When a friend tipped us off on Sarah Contrucci Smith’s online textile shop, Ara Collective, we couldn’t get over the gorgeous indigo and white pillows, rugs, and bags. And the blue icing on the cake? Sarah’s company is socially responsible, and by that we mean they pay their artisans above fair trade wages to produce beautiful textiles from locally sourced materials. Sarah’s group of female friends in Austin are an impressive set: one works for global orphan care, another runs a knitware fashion line produced in Kenya, and there’s even a children’s psychotherapist in the group. So when Sarah invited us over for a Blue Valentine Party with all her favorite gals, we RSVPed right away. It was a gorgeous and cold night in South Austin when we joined Sarah for an indigo inspired Valentine’s dinner that ended with drinks on the roof and one amazing sunset…
photographed by kate zimmerman
You recently to moved here from California. What do you like about living in Austin?
We moved to Austin in August 2015 and I’ve actually been surprised by how quickly it’s become “home”. My husband is from Dallas but I’m from Southern California and was hesitant to leave my beloved ocean, mountains, and dry heat. But Austin is such a friendly, outdoorsy, and foodie city, I can’t help but enjoy it here. I love how it has all the exciting things and interesting people of a big city but without the stress or competition of one. That’s especially important to me as a small business owner, but I have had nothing but growth and encouragement for Ara Collective since I arrived.
What inspired this evening’s gathering?
I love any excuse to get together with friends. Even though most of my friends and I are married and will spend Valentine’s Day with our husbands, I think celebrating with my girlfriends – my other loves! – around this time is also fun. I’m not really a red or pink girl (and am currently obsessed with indigo) so I thought it’d be fun to do a Blue Valentine theme. The artisans I work with in Central America create gorgeous, naturally dyed indigo textiles so I used Ara Collective pillows and throws as my decor inspiration. I mixed in some white, gold, and pale pink too, to make it feel a little more soft and romantic.
Your home is so gorgeous… How would you describe your decor style?
Clean lines, open spaces, and textured accents. I’m inspired by the minimalist/warm Scandinavian design and exotic/detailed Moroccan design. I wanted to find a way to combine those two styles, while making sure our home felt relaxing, was always open for hosting, and filled the things we’ve collected from our travels. I landed on keeping our decor neutral, with white, wood, and lots of green arrangements and plants. The neutral and open spaces give me the freedom to mix and match our international treasures and Ara Collective textiles without feeling disorganized or cramped.
What do you love about what you do for a living with Ara Collective?
I love finding ways to blend age-old designs with updated color palettes so that artisans can generate a better and more steady income for their families. The weavers I work with are masters of their skill and their quality, complexity, and knowledge is extraordinary. I love working alongside them to honor their time-tested techniques and celebrate their heritage while bringing their work to the global marketplace in a fresh and polished way. It’s a true partnership based on mutual respect, hard work, and sense of dignity. I think it’s an exciting way to do design, business, and economic development with a positive impact in the world.
Beautiful textiles in downstairs in the Ara Collective showroom on the first floor of Sarah’s home.
Your must-have entertaining tools:
Wood, white, and gold accents. I love the mix of the rich, bright, and neutral hues for any event, whether casual, party, or more formal. They can be matched with any other colors and provide such a nice touch of textures from wood to marble to brushed brass. Greenery is also a must, adding some freshness to the space.
What’s on the menu for tonight’s meal?
Tonight I’m going with a Mediterranean meal in honor of my Italian roots. We’re having blackened Alaskan salmon on a mixed greens salad with blueberries, shaved parmesan, avocado, candied pecans, and homemade lemon-dijon vinaigrette. Since it’s dinner, to make it a little heartier, I also put out a french baguette and a goat cheese garlic butter that I mix up to give the ole bread and butter a change. I always like nibbles around so I also made a cheese board with grapes and olives.
You’re good friends with stylist Lauren Ramirez. How did she help with tonight’s party?
Lauren is a dear friend who is a genius at styling spaces for photo shoots, adding details that just add that extra something. I wanted to treat my friends to a party that was relaxed, beautiful, and special so I roped Lauren in to help. As much as I love indigo, I’ve never thrown a party with indigo hues so she helped me integrate the rich blues in with lighter, more feminine whites, creams, and pale pinks.
A favorite Valentine’s Day memory:
My favorite Valentine’s Day memory is probably from 2014. My husband, Blake, and I had arrived in Granada, Nicaragua that day for the beginning of our one month backpacking trip around Central America (which later resulted in the formation of Ara Collective). We arrive late, didn’t really know where we were going, and wandered into a sushi restaurant owned by a Japanese couple. It was so weird and thrilling to be there and the most incredible thing happened – the song I walked down the aisle to in our wedding (I Can’t Make You Love Me/Nick of Time by Bon Iver) played in the restaurant while we were eating!
