Sara Malek Barney Wants Sunken Living Rooms to Make a Comeback

How BANDD Design does custom.

Whenever we see a great piece coming off the line we take note of the designer behind it—and lately, one name has been popping up again and again: BANDD Design. The Austin, Texas, firm headed up by Sara Malek Barney, has a seriously robust business in Texas and beyond, turning out polished interiors with, quite frankly, a note of sex appeal. The vibe of BANDD projects is very cool parents—like, “I have toddlers, but our nanny does overnights on weekends in case my friends hand me the mic.” Unsurprisingly, Barney did more than a stint in SoCal as an executive in the entertainment and sports industries (old gigs: SXSW and CAA—IYKYK!), so, if you’d like to align yourself with other cool-people-turned-designers, give BANND a follow. — Sophie Donelson

The Bandd Team

The BANDD team…

is soon to be 9 as we’re hiring another designer soon. Our team works so well together, it’s like we’re a family. We all love to chat about Real Housewives and really anything on Bravo. I’m a huge lover of sequins and all things sparkly, so every year at our holiday party, I require everyone to wear sequins of some sort. Some people hate it and some love it, but the boys always end up with the most creative outfits! 

Any office pets or mascots?

Our team brings their dogs in on special days so I feel like we have a whole family of BANDD pets, but my dogs, Cookie and Fizzy, are always here and love to keep the team company.

What was your first-ever custom-made piece?

It was a 13-foot-long sectional draped in slate blue corduroy for a family of 9.

What do you always spec custom—and why?

I prefer to always go custom for sofas and window treatments (yes, drapery included) because these are pieces that set the tone for the entire space and need to be personalized to complement the room, as well as fit the client’s needs—do they want blackout shades, performance fabrics on their sofa, etc. 

What custom project are you dying for a client to request? 

A custom sofa that goes wall to wall to create a cozy yet polished feel in a living or media room. 

What’s your own favorite sofa like:

Soft and downy, casual with a bench seat cushion, velvet, rust-colored, and obviously yes—all the throw pillows!

What sort of upholstered furniture do you find… questionable

Bean bags (lol) and outdoor benches because there’s really no point for them to be upholstered. 

What technique specifically would you like to learn more about? 

I’d like to learn more about unique styles of tufting; it always adds an interesting element to the piece. 

What pieces do you do really well? 

Seating and cozy bedroom furniture—upholstered headboards, accent chairs, and sofas (not sectionals)!

What would you love to try?

Designing a home that is 100% custom from top to bottom. It would be a dream to walk into a home and not be able to recognize anything from a retail store. 

What fabric + profile combinations always work? 

Leather and tufting, velvet and plush upholstery, linen, and structural form.

Your go-to textile companies: 

Fabricut, Schumacher, Zak + Fox, Kufri, Great Plains.

What furniture trend or piece should be retired?

Backless counter stools—use a low back instead so that it still fills the space. 

Which old-school idea is ripe for a return?

Sunken living rooms! They are such a vibe!

Decorators, stylists or architects you admire? And why? 

Arent & Pyke: I love this design group because they always have such an interesting mix of color, texture, and funky elements—but it still looks so polished and chic together. Raili Ca Design: She has always been my designer-idol! The way that she takes California Casual styles and makes them feel more elevated and edgy is perfection.


Sofas: Skirted, platform, or bare legs? 

There’s a time and place for all of them, but generally speaking bare legs. 

Sofa pillows: Knife edge, box, welt, or other? 

Knife-edge—keep it simple. 

Sectional sofas: Yah, nah, or when?

No, no, no. It takes the elevated feeling away!

Generously pillowed beds:

Yes! Gimme all the pillows. 

Coffee table or ottoman?

Coffee table. It adds a new texture and material to the space, especially since it’s near a sofa. 


Your best ideas: In the shower or at your desk? 

At my desk! Then I know that it’s game time and to have my creative mind on.

A dream client…

Trusts me wholeheartedly to create a beautiful, unique, and functional space for them.


My first real sofa…

Was so deep that I had a hard time getting out of it. It was a Z Gallerie piece so that itself just says how long ago that was. 

I’m a sucker for…

Small-scale patterns. 

Dinner with a friend: banquette or barstool?

Barstool! I love to feel like the spotlight is on me. 

More from Sophie Donelson
Why 4” is the Perfect Sofa Arm and Other Gems from NYC Designer Kammi Reiss
Zero surprises that a woman whose career kicked off as a photo...
Read More
Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *