Sarah Richardson is no stranger to television. As a super-successful Canadian designer, she has been the host, co-creator and co-producer of eight HGTV series, including the brand-new Sarah Off The Grid, premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV Canada. The six part series finds Sarah tackling her biggest challenge yet: an off-the-grid dream home for her most important client ever: her family!

I recently had the chance to chat with this busy businesswoman and mom all about the new show.

Sarah, I have to start by thanking you for something. When I launched my blog in 2010, you were one of my first Momterviews, and when you shared our interview on Facebook it became my very first “viral post”…so thanks!

That’s great, and you’re welcome!

I saw a screener of the new show and I love it! What do you think the pros and cons are of working on a project for yourself rather than a client?

I’d like to think that I give the same attention to detail to everything I do for my clients. But as a designer my job is to be a curator, and to show them a selection of things and the agony of decision making is really up to them. I have chosen a bunch of things where you can’t go wrong, all of which I love, and my clients get to make the decision. And so ultimately, you know, the final result has so much to do with them. And when you’re your own client, it’s terrifying because you don’t want to make a mistake, you don’t want to get it wrong and you want to make sure that everything you choose is the right answer for the long-term. And for me, it is the added challenge of the fact that it’s also going on television. So I’m always trying to deliver new and fresh ideas to my viewing audience, but at the same time I know what I love and sometimes I’d like to just be able to play it safe.

 

Planning and implementing a project with your partner isn’t always easy – I know that! After building this house with your husband Alexander, what tips would you offer those who are building or renovating with their significant other?

The good thing is we’ve done a bunch of projects together and we’ve really figured out our system and everybody has to figure out what system works for them. But I would always say, you need to divide and conquer, and everybody needs to have a voice. And everybody’s tastes and preferences need to be represented. I feel like a lot of people duke it out and they’re not willing to give or let the other person have a say. And having a say is really important.

In our world it’s pretty simple, we have a division of labour which you will have seen on the show: he’s the minister of exteriors and I’m the department of interiors. So he handles everything that relates to systems and all of that – we call it exteriors with a subspecialty in stereo, audio/visual and bar. I don’t question that! If he wants to put a TV somewhere, he gets it. If he wants stereo speakers in the living room, I don’t care how big they are! We don’t battle about the details, and if he tells me he likes or doesn’t like something, I listen. But at the same time, he trusts me.

 

 

With this particular project, what did you find was the most difficult part of the process and why?

The most challenging thing for me was taking on the contractor role while making a television show, running my business and taking care of my family. The hard part was all the extra time and effort of the general contracting side on top of the design decisions and it felt to me like there were a lot of days where I felt like I was never going to have time to get to the design decisions because I was too busy trying to make sure that the roof was going on or the siding was going on or the windows were on track or whatever else. And so a lot of days it felt like one job too many.

Why was it important for you to make this house sustainable?

Basically we started this when we bought a beautiful piece of property and we had a shared goal of wanting to make it amazing. We wanted a beautiful architectural and well-designed home, and from minute one Alex was the driving force on being off the grid. For anybody who doesn’t know, off the grid means that you don’t have municipal services to rely on, which are water, heat, electricity and sewage. And so, by nature of default when you are on a hundred acre property, you are already off the grid for three out of those four. The only one left is electricity. Alex has run an off the grid cottage since 1998 and we live in a province where hydro bills are soaring so it just makes sense. We also live in an area where we get the winter storms, we get storms all year round. Alex’s feeling was that the only way to go – and he said this from day one – was this needs to be off the grid. And he was a champion for it, the whole way through, no matter how hard it was, and kudos to him – he pulled it off. Because it’s not a small property to be running off the grid. {She’s not kidding!}

 

To preface my next question: when we first talked seven years ago, I had just started my blog and I had given my daughters fake names, and was trying not to use too many photos. Your daughters are the same ages as mine, and I remember at the time you preferred not to have their names or photos used as well. I know my thoughts have changed, and I’m wondering how your feelings have evolved over time, as I know your girls are visible in this series. 

That is such an interesting question to be honest, and one I hadn’t thought about in a really long time. So, thanks for asking! At the beginning, with a newborn, you want to protect them, you want to keep them safe, you want to keep them out of the media. I remember I declined magazine covers because I didn’t want to stick them on there. And I guess in the early days I didn’t want to treat my babies, unwilling humans, as accessories. I decided to put myself out there in the public, but I just wasn’t comfortable turning them into stage kids or making them be involved before they understood what it meant. They’re nine and eleven now – if you can believe that – and the difference now is that this {being on Sarah Off The Grid} got to be a choice. I asked them if they were willing to be involved. For me, it needed to be their choice and throughout the process they were only involved when they wanted to be. And if they didn’t feel like doing something, like going to the set, they didn’t have to do it. Fiona was more keen during the building process and Robin was enthused about the design process. They got involved when they wanted to.

I like that answer.

I think it’s also about testing the waters, and what makes people feel comfortable. Now, with social media, I think that everybody knows who the girls are and there haven’t been any challenges, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

Because my blog is called “This Mom Loves”, I always ask, “how would you finish the sentence ‘This mom loves…’?” When I asked you back in 2010, your answer was “This mom loves spending precious weekends away from the buzz of city life and celebrating the simple pleasures of country living with the three most important people in my world.”

Oh my gosh! Can I say that again?

When I looked back and found that answer, I figured it would still apply, especially in light of the new show!

Oh wow! I hope it’s not a bad thing that my answer hasn’t changed! That’s still the goal, the dream…and I would say I love seeing that my girls now love it as much as we do. Because they were babies back then … and now everybody thrives.

And now you have a brand new country home to enjoy off the grid!

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Thanks so much for taking time to chat, Sarah! You can catch Sarah Off The Grid on HGTV Canada Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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