Milieu is a series that explores the unique ways in which we breathe life into our homes. From coastal towns to city living, our homes are a celebration of small, simple moments. They’re a reflection of our lives. Our stories. Our milieu.
Our next feature brings us to the Pacific West Coast to visit Sahra Samnani, founder of h.t.be, a design firm that uses a uniquely holistic approach to design and interiors. (We’ll let Sahra tell you more about it!)
Sahra lives with her partner Alex in a marvellously tranquil home in coastal Victoria, British Columbia. The attention to detail is apparent in the most inviting way; each room beckons you in to enjoy the serenity of intentional spaces.
Please, introduce yourself!
Hello dear friends ☺. My Name is Sahra and I am an Interior Designer and home enthusiast. I’m currently living in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia with my beloved partner Alex and our sweet little cat Roux. I currently run a small design practice called How To Be where we do a wide range of things including interior, graphic and product design as well as home well-being consultations. In addition to that, I’m currently taking courses in Holistic Nutrition (food is my other great love in life). My greatest passion in life is to understand the relationship we have with our homes and to share what I discover about living well with the world. My truest belief is that every single human being deserves to live in comfort and beauty.
When did your love of interiors and design begin?
It feels like it has always been there. However, I think my love of home and the interior world began with my childhood home in Hanna, Alberta. It was a beautiful single level head-to-toe cedar home with high vaulted ceilings. Every inch of the house was wood, sunlight and warmth. It was somewhat of a hub for our family, friends, and community. People would always filter in and out of our home, welcomed warmly by my parents who hosted with enthusiasm and abundance. It was beautiful and full of life; I remember drinking in the feeling of liveliness, community and beauty. As our family moved away from that home and our life in Hanna, I kept the feeling of that home within me, it was my inner hearth I could always turn to.
Over the years I’ve become a bit obsessed with creating that magical mixture of beauty, warmth and life. Every bedroom, dorm room, home, workspace and dinner party had to have the essence of the feeling I felt in my childhood home. It didn’t matter if I had pennies to my name- I was going to live in my version of beauty.
Eventually, this dedication landed me in Design School where I learned to translate feelings, thoughts and the ineffable into the built world. The Interior Design profession was a stark contrast to my emotion-filled beginnings; you’re taught to tuck your feelings away, treat your work objectively and power through until you’ve completed what needs to be done. I hid the part of me that sought the warmth and feeling in space, squirrelled away the quiet voice that wanted to adorn spaces with soft finishes and cosy moments. I dove deep into form and function, forgoing the very things I truly believed in. I chased what I thought I should be, what I should design and create.
It wasn’t until my partner Alex and I moved into a heritage home in Victoria that I began to rediscover the real reason I fell in love with the interior world. Nestled in the old bones of our home, I was once again surrounded by the warmth of wood and the bustle of my community here in Victoria. I took a break from design for a year and un-did all my doing. In that process, I’ve found myself back where I began, immersed in my calling once again. My love for home and the world of interiors came from my beginnings and my design work has given me the tools to shape and form the feelings I hold most dear, into a shareable reality.
We understand your firm, h.t.be, focuses on what feels like a very holistic approach to interiors and design. How would you describe this approach of ‘comfortable minimalism’?
Originally, comfortable minimalism was an effort to soften the starkness that can come with minimalism. I deeply align with many of the principles of minimalism, the meditative, monastic nature of it all; the thoughtfulness and the emphasis on creating less waste. The idea behind comfortable minimalism was that no matter the home, we can all maintain the principles of minimalism and apply them to our lives. We can use the aesthetic directions of “less” and gift ourselves the feeling of lightness rather than excess – without having to fall into bleakness. The holistic part of my practice relates to the deep work we do with clients to help them discover how they truly want to live.
The idea of encouraging people to find happiness in their current homes is very inspiring, especially considering how we often tend to think that the ‘grass is always greener’ someplace else. What is some simple advice you could give to our readers to begin rediscovering this sense of satisfaction and happiness at home?
As cheesy as it may sound, it truly begins with a personal journey inwards. What is it you want to feel daily? How do you restore? What brings you nourishment? When we begin to ask ourselves these questions, we can quickly discover that we rarely need “new” or “more” to find our way to satisfaction; most likely, we simply need to tweak a few things. Once you’ve quietly answered the questions of what you truly need, your answers will help shape your space (and your life lol). If you discover you need to focus on nourishment and healthy eating, craft your space to encourage that. Create inspiring moments in your kitchen that make you want to be in there more. Place a small table by your favourite window to encourage a slow moment of conscious eating. If you find you want to feel more inspired, fill your home with what inspires you! Is it plants? A certain colour? Photos of loved ones? Pottery?
