In creating a home “you don’t want to leave,” Sandra Morgan Downie has drawn thousands of followers to her online doorstep.
By Mel Allen
Aug 29 2022
One day in early summer 2020, Sandra Morgan Downie found the house of her dreams. One she could reimagine from the ground up, to make into “the space you want to come home to, a place you don’t want to leave.” The house—a 1967 reproduction saltbox in a leafy neighborhood in Broad Brook, Connecticut—combined Colonial-period style with the modern touches that previous owners had added. “I like the feel of the old and new,” she says. “When I walked in, I saw the old wallpaper, the dark cherry wood. It was a very New England home that had not been updated. But I knew it had good bones, and I knew we would grow into it.”
In other words, it was exactly the kind of project she could share with people she might never meet but who regard her as a friend: her social media followers. For the past eight years, and through two previous home makeovers with her husband, Scott, she has gained an audience of more than 150,000, who come to her blogs and Instagram posts to learn what they could use not only in their own houses but also in their lives. “They come along for the journey,” she says.
She has no formal training in art or interior design. But from her early years, “I always enjoyed interior design. When I started posting just for fun, I noticed when I showed my design aesthetic, it resonated with people. So I said to myself, You know what? I’m just going to share what I love. People feel like I’m someone they can relate to. And there’s not a lot of African-American women who do this.”
To Downie, “this” is showing how to create a home and life with style and decor that brings a sense of calm and serenity. She has redone a house inside and out, sanded beams and doors, all while maintaining her own balance and humor. She describes her aesthetic with phrases like “refined casual style” and “where modern meets vintage.” She believes that simplicity leads to beauty. That less is more. “I go into a space and clear it up,” she says succinctly. “Clutter affects your spirit.”
On this April day she has just returned from her father’s funeral in Jamaica. Denroy Morgan was a famed reggae pioneer, and his state funeral–like service was attended by Jamaica’s prime minister. “My father instilled respect, pride, and order in us,” she says. “He shaped us.” Many of the mourners didn’t know her, since she had grown up in New York and Massachusetts, and when her brother introduced her to everyone, he said she is called “the black Martha Stewart.” Downie hears that a lot. “I’m proud to be called that,” she says.
She begins the Connecticut house tour in the once-boxy kitchen. “That was not going to work,” she says. The space expanded to include her “movie theater” windows. “I need sunlight—I feel it in my soul, in my spirit.” She loves cooking as much as scouting for the perfect vintage detail, and here she looks out to the garden and a tree-lined yard. “I watch the seasons go by,” she says.
In every room it becomes clear that her art is as much about what is not there, as what is. “Everything has been picked out for a purpose,” she says. “There has to be a space for it. You have to love everything in your home.”
Her goal in every nook and cranny is to create cohesion and harmony. She loves linen curtains for their texture and sense of timelessness. Each cabinet, each mantel, becomes to her eye a still life; she moves and adjusts pieces until she gets the perfect balance. Deciding what objects to place on a shelf above the toaster, she says, took her a week. There are no shortcuts.
She says only two bathrooms remain to renovate, then every inch, every fixture will have felt her touch. Now she wants to find property in Jamaica where she can create a small boutique inn. She is in discussions about a possible TV show with her daughter, Gabrielle, with New England as its setting. She hints that maybe her restless eye will find yet another country home that needs her as much as she needs it. Above all, she says, she hopes to use her platforms to influence people beyond her gifts of style. “What we need now,” she says, “is peace, love, and acceptance. Just acceptance of someone different from you.”
To enter Sandra Morgan Downie’s world, go to sandramorganliving.com.