Wednesday, July 28, 2010

AO Chat: Sally Steponkus

I recently spent some QT catching up over dinner with DC designer Sally Steponkus and she was kind enough to answer some questions for AO. Sally was named among House Beautiful's "Next Wave" of up-and-coming young designers for 2010 and she just finished up a very popular master bedroom design this past Spring in the DC Design House.

Designer Sally Steponkus

If you don't know Sally, you've probably seen images of her work making the rounds in blogland - like this image that so many of us have drooled over:

*All images in this post by Angie Seckinger

Sally is so fun to be around and she has a genuine love and passion for design that is contagious...not to mention that her rooms are gorgeous and provide tons of inspiration (Sally is no stranger to a nice dose of Chinoiserie). She is also a savvy entrepreneur having started her own firm at 24 and now celebrating ten years of her company's success! So, without further ado, get to know Sally a little more with five questions that I asked her.

AO: What's your story? How did you get into the biz?

Sally: I got into the biz when I was in college and started as a memo girl for the Robert Allen showroom at the DC Design Center. My cousin’s wife is a big cheese for the company and she asked if I wanted a summer job. I had worked for Laura Ashley Home in High School (at Tysons Corner for now big time local designer, Annette Hannon!! She gave me my first job and was my manager for 2 years! How funny is it that we’re now colleagues and pals!?) The memo room (aka sample library) was as low on the totem pole as one can start, but it was a great in. I ended up mastering it really quickly and then taking over a full-time position for a sales person who was going out of town for the rest of the summer. I ended up working for the company during my senior year at Trinity (in Connecticut) and then came back to work after graduation in the showroom. After 8 months on the floor, I was hired by a designer (Ann Kenkel of Georgetown) and I just went on from there. I opened my own business at 24, but after 9/11, I worked part time for a couple years for Lavinia Lemon and then Kelley Proxmire, but pretty quickly came back to full time on my own. I’m celebrating the 10th anniversary of Sally Steponkus Interiors, Inc. this August.

AO: How do you start a room design? Do you have a formula that starts with fabric? Or paint?

Sally: It depends on what the client already has. If they have already painted and it’s a color they like and want to stick with, then I make sure to incorporate it. If they have a piece of furniture with upholstery that needs to remain in the room, I make sure to discuss what it is about that fabric that they like, and maybe tell them what I like about it (if I do – and YIKES, I hope I do!) and try to draw out some descriptions from them of how they feel about it and what they see working with it. I often delineate what I see working with it and explain how I imagine the room coming together in regards to other fabrics, finishes, colors, etc. and see how they react to it. If they react well to my initial ideas, we go off of that plan. If not, I ask them to try to tell me what they have in mind and why my thoughts would throw them off. If a client has a completely empty room with no color, no furniture, I would start with fabric before selecting paint or anything else.

AO: How do you help a client determine their style?

Sally: I believe one of my strong suits is really narrowing in on someone’s look and tastes quickly. You can take that as judging a book by its cover, or making snap judgements, but I tend to “get” people right away. By walking around their home, seeing what they’re wearing, asking them about their upbringing, their family, etc., I can get a good idea of who they are, style-wise. I also ask them to pull together lots of pages from magazines showing what they like (and sometimes they also show what they don’t!) and it makes it all very clear to me. Quite often I try to synopsize their style into a little blurb in conversation with them – in a way, I describe them to themselves to see how they react. Most often I get a lot of “EXACTLY!!” Rarely do I get disagreement, but sometimes I get people who say “well, maybe, ummm…” but those are usually just people who don’t know what they want because they haven’t spent enough time doing research or haven’t thought about it or aren’t ready to think about it.

AO: Favorite DC haunts for decor shopping? Favorite online sources for decor shopping?

Sally: In DC - Kellogg Collection, And Beige, 1659, and I honestly love Crate & Barrel! Online - West Elm and Williams Sonoma Home.

AO: What's your favorite spot in your own home?

Sally: Having been through a recent break up, I’d say my favorite spot in my apartment is my Living Room sofa! I am spending a lot of time at home, watching TV. I know that sounds pitiful, but I ADORE getting to stay in and watch shows on my DVR and I don’t care who knows! It’s a major luxury not having to go out! I have a lovely custom designed sofa by Jobie Redmond in NC with fabulous pillows made by Pilchard Designs, my amazing workroom, and I find them so very comforting! I wanted a classic and clean-lined neutral sofa (YES – navy can be neutral!) but with something extra fun so I piped it in white and had it tufted with white buttons. All the fabrics on the pillows are obscenely expensive, so I only used them in small amounts for pillows. I couldn’t decide which of the 2 colorways of the Philip Gorrivan fabric I liked better, the chocolate or the blue, so I put one on one side and one on the other. I liked mixing these random medium to small scale patterns together too, just fun stuff.

Sally's living room

Thanks for answering my questions, Sally! 


  1. Great interview with Sally - I enjoyed hearing about her start in the business and the reminder to head over to the Kellogg Collection.

  2. I love Sally's work. Thanks for posting a great interview. I love to hear how designer's get started and any tips they have about the industry. It really gets me motivated.

  3. Wow, I'm coming up on my 24th birthday in just ten days and I can't believe Sally already had her own firm. So impressed!

  4. Fun interview, love her work....and loved hearing more about her background.

  5. love her work, that 1st image is one of my favs!

  6. Great profile -- Sally rocks! She's definitely one of my favorites.


Related Posts with Thumbnails