Let go of convention, let go of trend, let go of what you think your space should be. Allow yourself to freely shape a restorative and inspiring home for you. Do what brings you happiness in your space and do it shamelessly. Create a home from what you want to feel and who you want to be.
The truth of it is: we are enough and – generally, in this part of the world – we have enough. With the way our world is moving, we need to begin to work with what we already have and begin a practice of deeply conscious consumption; it is one of the most sustainable and fulfilling things we can do.
What are some of your personal favourite rituals to make time for throughout autumn?
This is my season; I feel the essence of autumn in my bones. The way the light turns more golden, the crisp breeze that encourages you to add another blanket atop your bed. There are so many rituals you can partake in to bring joy, warmth and comfort to you and your family during this time.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Bring warmth into the home.
Add extra blankets to the bed for warmth; light an extra candle or tea light in the evenings. Perhaps even try out some amber coloured light bulbs for your lamps. Flameless candles are lovely for creating an evening glow without soot (one can only light so many candles each day).
One of my favourite little rituals is to bring a candle into my bedroom before bed and let it bring warmth to my room before I fall sleep. I like to turn out the lights and simply sit and enjoy the candlelight for a few moments.
Warm your senses.
Add cinnamon, orange peels, cardamom and cloves to a pot of boiling water, let this scent your home. Dried herbs work well too! Try rosemary, thyme and some lemon peel. Remember to open windows and move the air around your space daily.
I encourage everyone to be conscious of overspending and consuming trends / seasonal décor. While it’s wonderful to create a conscious collection of items to celebrate the season, buying mass-produced, low-quality décor items do nothing but create waste! A change in season is not just about changing around the items in your home, it is also about embracing ritual, connecting to the natural cycles of life and learning to love change. Reminding yourself that ‘seasonal’ is not a display of themed disposable props, but rather an embrace of change and a connection to our cyclic world.
When it comes to adorning and furnishing your own home, would you consider yourself a minimalist?
I was originally going to say no, then I reviewed the photos and I believe I am quite minimalist. I like to have well-curated moments and try my best to exercise restraint. I go through moments where I want my kitchen to be filled to the brim like Nigella Lawson’s TV sets, while at other times I want to live in quiet poetry and veer towards minimalism.
Do you have a favourite room, viewpoint or cosy corner in your home that you tend to gravitate to?
The corner nook of our sofa, by our big front window. It is my favourite place to watch the world go by outside. Alex, Roux (our cat) and I often crowd that corner; it’s the location of many movie nights, dinners, conversations and quiet, loving moments. The sun in the evening filters in so beautifully and it’s my favourite place to sit quietly and watch the light transform the room.
What is one of your favourite things about living on the West Coast during October?
Fall here is glorious. I happen to adore the rain, so as soon as it begins to visit more often I begin turning up the cosy in our home. Candles, blankets, soup, tea, music – all of it. Alex, coming from a culinary family, has ushered me into the tradition of foraging for chanterelles every autumn. It is a glorious event where we bop through the forest for hours trying to spy little bits of forest gold. We usually come home with heaps of them and Alex will whip up something delicious shortly after. It’s strange but I tend to enjoy the outdoors more during this time of year – ha! We live by the water in James Bay, Victoria. During October, the mornings are fog-filled and absolutely magnificent. I’m not at all an early riser, but as soon as I hear the foghorns off the sea, I jump out of bed for a morning stroll. I love the early evenings. Sunsets are golden, candles come on early and burn late into the evening, warm stews bubble on the stove just a bit earlier… it’s divine.
Who or what are some of your biggest design inspirations?
It really varies! Architecturally, I would say it would be John Pawson. The first time I saw his work it took my breath away, the reverence for quiet and negative space- he is a master. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I love the atmosphere of someone like Mimi Thorisson or Nigella Lawson; something about the abundance tickles my heart.
In general, my design inspiration tends to come from life, from the memories I treasure, my family, my love Alex, Victoria, my friends, my animals. They all provide me with moments of inspiration, bites of texture and colour, feelings of warmth and poetry.
If you felt as inspired as we did by Sahra’s feature, we highly recommend you find her on Instagram for more inspiring seasonal rituals to bring with you throughout the year to come.
Shop a few of Sahra’s favourites: