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“Carve out time to indulge in something that brings you joy every day.” With Dr. William Seeds & Sarah Barnard

Carve out time to indulge in something that brings you joy every day. Being in nature brings me great pleasure, and is the source of inspiration for much of my work. Setting aside time to enjoy and plant in my garden helps me decompress, and fully engage mentally and physically outside of my design practice. […]

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Carve out time to indulge in something that brings you joy every day. Being in nature brings me great pleasure, and is the source of inspiration for much of my work. Setting aside time to enjoy and plant in my garden helps me decompress, and fully engage mentally and physically outside of my design practice. After gardening, I feel re-energized, focused, and ready to return to work.


As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Barnard.

Sarah Barnard is a leading designer of sustainable, restorative spaces that tie closely to nature. As a LEED and WELL Accredited Professional, Barnard’s designs celebrate the natural world while contributing to its preservation. The ideas most essential to her practice and design process are wellness, historic preservation, and the infinite ways in which design can enhance life.

Barnard has been featured in publications internationally and was named a “Ones to Watch Scholar” by the American Society of Interior Designers. In 2018 Locale Magazine named Barnard “Los Angeles’ Favorite Interior Designer”. Barnard holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Claremont Graduate University as well as undergraduate degrees in Art and Interior Architectural Design.

Barnard is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), is certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and is recognized by the International WELL Building Institute as a WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP), the International Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology as a Building Biology Practitioner (BBP) and by the United States Green Building Council as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP). She has served on the Santa Monica Conservancy’s board of directors and has written several articles for important publications including the USGBC, United States Green Building Council.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Iknow all too well that we live in a world designed for neurotypical people, a world that is not necessarily supportive of healing. Normative built environments can be extremely uncomfortable, even traumatic, for many people. Individuals with PTSD and folks on the Autistic spectrum may both have sensitivities to sound, light, textures, and odors. People with chronic migraines and people who are chemically sensitive might also have overlapping reactivity to fragrances, sounds, and light. When designers consider these sensitivities and meet the highest possible needs, all people benefit. These ideas inform my practice of designing spaces that improve wellbeing and quality of life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Designing the interiors of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) was one of my most rewarding pro-bono projects to date. This non-profit law firm defends and advances the rights of low-income immigrants and their families. These types of organizations have never been more critical to our wellbeing, yet in present times, non-profits are at significant risk. For this project, I curated an art exhibition as part of the opening and expanded their community of supporters to include artists, collectors, curators, and critics.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Carve out time to indulge in something that brings you joy every day. Being in nature brings me great pleasure, and is the source of inspiration for much of my work. Setting aside time to enjoy and plant in my garden helps me decompress, and fully engage mentally and physically outside of my design practice. After gardening, I feel re-energized, focused, and ready to return to work.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Clear communication is necessary for both employees and clients. Excellent communication means being honest and direct and carefully listening when others do the same. I’ve found that straightforward language builds trust and opens up room for creativity.

Designing with empathy is the foundation of my practice. When I meet with a new client, I love to chat about their interests and lifestyles alongside their practical needs. When our clients feel comfortable sharing very personal details, we’re enabled to do our best work creating supportive environments.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“How to Love” by Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorite books. It’s a collection of insights about love on both a small and large scale and includes meditations that can be done alone or with a partner. It’s grounding and comforting to read and helps reinforce the intentions behind my work and my personal life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

1) Practice mindfulness. In a time when there is so much uncertainty, it can be reassuring to take a moment to ground in your reality. Notice the floors firmness, the texture of your sofa, the light entering through your window. Placing your full attention on your surroundings and your senses can reign in your mind when it starts to speculate and worry.

2) Spend time in nature. If you have a garden, this is an excellent time to focus your attention on tending to and enjoying your plants. If garden access isn’t available, open your windows and intentionally enjoy a moment gazing at the trees, the parkway flowers, and the sky. A potted plant on a balcony or a nectar feeder for hummingbirds can draw nature to you and provide feelings of hope and joy.

3) Do something to help others. Consider donating to a food pantry, helping an elderly neighbor obtain necessary supplies, or checking in on a family member or friend. Selfless acts are mood-boosting, and taking action can help you regain a sense of control and purpose.

4) Create or View art. Viewing art may give you a respite from stress and anxiety. Take time to enjoy the works of art in your living space. Many museums are offering virtual tours of their galleries so that you can enjoy a variety of impressive art collections without leaving home. Drawing, painting, and coloring can all be soothing and engaging tasks.

5) Escape into something comforting. Bake a cake, take a bath, or read an engaging book. I’ve been especially enjoying harvesting fruits and vegetables from my garden, making home-cooked meals for my family, and curling up under a weighted blanket to read at the end of the day. Engaging in a mindful activity while in a secure and comforting environment can help inspire calm and ease worries.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

1) Listen. Call friends and family members regularly to let them know you are available and invested in their wellbeing. If you are able, try video chatting for more personal communication. While texting is an excellent option for quick check-ins, being able to see our loved one’s faces can provide comfort and reassurance. I’ve made it a priority to schedule video visits with friends and family for happy hour, sit down dinners, and catch up calls. Setting aside these times in my calendar ensures that I am regularly connecting to loved ones.

2) Help. Adapting to significant life changes can cause a great deal of stress. Many of our studio team members are experiencing anxiety over safely accessing food and supplies for our loved ones. We’ve been working together to support each other, sharing resources we find for grocery and pantry items, as well as creative solutions like growing mushrooms at home. It lessens the burden of having to find this information alone and strengthens our compassionate community.

3) Validate. Give others your full attention, listen free of judgment or criticism, and reiterate their concerns. Letting someone know that their fears and worries are heard and taken seriously can provide relief. In a personal setting, validation may simply be verbal confirmation. In my professional life, I offer validation by discussing health and safety concerns with my clients and providing design solutions to address their specific needs.

4) Engage. Listen, share encouraging thoughts, or offer alternative positive viewpoints. I enjoy sharing my favorite books with friends and have found that reading can inspire both escape and connection. We have been helping our clients expand their libraries with comforting and engaging books, providing needed distraction and entertainment during these challenging times.

5) Inspire hope. It is easy to feel frightened and pessimistic when there is uncertainty about the future. Offering an optimistic outlook, or moments of humor can be a reminder to ourselves and others that all is not lost. As we now regularly meet with our clients and colleagues using video conferencing apps, our design team has uploaded personal travel photos as our virtual backgrounds. The beautiful, natural scenery is a simple way to provide cheer, a virtual outdoor experience, and a reminder of the places in the world we are looking forward to enjoying again.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Connecting with nature is an excellent and effective way to calm anxieties. Enjoying time in your garden, bird watching from your window, or tending to a potted plant can all contribute to calming a worried mind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love the Audrey Hepburn quote, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” My garden is a restorative sanctuary for me, as well as a safe haven for Monarch, Cloudless Sulfur, and Gulf Fritillary butterflies that stop in to visit the Milkweed, Senna, and Passion Flowers that are blooming here. Each day I am blessed with the opportunity to commune among an ever-expanding group of feathered friends; Bewick’s Wrens, Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds, Western Scrub Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, California Towhees, White-crowned Sparrows, Goldfinches, Scaly-breasted Munias, and the most beautiful Cooper’s Hawk. Being connected to and supportive of the natural world fills me with gratitude.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to encourage an expansion of universal design principles to create welcoming and supportive environments for all people. Many of us have unaddressed environmental needs. Designing spaces that consider overlapping sensitivities benefits everyone. Empathetic and mindful considerations can create healing and restorative spaces that improve collective wellbeing.

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