Sit Down With Studio Dearborn’s Sarah Robertson

The firm founder and principal designer works without an assistant.
Final Headshot Sarah Robertson Whch 2020

Photographs by Adam Kane Macchia.

The founder and principal of Studio Dearborn, Sarah Robertson derived her firm’s name from her middle name–and family history. Chicago’s original settlement in 1803, Fort Dearborn, was named for her ancestor, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, and the name has been passed down in the family for generations. 

Growing up, Robertson won national Arabian horse training championships. After earning BA and MBA degrees at Northwestern, she worked as a consultant before leaving the corporate world to follow her passion for renovating and building homes. “I didn’t like being shut in an office all day. I wanted to work on things that were tangible and experience the creativity and beauty of a physical result.” She has emerged as a highly sought-after arbiter of kitchen design and is a brand ambassador for Docking Drawer, California Faucets, Dacor appliances and Renovation Angel. 

Robertson lives in Westchester with her husband and two grown sons in a Craftsman-style home inherited from her husband’s grandparents and parents. Though working without an assistant, she still finds opportunities for gardening, running, Pilates and collecting copper cookware.

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Light admitted by walls of windows engender a feeling of spaciousness. Photographs by Adam Kane Macchia.

What was the source of your passion for house renovation and design? I’m not sure! I spent my weekends and summers growing up repainting every room in the house, wallpapering and literally any DIY project I could tackle. 

What lesson from being a business consultant has been useful in designing kitchens? I think the organizational skills and big-picture strategy focus have helped me in my business tremendously. 

Storage has a separate section on your website. Why is it integral to your design? We have so much stuff in our kitchens, and we are working around heat, flame, sharp knives and perishable foods. Storage is key for safety, for efficiency and for peace of mind in the kitchen. 

What’s your favorite kitchen storage secret? That’s funny, none of my storage designs are secret! I share them with anyone and everyone—but I love the paper towel drawer. 

Why is the size of a kitchen sink important? I’m not a fan of an enormous kitchen sink, because I think the distance between the faucet and the dishwasher is important to manage, but I love a solid 30” wide kitchen sink, large enough to hold pots that might be soaking and still allow for rinsing and washing other dishes. 

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An antique carpet and a mix of textures add character to a modern kitchen design. Photographs by Adam Kane Macchia.

What should be the guide in choosing among the “top ten white paint colors?” I think the color tones in the rest of the house can guide you to a good decision here. But it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. 

Is there a trick to making a small kitchen feel more spacious? Light. But beyond that, limiting wall cabinets can go a long way in making a kitchen feel bigger. 

What’s the advantage of a mixed metal faucet? I love mixed metals in general. I grew up around horses, where we used chrome, nickel, silver, copper, iron and brass (and loads of leather!) all mixed together. It recalls an earlier time, when “matching” wasn’t an option or a concern. 

What is it about a brass finish that you favor? I prefer a brass finish with a natural, unlacquered patina. Some call it “aged brass.” It just looks and feels authentic, and I’m drawn to that. 

Why use a variety of finishes on kitchen cabinetry? Mixing textures and finishes feels more authentic to me. I also love character woods, brushed finishes, and mixing antiques, art and collectibles into the kitchen space. 

Why is blue the color most often used in your kitchens? I’ve read that over 40 percent of humans consider blue to be their favorite color. I’d love to do a green kitchen or red, pink, yellow—you name it—but most clients gravitate towards blue. 

We hear a lot about “going green” but you seem to be doing something about it. I am a bit of a freak about wasting anything, so when Renovation Angel came along and offered to keep entire kitchens out of the waste stream, I said “sign me up.” 

Why do you include a lemon chicken recipe on your website? That’s my favorite recipe ever, a family pleaser that always turns out right. But I’d planned to add more over time. It might surprise you how many people have downloaded it!