She is a whirlwind of energy, bursting with creativity and her effervescent personality captivates anyone who meets her.
In a world where minimalism and natural tones always seem to be the trend, Sarah Owen loudly and proudly creates magical sanctuaries that celebrate rich colours in all their glory.
“I don’t follow trends and I am not commercial. I start with a clear mind, no confidence, I just sit in a space and feel the light and the atmosphere and find what the vibe is giving me,” says the charming Sarah over a Chai Latte in the magnificent, domed coffee shop section of The Grand Exotic in Sheffield Beach.
This is her third masterpiece. Her first project was the quaint Churchills Antique Café in Windermere, Durban 20 years ago. This was followed by the enchanting and popular Crystal Barn wedding venue near Nottingham Road, which Sarah sold three years ago, and now, the long-awaited café, antique shop, spa and function venue, The Grand Exotic.
Creating the look is an ongoing process, says Sarah. One that is tweaked with every new spark of inspiration that motivates her to pick up a paintbrush or pull out another sari to add a bolder mood to a wall or floor! You see, Sarah doesn’t wear saris, instead she uses them to create interesting walls and focus points on floors.
“I woke up from a nightmare where I saw a waiter tripping over a rug, spilling coffee over everything! That is when I decided, no rugs, I will find a different idea to decorate the floor – saris and a special adhesive,” says Sarah, who lives in Mount Edgecombe.
That is the fascinating appeal of her creations – they are not just static buildings, instead, they are living, breathing, ever-changing, functional pieces of art.
“The walls were going to be turquoise, but I suddenly realised the light and the volume in the room calls for something brighter. It needed an ochre tone. I painted the galvanised walls, but it looked too new. So, I made them look rusty to bring in the old look. Things evolve here…”
The end result is a space that makes you feel as though you are in an opulent, flamboyant, dream world with the light bouncing off the vintage, weathered chandeliers, playing in the massive mirrors around the edge of the round room.
“I was so excited when I took these big mirrors out of their packaging. They were white, which wouldn’t work, so I used all my old paint and mixed a type of cherry tomato colour and painted them. That was not enough, so I slapped some gold on here and there.”
The vision for The Grand Exotic, Sarah says, was born ten years ago while she and her landscaper boyfriend, Curt, were watching the musical drama, Across the Universe.
“We saw this amazing palace on water with a big dome in the one scene and we said, ‘let’s build a wedding venue on the North Coast’. I grabbed a khoki and quickly scribbled the design of this place on a piece of paper. That was The Grand Exotic,” says the qualified teacher who specialised in remedial education and psychology.
They found and bought the piece of land in Sheffield Beach, but the vision of this colourful dome-topped palace had to wait ten years to be built, thanks to endless red tape. When they finally got the go-ahead to start building, the land was in tatters.
“This place was a rubbish dump. While Kurt and I were building we were pulling out shoes, shattered bottles and broken car seats from the piles of dust. We built this place in darkness, using only a tiny globe running off a small generator. We got electricity a week before the first wedding – it was terrifying!”
The most difficult task was completing the main feature – the dome. “Curt built this 5m high dome and painting it was nerve wracking!”
Finally, Sarah felt The Grand Exotic was worthy of opening…not complete, but ready…and the statement doors to the “industrial, bohemian-chic, tumbled down palace” finally opened in July.
Since then, visitors have been blown away by what she has created, a style so unique and personal, coupled with her zest for colour and love for all things vintage.
As a perfectionist and self-proclaimed workaholic, Sarah is protective over her creation and made a bold move to ensure the intended atmosphere and priceless decor is enjoyed the way it should be. “We don’t allow children under 14 inside. It was a huge risk to make that decision, but we did it because this is a place that is peaceful, with the tranquil water feature set in the ornamental garden and the vintage artefacts on display.”
Pop in for a visit, inhale the creativity and enjoy a slice of yummy carrot cake while you escape into a grand and truly exotic world.
Details: Contact The Grand Exotic at 076 435 6090 or visit their Facebook page – The Grand Exotic
Text: Elana Wagner | Photos: Barry Bowditch