On her latest reality-TV venture, Real Potential, Sarah Richardson guides prospective buyers through every stage of the new-home journey, from house-hunting to budget-crunching to swatch-picking. When she’s not appearing on the small screen, Richardson works full-time at her own firm, maintaining a schedule that does not allow for midday manicures. The first lady of Canadian design shares her secrets to success.
No midday mani/pedis
My husband and I don’t work on weekends. We spend that time with our kids, out of the city. I don’t take evening meetings. I have to go to some work events, but I try not to fill up my schedule with those. Evenings and weekends are for family and friends. When I am working, I make sure to make those hours count. I take no personal calls, and don’t send personal e-mails. I don’t do lunches. I don’t go to the gym or get my nails done. If I have to get my hair done, it’s with my computer on my lap. I want to be as productive as possible in the office, so that when I’m with my husband, kids and friends, I am able to fully enjoy that time.
Do more, worry less
I am able to get a lot done because I don’t stress about things. Guilt and worry are totally unproductive emotions. I grew up with parents who were always very proud of me, so I don’t worry about being good enough or smart enough or capable enough. I’m just me. I’m not an over-thinker. I make quick, creative decisions and I go with them. Otherwise, you can over-analyze indefinitely. On my TV shows, I’ve done over 260 rooms and renovations. I couldn’t possibly crank out that level of prolific design if I wasn’t able to move quickly. Recently, someone told me about an expression they use in their office: Speed is life. Life is a time-sensitive challenge. That works for me.
Don’t let other people set the standard
I always say ‘Good enough will never be good enough for me,’ and I expect the same of everyone on a project. I remember once I was managing a full house renovation and there were issues with how the kitchen had been installed. What I ended up saying was, ‘I need to know if this is the best you can do.’ It’s a pretty quick way to discover whether the people you’re working with have what it takes, and it puts the onus on them. I still ask that question today. It gets results.
Make everyone’s problem your problem
I’m a problem-solver, so I love seeing how all the different parts of a renovation fit and function together. Everything is connected, so every decision has ramifications on some other part of the project. I try to interact at a peer level with everybody I’m working with. I want to understand the limitations that are affecting the electrician or the plumber, to understand the materials that I’m working with. I want to learn as much as I possibly can about every aspect and situation so that I can approach it better the next time.
Everything is personal
I don’t run Business XYZ; I run Sarah Richardson Design. The fact that it’s me and my reputation on the line has made it really easy for me to say, ‘Okay, I will do this; I won’t do that.’ What drives me when making decisions is ‘Will I be proud of this? Will my kids be proud this?’ I don’t think that’s the norm for people on reality TV. For me, pursuing this career was never about being on TV or being well-known. The missing link with people who just want to be a designer on TV or a chef on TV is that they don’t spend that important time honing their craft. They are more of a host for hire.
You can’t fake being an expert
Faking it is easier now than it’s ever been. There is no area that is easier in than home decor. Fashion is more challenging because clothing looks different on everybody, but with design there are certain combinations that work and are easy to emulate. Call it what you want: Steal the look, get inspired, whatever. With websites like Houzz and Pinterest and all of these blogs, you don’t have to have skill, you just have to be able to play a matching game. All of this means that as a designer I really need to bring something extra to the table, and I think that’s my expertise and the fact that I love every aspect of a renovation project. Having an eye is one thing, but overseeing a reno is about keeping so many moving parts in the air.
This interview has been edited and condensed.