Christian Book Previews editor, Debra Murphy, interviewed Sharon Hanby-Robie at ICRS 2006 about her upcoming book, The Simple Home.
CBP: Share with us your Christian testimony...
Sharon: I accepted Christ when I was about seven, and then again when I was in my early twenties. I spent about ten years searching about what I believed in. It's one thing to accept Christ as a child, and then you get to those college years, you go, I'm not so sure about all this, I need to figure it out for myself. So I really researched for about ten years, and came full circle.
CBP: Tell us about your professional life, you're a designer.
Sharon: Yes, I've been practicing interior design for thirty two years, I'm a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. Again, I knew at seven this was what I wanted to do, but it kind of got left and I ended up in chemical engineering for five years -- don't ask. But I come from a very artistic family, and eventually went back and followed my passion and never looked back. It's been fabulous.
CBP: You've done some amazing things.
Sharon: I'm actually working on my sixteenth book right now, and God has just blessed me. He's taken me up, the media has embraced me, I've been on the Today Show, I was on HGTV for three years. I'm with QVC now, and it's amazing to see how God has moved it.
CBP: How did you go from being a hands-on designer, to actually writing about it?
Sharon: My husband actually encouraged me. I came in one day a little frustrated about everyone talking about Martha, and I said, "Excuse me, I can do that. I can renovate my home." My husband said that was a good idea for a book, and he literally forced me to sit down at the computer and two hours later I produced a table of contents for my first book, My Name Isn't Martha.
CBP: Where is your faith expressed in this?
Sharon: Everywhere! It's the people, that's really what it's about. Having the opportunity to sit at people's kitchen tables and drink coffee with them, as a designer, it is probably the most intimately involved profession. I know what's in your closet and under your bed. You can't work with a family and not hear their heart. I can't fix things until I know what the issues are. So we talk about all kinds of things: what's working and not working, how's the relationship with the kids, all of that. And the natural extension becomes their faith. When I would share my faith with them, it opens the door for them to share their faith with me. So my goal really became to incorporate that, because the home is the only environment over which we have any control. If we can't share our faith there and express it there, where can we?
CBP: How would you sum up the faith-filled perspective?
Sharon: Realizing that God really designs women to be homemakers and our attitude says it all. I don't care how beautiful your home is, if you've got a nasty attitude, that's what's going to show.
CBP: How do you hear from God?
Sharon: Sometimes I hear His loud, booming voice, and sometimes it's a soft, subtle voice. There are certainly those "ah-ha" moments when you're reading Scripture and all of a sudden I'm sobbing. That's when I went through a crisis of my work as a designer at one point, after twenty years of practice I was burned out. I was at the point where I would say, "Just pick a blue, I don't care what color blue!" That was not a good place to be. I had to ask myself, what do I do for a living? I spend people's money, how worthwhile is that? What kind of ministry is that?
I sat down with my Bible, and God showed me verse-by-verse how important the home was, and the difference I could make in lives. I sobbed my way through that afternoon.
CBP: It's an emotional thing for you, even right now.
Sharon: To realize how much power I really can have in influencing families and affecting their lives. It was such awesome responsibility that I didn't feel qualified to do. I long ago recognized that this was my ministry, this is where He wants me. I had a client who professes to be an atheist in Philadelphia, and he turned to me at one point and said, "I couldn't live in a city that didn't have spirit." And I said, "How does that fit with being an atheist? I'm so confused." He really isn't an atheist, but he doesn't know what he believes in, he's still searching. So even there I can have an influence that allows me to have that conversation with him.
CBP: Why is decor so important?
Sharon: Because there's so many elements of it that affect us at so many levels that we're not even aware. Take color for example. It's the second strongest trigger, the first is scent. For example, maybe you did something bad as a child and you might have been reprimanded in a blue room. To this day, you may not remember that incident, but every time you walk into a blue room you may be uncomfortable. And so that's my challenge, to figure out what colors make you smile, and what kinds of effects we need to create in your life.
For example, I'm a bit hyperactive, in case you haven't figured that out already. For my own home, I need calming spaces so the colors are specifically calming. I've allowed myself a little punch of color in the kitchen so I can wake up in the morning, so I have red chairs. That's my energizing color. So I really believe that God, who is the Creator of all things created, including color, I can't wait to see the colors in heaven, He's given us this tool. I think color is the most creative decorating tool I have, and I can use it powerfully, positively influence the lives of people.
CBP: If something is out of place, is that visual noise to you?
Sharon: Absolutely. There's no question about it -- visual chaos. My God is the God of order not disorder, and it absolutely affects us at every level whether we're aware of it or not.
CBP: Your book, The Simple House, deals with many issues, one of them being clutter. How does clutter affect our lives?
Sharon: It's terrible! When I first come out to people, I tell them I'm not going to charge them for the first hour, and they get all excited because they're going to get this free design advice. It's really an opportunity for us to get to know each other, and for me to see the house and figure out what's going on. I always tell my clients that the most inspiring rooms start by de-cluttering.
One of the things I make clients do is to take everything that they can carry out of the space, and I'll only allow them to put half of it back. Rarely do they even get that much back before they realize how much stuff they had stuffed into those spaces. It's disturbing.
CBP: Why can't they let go of it?
Sharon: Why? I don't know. I can let go of things, my husband can't. I think we need a 12-step program -- no! We attach value to things and it sticks. We are addicted to our stuff. I tell people they don't have to throw out one thing, not one. Just put it in boxes in the basement for a while. If in ten years you don't go back and open it up, then I want you to throw it out. It gives them such relief, because they think I'm going to change everything, and I'm not. But I want them to realize it probably wasn't as important as they thought it was.
CBP: Is our home about learning balance? Being taught balance, as you say in your book, between work, worship...
Sharon: We have to recognize that the home is the first environment that children know. It's what we will expect from the world. How we manage relationships, how we function as individuals and in community, all those things get formed in that space. So it needs to be the best experience it can be.
CBP: Do you share in your book about design principles? And how to do it simply?
Sharon: Absolutely! That's what it's all about. I believe it's all about not being afraid to make a move, to make a commitment to a color or a choice or a plan. It's little tiny steps, you don't have to do it all at once.
CBP: What does disorganization do to us?
Sharon: Causes chaos.
CBP: Why share about faith-based principles in a decorating book?
Sharon: Let's think about God, let's think about heaven. Do you think it's going to be disorganized? No. Let's talk about the temple that He has had men build to exact specifications, to the nth degree. So I think that's the model for what a home should be.
CBP: You close each of your chapters in a simple prayer. What's that about?
Sharon: Just getting us to think about our homes in a unique way, from a biblical perspective. And to invite God to help us and share in the process.
CBP: In closing, what should our home be?
Sharon: It should be an expression of love, a place where everyone--family, friends, or perfect strangers--will know the Spirit of God. It is a sanctuary, a holy place to be revived.
CBP: Thank you for sharing this important message in The Simple Home.