By her own admission, Sarah Sham had no plans of becoming an interior designer. However, coming from the Essajees family that has been dealing in antiques and furniture for over a century is likely to rub off on you. As serendipity would have it, while working with her father, a chance encounter with a client led her to this path. Having gone to meet the client for a sale, she ended up designing the home. She eventually set up Essajees Atelier, Mumbai — the interior design arm of Essajees — in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. But Sham isn’t just inspiring for her work as a designer. Through the lockdown, she’s also managed to garner quite a following on Instagram as she not only gives us a peek into her packed schedule as a sought-after designer but also shares valuable insights on running a business. Not one to mince her words, Sham is real and relatable and as she speaks of her inspiring life, you’ll find a slice of your own.
Photography: Agnidhra Ray | Interview: Team Lune
Pictured above: Sarah wears the Medium Vision Hoops, Vision Cuff, New Dreams Medallion Necklace, Maya Ring + Asymmetrical Pearl Necklaces
Sun sign: Cancer
City you live in: Mumbai
If not an interior designer, what would you be? A chef ( I’m not the best cook but this is a dream situation!)
Self care rituals: Gym every morning
Time you wake up: 5:30 am
To you call it a night: 10:00 pm
Your current favourites:
Instagram handles you love: @amauryguichon @mindyweiss @jeffleatham
Favourite TV show: The Wire
Artists you love: William La Chance ( @wmlachance ) the New York-based artist who does amazing, colourful expressionist work.
Favourite books: Fountainhead, The Secret and The Alchemist
Beauty routine: None! I am very lazy with my skin. I had the worst skin earlier, then I got pregnant and it became fine. I have no tips for anyone. I have very bad skincare habits, so don’t listen to anything I say!
The first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Lune: Subtle elegance
Pictured above: Sarah wears the City Circle Necklace, Big City Studs, Narrow + Mama Chimbai Cuffs, Macro + Mega Rings.
What does good design mean to you?
Something that you continue to enjoy even after 5-10 years.
How do you approach each project?
I try and erase from my mind everything from previous projects except for learnings of things I should not repeat. In terms of aesthetics and vibe, I try to bring something that we’ve never done. We look at the client’s lifestyle and personality and then try incorporating that into the design.
Do you have a mantra from your upbringing that you’ve carried forward?
Hard work pays.
Pictured above: Sarah wears the City Circle Necklace, Big City Studs, Narrow + Mama Chimbai Cuffs, Vision Ring - Wide, Macro + Mega Rings + the Time Loop Toggle Bracelet with a Night Of The Blue Moon Small Lock Charm
How has your style evolved throughout the years — your personal fashion sense as well as your work?
With every project, clients bring their own set of ideas which keeps adding colours into what’s swimming into my mind. As far as my fashion sense goes, I’m quite the vagabond who’s happy in chappals and shorts. However, because of my profession, I have had to change myself and focus on my appearance because I felt people didn’t take me seriously enough. I mean, how am I supposed to do up a luxury space if I show up looking like a homeless person! I have made a conscious effort to spend money on clothes, jewellery and bags — things that I don’t actually care about but am learning to enjoy, nonetheless.
As a designer, you have to work with karigars and woodworkers — professions that have traditionally been male dominated. What has your experience been?
I initially felt like no one took me seriously — I think a part of it was also that I come from a family business. Every time I’d approach anyone in the workshops, they’d say things like “Give the phone to the boss.” I found it very humiliating because it didn’t matter how much I had studied or how good I was at my work. They weren’t used to having a woman in a position of authority. I had to unlearn my approach and start becoming more firm and commanding. I think as a woman you have to try extra hard to make your voice heard. You have to change your professional personality — I had to develop two different personalities to make sure that people don’t walk all over me.
Pictured above: Sarah wears Medium Vision Hoops, Vision Cuff, New Dreams Medallion Necklace, Maya Ring + Asymmetrical Pearl Necklaces, Drift + Narrow + Mama Chimbai Cuffs with our City Collection
Have you ever said ‘no’ to a client? Are there any dos and don’ts before taking on a project?
