sarah peake interior designer
All images: Alexander James

Peake performance: In conversation with interior designer Sarah Peake

29 May 2024 | Updated on: 03 Jun 2024 |By Kari Colmans

Celebrating its fifth birthday this year, Sarah Peake, founder and director of Studio Peake London, talks ignoring trends, the influence of social media, and her ‘workshop’ passion project spotlighting homegrown artisans

Having moved houses 20 times before she was 20 years old – her father’s land management business carrying her and her family cross country, one beautiful stately home and garden at a time – it’s no wonder that Sarah Peake, founder and director of design firm Studio Peake London, got an early eye for beautiful interiors.

From the stunning rose garden at Castle Howard in Yorkshire to the Cornbury Park Estate in Oxfordshire and the Lake District’s Holker Hall, the bar was set pretty high, pretty early on. “It was such a fun and exciting way to grow up,” she enthuses when I’m taken aback by the velocity of her childhood house-hopping, the thought of which is giving me relocation anxiety. “I was always delighted by the prospect of a new bedroom. And straight away my mother would be doing them up, as I pawed over the floorplans with her.”

We manage to snatch an hour while both our babies nap – multi-tasking women always find a way – with Peake having just returning to work after maternity leave with her second child, who is only ten weeks old. Fresh as a daisy in an elegant white shirt with a large Peter Pan collar, she’s in a celebratory mood as her first baby (not the 18-month-old, but her eponymous design studio), is turning five this year. “The team and I are finally able to put down roots, having just moved offices to Hammersmith. It is time to really hone our skills.”

Having studied English literature at Durham, an interior design career wasn’t always on the mood board, although Peake did take every opportunity during her studies to do something creative. She toyed with the idea of fashion design (“I fell in love with tailoring and sewing”) but after a work placement with award-winning interior designer Alidad, who specialises in Islamic art and textiles, her mind was made up. “I used to spend hours folding fabrics,” she remembers. “I really got to know the materials I would be working with.”

With no formal training, Alidad (whose stature in the design world allows him to go by a Madonna-esque mononym) mentored Peake, teaching her the fundamentals of interior design, before she moved on to Todhunter Earle, where she continued to master her craft. I ask about a big break career moment, but she is humble and careful with her words, seemingly nervous to count her chickens. “I do remember an early yet very poignant project doing up a beautiful old Georgian property, where the client and I just felt so aligned. They trusted me creatively and it gave me a chance to really stretch my legs as a designer. The whole house felt so cohesive, which isn’t always easy, and it really reflected my own personal taste and style, too.”

Known for her classic approach, which blends period Georgian signatures with a contemporary twist, current projects include a former dairy farm, historically an arts and crafts house, which she is restoring to its full glory, but with a cosy meets contemporary edge. There’s also a farmhouse in Scotland which is getting the full Peake treatment, set to be a modern family home when finished. “It is pared back while also bursting with a few colours here and there, plus loads of texture. There’s a great conflict. A house must work holistically, coming together as one. You can’t see it room by room.”

studio peake living room

Peake’s enthusiasm is especially palpable when we talk about her ‘workshop’: a collection of “imaginative and novel pieces for the home” designed by Studio Peake in collaboration with UK based artisans and makers. “The point of the project is to really celebrate the makers,” says Peake, “and to focus on the creative process. So often the spotlight is just on the designer, but without the skills, knowledge, and evolutionary conversations with the makers, these pieces would never come to light.”

From the exquisite ceramic Peridot lamps designed with Rupert Merton, each crafted out of different shaped ceramic objects, to the Barney beds, hand-drag painted in four colours by Christopher Clark Studio, and the terracotta-coloured marble Porter table (“it’s such a satisfying wedge!”), it is clearly her passion project. We marvel over the beauty of the hand-crafted Elowen chandelier, a joint vision with Pierre Yves Morel, its moveable brass arms giving it life and movement. She’s currently working on a magazine rack for the collection but is coy with regards to the collaboration. “It’s a labour of love,” she acquiesces.

I ask her views on the year’s top interiors trends, a question all interior designers hate, and she refuses to humour me with a nice soundbite. “I hear purple is in,” she laughs. I do get some pet peeves out of her, which include glass tables (major toddler hazard), feature walls, and filing cabinets as vanity tables, which is not something I’ve seen much of in the pages of House & Garden. “I never design a room to be trend led,” she explains. “I try not to use signature pieces, although of course I do have brands and fabrics that I love and use when the brief fits.”

The studio has a fairly meaty social media following, punctuated every so often by new projects, pieces, and inspirational ‘scrapbook’ looks. Does she see it as a force for good or bad in the creative sphere? “I have a mixed relationship with social media,” admits Peake. “I enjoy the process of sharing images and making new connections but there is a danger of all ideas just becoming the same. The algorithms know what we want to see, so only show us more of the same.”

So where does she get her ideas and inspiration? “I look to art galleries, books, and buildings. I love nothing more than wandering through the V&A museum for hours on end. I get obsessed with some tiny little thing, and always find something new and different, no matter how many times I visit.

“As a Londoner, you forget about all the amazing places on your doorstep. There’s nothing better than just pottering about the city, taking it all in. It keeps the cogs turning.”


Read more: In conversation with Naomi Astley Clarke