Five (Well, Maybe Six!) Questions: for Sara Bliss, Design Writer
Five Questions: Sara Bliss
John and I have known the fabulous Sara Bliss for years—ever since our early magazine editorial days before we moved into the wild, wild world of interior design. We have watched the brilliant Bliss morph from penning articles for shelter publications to crafting numerous, high-flying books—on topics ranging from beauty and style to travel-meets-design.
Sara is smart, fun, and really gets “it.” Plus, she is a bright light and a really kind soul.
Here’s her bio in her own words:
Sara Bliss is a freelance writer who covers beauty, inspiring women, design, and travel. Sara is the author of nine books including Hotel Chic at Home (The Monacelli Press) that launched in 2016. She is the co-author of Beauty From The Inside Out (Chronicle Books, 2017), her third book with Bobbi Brown. Other books include The Thoroughly Modern Married Girl (Broadway Books) and Exotic Style (Rockport Publishers). Sara is the creator and primary author of the weekly travel and design blog Hotel Chic. Sara’s articles have appeared in Esquire, Town & Country, Oprah, Domino, Travel & Leisure, and Refinery29. Sara is a former Senior Writer for Yahoo.
1. MADCAP COTTAGE: Tell us about your background in magazines and how you came to be a go-to lifestyle writer.
SARA BLISS: I began my foray into magazines as an Editorial Assistant at House Beautiful magazine. I was on my way to interview at another magazine and in the elevator met editor Lisa Schlang who handed me her card and told me that House Beautiful was hiring. I bombed the interview I was headed to, called Lisa, and two days later I was an HB staffer working for the travel and architecture editors. I went on to be a staff writer with the amazing John Loecke at American Homestyle & Gardening magazine, but started freelancing on the side for City magazine. My editor was Christene Barberich who now heads up Refinery29. I went freelance way sooner than I should partly because I wanted to break out of just writing about design and write more profiles, which is what I was writing for City. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve managed to write about a really wide range of subjects–health, beauty, design, travel, and profiles. It is honestly partly due to editors like you (amazing Jason Oliver Nixon) who realized I wasn’t just one type of writer. I have written three books on my own and seven as a ghostwriter to high profile people like Bobbi Brown.. I’ve been a blogger, magazine writer, web writer. I was a Senior Writer at Yahoo for two years, and now I am back to freelancing again. It’s non-stop hustle, but I love every minute.
2. MC: What was the genesis of your last book, Hotel Chic at Home. How did you pick the people in the pages to discuss their favorite hotels?
SB: For years, I wrote about travel and design as separate subjects for completely different magazines. However, when the boutique hotel craze took hold in the late 90s and early 2000s two of my main beats really merged. Hoteliers realized that design was a way to stand out from the crowd and create a signature look and brand. The result is that some of boldest, most innovative spaces in design, are happening in hotels, not in residential interiors. Hotel designers like India Mahdavi, Michele Bonan, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, and Kit Kemp are creating one-of-a-kind spaces that are designed to feel like the rooms you wish you lived in. So I had the idea to write a book about all of these amazing hotel spaces and how to bring the look home. I started Hotel Chic as a blog and a few years later thanks to the persistence of my wonderful agent, Alison Fargis, Hotel Chic found a publisher and The Monacelli Press released the book in 2016.
In addition to design and travel, I write many profiles. I found that when I interviewed designers and tastemakers and trendsetters—they were often citing travel and hotels as the source of inspiration. I picked some of the best designers and tastemakers that I know—John Robshaw, Mary McDonald, Alessandra Branca, Tilton Fenwick, Christiane Lemieux, Joe Lucas, and, of course, Madcap Cottage—to find out what hotels inspire them the most.
3. MC: In your opinion, what makes a hotel great? What role does service play at a hotel? Your favorite hotel?
SB: When you step inside a hotel and feel like you have entered an entirely new world—that is perfection to me. There is a magic that happens only every so often where you just feel like you couldn’t have this same experience anywhere else and I think that is what makes a hotel great. Part of that magic is the service, of course, an experienced staff that knows your name and anticipates how you want to experience the hotel. My favorite hotel is probably The Connaught in London. If I were a real life Eloise, that’s where I would live. I love the Connaught Bar with India Mahdavi’s fringed wing chairs and killer cocktails, high tea with champagne in the sunroom, and the suites filled with antiques—especially the mirrored bars fashioned out of 19th-century Chinese armoires. Plus, the service that makes you feel like royalty.
4. MC: How can someone bring the hotel experience into their own home?
SB: Next time you are on vacation and you are feeling completely happy and relaxed, look around and see what it is about the design or space that might be enhancing that. Is it the cool soundtrack? The unique dishes you are tasting? The gorgeous hue on the wall? The cozy dining chairs that make you want to linger over your meal for hours? The cheery wallpaper? The lighting that makes you look a decade younger? Then take one thing you could do at home. It’s not so much about copying the look exactly, just creating the same mood. Bring a little of the spirit of Paris to Poughkeepsie, and make it your own.
You don’t even have to travel to use hotels as inspiration. Click on your favorite travel site or, even better, pick up a copy of Hotel Chic at Home and look for design ideas that you love. Hotels often have the same issues that we do at home—small rooms, dark spaces, awkward layouts, and tight budgets. They solve those problems with design, so hotels can be a great source of practical ideas for making the most of a small space or creating a budget-friendly solution. In the book there is a whole section on chic bathrooms where clever applications of wallet-friendly subway tile transformed the space.
5. MC: Have you incorporated aspects of favorite hotels into your own home?
SB: Yes! Often! My favorite was doing a triangular color-blocking move on the wall in my son’s room. It took about an hour and transformed the space, all for the price of a can of white paint. I also tried to recreate the look of a green guest room at the Crosby Street Hotel in my own bedroom. I found my own floral print for my headboard and did a graphic pattern for curtains and loved it for a couple of years. Then I saw the dark inky walls of the rooms at the C.O.Q hotel in Paris, and the green got swapped for a deep inky blue/grey/green hybrid that makes it feel like a cocoon. I honestly have never slept better.
6. MC: What’s next for you? We hear that you are writing a new book, tell us about it.
SB: I write about so many different topics—travel, design, beauty, and health, plus I do a ton of profiles. My new book will be for Touchstone and comes out in the Fall of 2018: I feature inspiring people who have made radical moves in their lives. I am so inspired by these stories, and I can’t wait to share them.