a family business is that you know that your people are rooting for you and want you to grow and achieve your goals,” says Sarah. “The biggest con is that you tend to take work home with you and at times the line between personal and professional can get very blurry.”
After Sarah realised that she really did possess a talent for interior design, she went to design school at Rachna Sansad Academy at the age of 26, and did a comprehensive course in interiors between 2012 and 2014 while she worked with her clients. After she completed the course, she set up her company.
Sarah’s advice to young women who’re just starting their careers is to not doubt themselves. “I was plagued with a lot of self-doubt early on and that’s given way to a lot more confidence, which is making a world of difference,” she says. “Don’t forget to network: it is crucial to growing a business. I have been part of various networking groups, and most of my early clients came through these groups. It is very important to talk about your work, business and projects. Trust me, it does provide a lot of business leads.”
Breaking the rules
Even though Sarah was born into a family of collectors who know their antiques and heavy-duty intricate collectables and art, her own sensibilities are contemporary and unfussy.
She likes to keep her design sensibility fluid. “I think I am like water; I go with the flow and see where things take me,” she says. “I seek inspiration from art, antiques, the city I grew up in and the people around me. I am a very big fan of minimalism and I keep all of my spaces completely decluttered.”
Sarah’s biggest passion is contemporary and avant-garde local and international art. ”I am happy that I get a chance to incorporate a lot of it into my work and projects,” she says. “I also love plants and gardening. Plants add so much positivity and freshness to any space.”
To keep her work fresh, Sarah deliberately avoids creating a signature style of her own. “I want to keep evolving. I want to keep changing. I want to keep doing something new! I don’t like being stuck in the same old rut,” she says.
To her mind, there are no real rules to interior design. “I would say, just have fun! The only rule is that you should have a good time and enjoy the process. Don’t try and keep everything neutral; experiment, have fun and let loose,” she suggests.
The golden balance
In July 2020, Sarah gave birth to her daughter Sophia, whom she often takes to her office and work site. “Being a consultant helps me as I get to make my own hours. I have a reasonable amount of work hours on a daily basis and that’s what really helps me strike a balance,” she says.
Her one golden rule is to not work on weekends! “Weekends are for me and I ensure I get to spend quality time with my daughter and family,” she says. “On weekdays as well, I try and finish work at a reasonable time. My easiest way to cope with stress is to hit the gym.”
Sarah’s managed the execution of certain pieces for Antilla, the Mukesh Ambani home, as well as for Gautam Singhania’s home and that of the Birla family, and Taj Downtown Dubai; she has also generated a massive social media following (30.6K followers on her personal Instagram profile and over 291K followers on the Essajees official Instagram profile). This June, she was a TED X speaker at their latest forum in Mumbai, and she’s just started her first residential international project in Dubai. Yet she still comes across as refreshingly herself and admirably grounded.
“Success is important but I don’t necessarily measure success,” she says. “It’s more about asking myself, am I happy, am I satisfied, do I feel creative? If the answer is ‘yes’, I’m successful.”
Anandita De is a luxury lifestyle consultant & writer
From HT Brunch, August 20, 2022
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