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RIISE CEO Sara Bell proves you don’t need to live somewhere forever to fill it with memories

Photography By Anne Peeters for RIISE
Published 01.04.22

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the perfect home takes time.

That it’s a complex labour of love that, like any relationship, moves through phases. There are highs (finding the perfect ottoman for a bay window). There are lows (orange vinyl sofa anyone?). But it doesn’t need to be so much work. As RIISE CEO Sara Bell shows, good chemistry can fast-track any affair. And honestly, doesn’t that sound like more fun?  

Now, to be fair, this fairytale is less woman meets Prince Charming and more woman meets fantastic Paddington terrace house. But, if you ask us, the pairing feels equally fated. While Sara has only been living here with her two teenage sons (she also has a daughter at university in Scotland) for a few years, the home has long been part of her life – even if she didn’t realise.  

“This house and the house next door were built together and are the mirror image of each other,” she explains. “I realised once I moved in and received my furniture and personal effects that the house next door had been on my dreaming board 10 years earlier as somewhere I wanted to live. It was both a shock and an affirmation of focus and visualisation.”  

Hey, all great love stories begin with a bit of kismet.  

The family settled here shortly after Covid struck. Previously Sara been living overseas for 17 years. After so much movement the space offered a chance to indulge in stillness, reconnect with beloved possessions and create a home that felt truly reflective of not only Sara’s taste, but also her values.   

“When I first returned I lived in a few different Airbnbs for over a year. It was so exciting to unpack all my things. For a long time now I have focused on buying things I really love. It sounds trite but it is one of the simplest ways of being sustainable.” 

While Sara’s personal approach to sustainability might be simple, her layered and wide-reaching experience in this area is anything but. She has been working in climate change for more than 20 years. First in carbon markets as part of the Kyoto Protocol carbon credit creation scheme, then climate change consulting and smart grids before setting up a tech company in the energy space that helped electricity customers to move their consumption to match renewable power.  

 

Today her focus is on RIISE (hi!), a multiplatform media and retail company that spans editorial, commercial, TV and ecommerce. Uniting all parts of the business is an unwavering commitment to engaging individuals in the climate conversation, showing them not only how powerful their participation is, but also how beautiful a life lived sustainably can be.   

Which brings us back to her house. Where, unsurprisingly, all that work has come in handy. “I think a lot about energy use and chose this house because it is so cool in summer on the ground floor. In winter last year it was a little cold and of course we were home more because of lockdown but it was manageable. We don’t have a clothes dryer and I organise myself to wash when it’s sunny. There’s a clothesline in the courtyard and my balcony is a sun trap.”  

Despite all those considerations, the finished result feels more like a (very stylish) memory box than a study in personal environmental responsibility.    

“The furniture reflects my approach to buy for the long term. Our dining table is a salvaged floor from an old British army barracks in Myanmar which was being torn down. The table legs are the beams of the house. The dining chairs are made from recycled railway sleepers. I am having the tabletop sanded down and revarnished but plan to keep an indentation created by my older son when he was a toddler and hungry and frustrated waiting for dinner one day. Seeing it places me immediately back in that time and helps me remember. In a sign of how long I intend to have the table, my kids have already agreed they will hold a cooking competition to determine who will inherit the prized piece. With the condition that the winner will generously invite the others to continue to share meals here.”  

The house is also punctuated with well-selected, deeply researched new pieces that reflect her commitment to supporting brands and makers who are finding ways to work and produce in responsible ways.   

“A recent purchase was a bed frame from Totem Road. I researched my options and settled on them because their philosophy fitted with mine. They use fully sustainable, FSC-certified European white oak. Not only is oak incredibly durable and long-lasting, each piece is unique in its grain and finish. Their wood is select logged to support regeneration, biodiversity and the protection of native fauna. They are also able to provide a fully documented chain of custody of the journey from the forest to the furniture in my home.”  

 

While the wider image of values-driven living continues to evolve in the public eye, through her life and work Sara is dedicated to showing that we don’t need to compromise aesthetics to be sustainable. “Humans respond to beauty and beauty sparks love which is why it’s so important. For me this is about the creativity challenge to create products that enable mainstream audiences to envisage themselves in lifestyles that are climate change friendly.”  

This eclectic mix results in a setting that invites participation, not just admiring stares. “I want people to notice that the house is both beautiful and lived in. Some days the lived-in part takes over a bit; a busy life is inevitably a compromise. I also want to share a creative and colourful vibe. I’m a visual learner and have a strong visual memory.”  

For someone as busy as Sara, it’s vital that the connection between person and place extends beyond good looks. Like all strong relationships, a home needs to also support and inspire. “Dreaming up TV ideas requires you to give free rein to imagination and my home is a chill and creative space to aid imagination.” Although, she admits, that isn’t always as romantic as styling a perfect side table display. “I’m fairly tidy and find it hard to work in chaos. It’s a counterbalance to running a complex, early-stage company with a strong mission. Adaptability, flexibility and persistence are key to my work life, so I am probably a bit more structured in my home space.”   

 

SARA’S TIPS FOR BALANCING FAMILY, FUNCTION AND CREATIVITY  

  

Create an environment you (and the people you love) actually want to be in: “It’s incredibly important to me that the house is welcoming, that it has a positive vibe and that people want to hang out in it. I share it with my two teenage sons and want to balance a home that I feel is aesthetically pleasing with their desire for a functional space. I think it’s important to know your teenagers’ friends. It gives you more of an insight into their lives, so I also want them to feel welcome. We often have sleepovers, so the house also needs to accommodate that.”  

Remember, today is a special occasion: “I also believe very strongly that you should never keep anything for best. I use the handmade crockery I bought for my 30th birthday present constantly and wear the shoes and clothes I love all the time. The present moment is ‘best’ and life is to be lived. Since the accidental death of my niece Johanna aged seven I have never taken the future for granted. That attitude helps handle the risk of running an early-stage company because in the words of Steve Jobs, ‘Almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.’”  

No matter how much you move, keep important items close: “I was a ferocious reader in my teens and twenties when I had more time. I’ve kept most of those books. I keep letters, notes and cards in them so taking a book off the bookshelf and opening it up often delivers a surprise.”  

Support the people making a difference: “Naturally I shop a great deal at RIISE Shop. My wardrobe has been slowly filling up with brands we are so proud to stock. And my bathroom’s a display of Sphaera soaps, Chorus candles made from a blend of beeswax and soy without paraffin and my go-to for skin aliments which is Aotea’s Kawakawa Balm.”

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