Katie Saro On Vintage Design & Creating An Authentic Home - Exclusive Interview

These days it can be a struggle to make your home feel like an authentic and welcoming space, thanks to the prevalence of cookie-cutter suburban neighborhoods and tacky commercial décor. That's why breathing authenticity and feeling into your space is more important than ever. As such, it's not surprising that many homeowners are turning to vintage décor and meaningful artwork to personalize their residences instead of mass-produced pieces created with broad appeal in mind.

However, harnessing the allure of vintage décor is not as simple as it may sound, especially for the newly-initiated. This is where the professionals come into play. To that end, Katie Saro is a renowned painter and design expert with a penchant for crafting, renovating homes, and sourcing unique items that can transform a room. Her series "The Art of Vintage" premiered on August 6, 2022 on the Magnolia Network, which shows Saro providing her clients with expert design know-how. In an exclusive interview with House Digest, Saro opened up about her new program, vintage décor, and her distinctive take on crafting a home that is as original and heartfelt as the people who live in it.

Catching up with Katie Saro

Katie, you are known for your painting and design work, but what was it like making "The Art of Vintage"? Was working on a TV show more challenging than you thought it would be?

Katie Saro: That's a good question. I knew nothing about TV before we started filming a TV show. It's different because I was basically just doing what I already do every day, but someone was there filming it. I think it was a really good learning experience to see how a TV show was made. I don't think I appreciated how TV shows were made before, and there's a lot of work that goes into it.

Other than working on the show and being a busy mother, what have you been working on these days?

My house mostly. We just bought my childhood home and there is a lot to do to it. It's going to be a decades-long project fixing up this house. I just moved to a new location. I was a vintage dealer in Dallas my whole life. I built up a lot of contacts and shippers, and a business there. Trying to find that same network up here is going to take a lot of time, so that's what I'm going to be working on once the show is done filming.

You've talked in the past about a home's design providing a backdrop to cherished memories. What aspects of your new home will your children be fondly recalling 30 years from now?

I don't know, but I know that I do think about it every time I do something in the house. I try to involve my kids whenever we're doing some sort of update. Because I like to think, "Okay. In 30 years, what are my kids going to say about this moment? What are they going to remember and tell their kids and their grandchildren about this moment?" We haven't even lived in this home for a year now, but the first thing we did was redo the kids' attic bedrooms.

I painted this mural specifically for them that goes up the stairs, all the way up to the attic. I tried to use it as a metaphor for life. Every time I paint something, I try [to] tell my kids that it's a metaphor for life. I don't know if they're listening, but I do think that they will have fond memories of helping me paint that mural and watching me paint that mural, and listening to me drone on about how it's the metaphor for life.

Did you have anything you'd like to add for our readers to know about you or about your work?

I would just say that I never intended to be on a TV show, but the Magnolia Network wanted to follow people who were just doing what they were already doing, not make a TV show out of something that has never been done before. It's really fun to be able to just be myself and have a TV crew document it all.

Using vintage décor in the home

How can people use vintage items in their home to elevate their décor?

I think that you can't fake age. That's something that you can't buy. You can't buy 100 years of time. You can't buy that kind of patina in a store. You can only find it with vintage. So anytime you bring something old into your home, regardless of what it looks like, it makes the home feel different than you would've if you had all new things.

It's just like [how] an old home ... always feels different and more special than a new home ... Even if it looked exactly the same, a new home wouldn't have that same feel. It's the same with vintage furniture. It adds to the feeling of how a room is, and makes it feel more special and more connected to generations that have lived before you, which is what makes vintage necessary in every home.

Your designs are known for implementing diverse eras, cultures, and styles. How can homeowners avoid having their different vintage finds clash when implementing diverse pieces of furniture, artwork, and antiques in a space?

Well, first I think that just with people, with friends, with companies, with social settings, you always need diversity. The same thing is true for furniture. It makes everything more interesting when there's lots of competing viewpoints. That's why vintage is great because you can pick the best out of every era, and it will always make for a more interesting arrangement.

One tip for how to mix different eras is [by using] scale. For instance, if you're mixing two chairs and a couch that are from disparate places or disparate styles, as long as the seat height is about the same, and as long as the scale of the individual items are harmonious ... that's how you mix two different [pieces]. With couches and chairs, it's all about seat height.

You've talked in the past about how a rug's minor imperfection, such as a humility square or color bleeding, can be a sign of authenticity. Do you ever leave imperfect elements in your designs or seek to celebrate a space's imperfections when doing renovation work or a redesign?

Sometimes I don't have to do it on purpose. It's just imperfect because I'm imperfect and I made it, and, therefore, it will be imperfect. Yeah. I think that if we needed to have a one-line design rule, it would be to make everything perfect and then break it just a little bit to spice it up. Sometimes that happens. I'll be styling a room and we'll have a chair and it's aligned exactly, and everything is pointed towards each other in perfect unison. Then I just want to switch a chair diagonally just to spice it up. Yeah, I do think that a little bit of imperfection always makes something feel real.

Art and authenticity in design

As a painter and designer, it's no wonder that your expert use of art can transform a room. What advice would you give on sourcing and implementing meaningful artwork in the home?

I think it's always best to buy art from the artist if you can afford it and if you want to make an investment in it. And if you can't, finding vintage art is a great way to get really beautiful art at a low cost. You can look at thrift stores, eBay, Goodwill, those kinds of things. I do have a rule that I only occasionally break by never having prints in my home. I think that unless there's a very good reason, it's always best to have original art versus prints.

And above all, I think you should never attempt to match the art to your home. Art should exist in of itself as something beautiful. It doesn't need to have a function, like matching the colors of a room or matching a couch, being in a theme. Art should be something that's beautiful just because it's beautiful and that's its only function. So, don't try and match the rest of your room. Just find something that is beautiful to you and if it doesn't match, all the better.

You're quoted as saying, "Hanging artwork is like having a piece of someone's soul in your home." If there was someone's soul that you could have in your home to brighten your day, who would you choose?

I have a painting that my grandmother did of her house. When I was a little kid, I used to hug the painting, as if it were my grandma when I missed her. I don't know if it was an especially great painting, but of course, having a painting by someone that you love is very special. 

I do collect art pieces from artists that I know to have beautiful souls because every time I see their artwork, it reminds me of them and who they are. Yeah, that's it. I can't think of just one person, but I do know that I love my grandma and I have artwork from her, and it's nice.

That was an amazing answer.

I do abstract art workshops with my kids and it's not anything that's museum quality artwork, but the fact that they made it makes it beautiful, regardless of whether it's well-done or not. I do have a lot of that all over my house.

You can catch Katie Saro on the premiere season of "The Art of Vintage" on Discovery+, streaming now.