Designer Spotlight: Sarah Barnard - Gathering Inspiration From the Environment

Even as a child, Sarah Barnard, a designer who creates custom luxurious and sustainable products for clients, appreciated the environment. It is something that became the centerpoint of Kale Tree, a company that she founded that produces eco-friendly textiles, wallpaper and home decor. “I grew up in historic homes, which my father restored,” said Barnard. “Having such an intimate experience with these spaces taught me the value of preservation and how to minimize waste by restoring what exists.”

The early education influenced Barnard’s development, and she became interested in art and nature as a young adult. “My approach is significantly influenced by my experience as an artist, as I often apply the same level of intentionality, detail and care in my work as a designer of products and spaces,” said Barnard, who received a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from Claremont Graduate University. “Generally, my art practice has taught me that almost anything is possible through creative problem-solving.”

moth wallpaper by Kale Tree

Moth wallpaper. Photo credit: Kale Tree

All these influences became intertwined in her work and led to the start of her design practice in 2003. “Interior design combines a bit of everything I love, the beauty, aesthetics and problem solving of art-making, with a focus on sustainability and nature,” Barnard said. “In part, because I approach interior design from the perspective of art-making, I believe in a thoughtful, detail-oriented and considerate approach.”

But she struggled to find items for clients that were both sustainably produced and met her aesthetic intentions. “Our studio focuses heavily on research to understand how and where materials are being made and how they impact our clients' emotional and physical health,” she said. “Since our projects will be lived in for years, I prioritize quality craftsmanship and well-thought-out design that can be enjoyed for years to come.”

Barnard began creating more custom rugs, light fixtures, textiles and wall coverings, eventually leading to the creation of Kale Tree in 2017 so Barnard could create the designs she wanted to see made with the methods she supported. “Kale Tree felt like a natural extension of the work I was already doing in my interior design practice, in creating custom biophilic home goods for clients,” she explained.

The company took inspiration from Barnard’s surroundings. “I grew up in California and have always been enamored with its vast and varying landscape,” she said. “California is a global biodiversity hot spot, and I've been lucky to be exposed to the enormous range of life here. My aesthetics have always been pulled from California nature and its deserts, oceans and mountains.”

Sarah Barnard

Sarah Barnard. Photo credit by Steven Dewall

Her vision changed as she become more aware of the impact of climate change on California's environment. “I've become driven by a desire to minimize the tragedy of habitat loss,” she explained. “In California, we are zooming towards the extinction of many species. In my work, I hope to highlight and celebrate the beauty in nature and draw attention to its preciousness and the need to preserve and protect the organic beauty surrounding us.”

Barnard finds inspiration in many things. For example, she just released a textile and wallpaper print based on her love of Matilija poppies. “They are such a cheery flower, and during a time when many could use some brightening, it seemed like a good time to feature such a joyous plant,” she said. Often, Barnard’s designs begin in her garden — where she grows everything from herbs to tomatoes to peppers — or on local hikes to places like Anza Borrego state, where she photographs lots of source imagery. “The images are then drawn and laid out into a pattern, and a great deal of care is given to creating palettes and colorways,” she explained. “It is then off to the printers for tests and more adjustments to color and layout.” Since the Matilija poppy print release, Barnard has explored more concepts for textile and area rugs inspired by California's wildflowers.

One of Barnard’s goals is to expand the company’s offerings and continue introducing new prints that reflect California's natural beauty. “As part of our growth, I also hope to support and partner with more non-profits,” she said. “Currently, our collection includes a mangrove-inspired rug, with a percentage of all profits going towards the Mangrove Action Project. Over the next three years, our goal is to develop more products that benefit causes and non-profits that align with our hopes for sustainability and the preservation of nature.” 

Matilija Poppy Seated Lifestyle Green by Kale Tree

Matilija Poppy Wallpaper in Natural. Photo credit: Kale Tree

Barnard’s work has been recognized by Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Vogue, HGTV and many others. In 2017 she was recognized as a “Ones to Watch Scholar” by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) along with seven others.  “Together, we were invited to a dinner at the Meyer May House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright,” said Barnard. “To interact with the work of such a prominent biophilic designer in such an intimate environment, with a group of women I have a great deal of respect for, was an incredibly enlightening and significant moment of my career.”

Check out Fabrics & Home's other Designer Spotlight profiles, including the piece on eco-conscious textiles designer Julia Masci.

Featured image by Kale Tree

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