One the best meals of your life that you will never forget:
Eating crab on the shores of Colombo, Sri Lanka. We went to a little place in the open courtyard of an historical colonial hospital, which was beautiful in the evening. When you sit down your place setting is a plate with a huge, plastic bib and a bunch of crab-eating tools. Everything comes out in huge bowls in the center of the table and you just dig in to the crab, sauces, and sides with your hands. It’s a mess, it’s straight-from-the-ocean fresh, and was absolutely perfect.
Tell us about the salmon and blackberry salad:
I wanted to serve something that was tasty, light, and easy for me to prepare. I tend to go overboard with food preparation so I’m trying to keep it simple so I can enjoy the prep and party more. I decided to go with a blackened salmon salad with blueberries, incorporating the pinks and blues from my decor into the food on the table. My mother-in-law taught me her easy, go-to lemon vinaigrette recipe, which I’ve developed into my own version with dijon mustard and green onions. It’s refreshing, healthy, and quick to make.
Check out Sarah’s blackened salmon and blueberry salad recipe here.
We created these incense valentines inspired by the indigo patterns from Ara Collection textiles. Check out the full DIY (with free printables!) here.
See Sarah’s recipe for homemade goat cheese garlic butter here.
What (if anything) scares you about entertaining:
Not having enough food or drinks. I always end up stocking up and cooking for an entire army, just in case!
Your standard hostess/host outfit:
I don’t think I really have one! Depends on the type of event, who is coming, and the type of year. Comfy yet accessorized with some cute shoes and jewelry is my usual go-to.
Who did you invite to tonight’s party (and why?)
Today I invited a group of girls that have become some of my dearest friends in Austin. My husband is currently working on his MBA from Acton School of Business and away from home about 100 hours a week, which means these girls have become my go-to people on everything from dog walking to processing emotions to keeping me company.
Pictured: Lauren Ramirez, stylist; Whitney Runyon, co-founder of The Archibald Project, a media advocacy group for global orphan care; Ava Darnell, founder and designer of Slumlove Sweater Company, making gorgeous knit wear in Kenya; Emily Jacobs, Ara Collective’s Marketing Assistant; and Christel Gilbreath, psychotherapist for children and teens.
Tell us about the zippered bags that you gave as party favors. Seriously amazing!
These oversized clutches are from Ara Collective. They’re made in the Western Highlands of Guatemala by weavers who naturally dye this indigo ikat design and weave the textile with a pedal loom. I love these clutches because they’re big enough to hold my swimsuits or jewelry for my travels and double as a clutch around town. They’re available for sale in our shop: www.ara-collective.com/shop
Your dream dinner party guests:
Anyone who loves food, laughter, and candid conversations.
After dinner drinks? Don’t mind if we do! Tell us about this fun cocktail:
My after dinner cocktail is a spin off on one of my favorite drinks, the Greyhound. I love taking recipes and playing with them to make them my own. For the girls tonight I added fresh basil, shaken. It’s light, refreshing, and the perfect pink accent for my Blue “Galentine” party.
See Sarah’s recipe for Gal’s Night Greyhounds here.
Wow — you have an amazing rooftop space. How do you use this space for entertaining?
The rooftop terrace is probably the reason we bought the house and we use it all the time. It’s above the treeline so there’s no mosquitos, there’s always a little breeze to keep it cool in the summer, and a chimenea for warmth in the winter. It faces east-west so it’s beautiful for morning coffee and evening get togethers. (We also have Apple tv on a projector up here for fun movie nights and sports games.) I love entertaining up here because it’s large enough to hold a lot of people but small enough for intimate conversations and mingling.
Tell us about the blue cupcakes! Such a great idea.
The toasted almond cupcakes are from Skull and Cakebones, my favorite cupcake bakery in Austin. They’re vegan and non-GMO, which sounds like a weird cupcake but they are so, so good. I think their flavors are more bold than the ordinary cupcake and never dry. Yum!
The one entertaining rule you never break:
My personal entertaining rule is to always have something delicious to eat and drink (and the music going!). Even if it’s a BYOB style thing, I still like to have something to offer to my guests as the hostess.
Your perfect dinner party playlist for a blue valentine party:
Relaxing, beautiful vocals, and a little sultry. My current favorites are Marian Hill, Bille Holiday, and Lorde. Spotify is my go-to for moody playlists.
What do you love about your group of female friends in Austin?
I love that my group of friends in Austin are all passionate, adventurous, and candid women. I love that these people are strong, opinionated women who love their families, friends, and marginalized people well. These are women I admire. Most of my girlfriends are entrepreneurs and sharing those struggles, successes, and emotions is such a gift. We share our experiences, support each other’s efforts, and enjoy a lot of wine and laughter.
Awwwww. We want every year to be a Blue Valentine! xoxo