An Interview with Interior Designer Sarah Mendel: Well-Edited Spaces

Sarah Mendel of Cochineal Design: Well-Edited Spaces

By Gwen Donovan

Sarah Mendel is a Principal Designer at Cochineal Design. A New York-based interior design firm specializing in fine residential and commercial interiors. She offers expertise in space planning and the decorative arts, often from the start of a new construction project or renovation. Sarah’s designs reflect a sense of playful elegance, focusing on fine materials and exacting proportions.

How would you describe your design style?

I’m not sure I have a particular style, rather I have a particular taste. I like a room to feel refined, balanced and well-edited. At the same time, I’m very drawn to textures and materials, so a lot of the richness in our designs comes from layering textiles, hard materials, color and nature. Ultimately we want the end result to feel like home to the client, so we aim to let our tastes lead the design rather than our personal styles.

What are some of the “common threads” you rely on for your signature style?

A home is extremely personal and we are very aware of this. Therefore I think the link in all our residential designs is the focus on listening to and understanding the client’s lifestyle needs. Before we ever pick a piece of furniture or choose a color palette, we design a floor plan to meet those needs. It’s a very thoughtful process.

What was your favorite design project?

My favorite project is a new construction townhouse in downtown Manhattan–the entire house is only 12-feet wide (only in Manhattan!). We saw the narrow width as an opportunity to design differently. We understood the layout had to be efficient, but we also really focused on treating the materials and finishes like furniture. What I mean by that is the architecture and the furnishings were really one in the same, so the architectural design components drove the overall design: doors, molding, cabinetry and built-ins.

Do you have a personal story you’d like to share about a design project?

Friends of mine hired my firm Cochineal Design to redesign and renovate their condo to better suit their growing family. Most often when we finish a project, we hand the keys back to the client and our interaction with the space is completed. However in this instance, I get to participate in the space—I play with their kids in the bedroom we designed, and I help cook in the kitchen we renovated. It’s a reminder of how fun and rewarding interior design is for me and I feel privileged that I get to do this for a living.

What is your background in the design field?

My formal design education is from Parsons School of Design. However before going to grad school I worked in real estate development, building high-rise condos and hotels. Therefore a lot of my construction and renovation background comes from practice.

How many years have you been an interior designer?

I established Cochineal Design 2015 but I’ve been in the field for almost a decade.

How do you continue to be inspired when it comes to re-imagining interior spaces?

I think we are living in an interesting time for creative fields. Social media has changed the game. When I started, we read trade magazines. We went to as many new high-design hotels and restaurants as we could. We traveled in order to discover foreign tastes and methods. Now with Instagram and Pinterest, access to all these things is free and instantaneous. I personally don’t believe digital images can replace experiencing a space in person, because as designers we need to grasp ambiance, circulation and interaction, which a photo can’t express, but I think social media offers a great accompaniment to the more established methods.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your design firm?

We work closely with a number of outside trades and vendors, such as millworkers, upholsterers and furniture showrooms, in order to ultimately realize our designs. We appreciate that forming sound and gracious relationships with these parties is paramount to the success of our designs.

Visit her website to learn more!

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