I actually spend most of my days saying no. In the earlier part of my career, I said yes to everything including things that were not right for me. I feel like I have enough work and a strong team to be at the point to say no if the client and my energies don’t match.
Your Instagram account is very inspiring and informative. Do you have a specific approach?
During lockdown, I was 7 months pregnant and I made a video called ‘10 learnings from 10 mistakes I’ve made’ where I just reflected on my mistakes so that someone else doesn’t repeat them. I realised people want to see your vulnerability and there is only so many bikini pictures or outfit inspirations you can consume on Instagram. Videos are something people have really connected with. As a person, I’m very open and am always happy to share my experience — I think that’s also what’s worked for me on social media.
Pictured above: Sarah wears Chimbai Jewel Drop 2.0, Vision Ring - Wide, Narrow + Mama Chimbai Cuff, Vision Ring - Wide, Macro + Mega Rings + Time Loop Toggle Bracelet with a Night Of The Blue Moon Small Lock Charm
Do you have any tips for designers who are social media shy?
Honestly, get someone to do it — even if it’s an intern! You need a certain personality for social media. I have fantastic designer friends but they find social media very tedious. I personally enjoy social media — I don’t see it as work even if I’m on holiday. If it’s not your strength, you can’t force yourself for the sake of getting new business. Just hire someone!
Is there a mantra that has helped you with aspects like health, family and work?
I am a big believer in manifestations and the fact that thoughts become things. At the start of the year, I make a list of everything that I would like to get done. I detail it down to how many times I would like to workout in a week, the restaurants I would like to eat at, the places I would like to travel to and how much time I’d like to spend with my family. I also have a profile of my ideal clients. I have all of this on my phone and printed at my desk and keep reading it again and again. I have been visualising since years and now I see things multiply — it’s that powerful.
Pictured above: Sarah wears Chimbai Jewel Drop 2.0, Vision Ring - Wide, Narrow + Mama Chimbai Cuff, Vision Ring - Wide, Macro and Mega Rings + Time Loop Toggle Bracelet with a Night Of The Blue Moon Small Lock Charm
While balancing work and family, there may be situations where you get fed up. How do you pick yourself up?
I am fed up everyday and then I’m also happy everyday! By 6:00 pm everyday, I have a headache, but I think I love being busy and have invited all of this into my life. I feel if I was relaxed, I’d get bored and frustrated and invite all of this back into my life! The quote “All I ever wanted was everything” is very apt for me because I do want it all. Having said that, I have no social life. I just have my gym, my work, limited family and friends’ time and then I sleep. I realise I can’t manage what I am and socialise. When my world domination plans are done, (whenever that is!) I’ll enjoy, meet my friends and go on holidays.
How did your family business influence you?
My family business has influenced me deeply — I didn’t even understand how much till I was in my mid 20s. As a child, my grandfather used to tell me about the Indus Valley Civilization. As he showed me the pieces, I’d roll my eyes or nod my head. But it was later on that I realised how much gets imbibed even through eye rolling, if someone does it consistently and with such good spirit. My dad did the same irrespective of my sister and my interests. All the conversations that I saw my dad having with clients are lodged in my brain. I’m so thankful now and have a deep appreciation for craftsmanship, art and handmade objects as they’re things you can’t put a value on.
For years, my father has been doing workshops for dying arts and crafts and he tries to channel them all into interiors — crafts like marble inlay, bidri or silver furniture. He tries to contemporise it so the art doesn’t die. This is also why I was happy to do something with Shop Lune because it’s India - based and celebrates Indian craftsmanship. I didn’t get into selling antiques like my family because people don’t appreciate old things as old things — they want to see them in a new avatar. And that’s what I am trying to do with my interiors — everything appears contemporary, but the materials are Indian, the craftsmanship is Indian and the heart and soul of it all is Indian. Who will champion it if not us? If we abandon our own heritage, what will we have to pass on to the next generation, the way it was passed to us?