“We both like to be overstimulated in our home in the best way possible,” says Sarah Kate Smigiel, who lives with her fiancée Hannah (and their three dogs) in Chestertown, Maryland. Their house is full of color, art and Sarah Kate’s famous breakfast hash. Here, she gives us a peek inside and tells us about her recent top surgery…
On a fresh start: We moved from Pittsburgh to Chestertown last April. Chestertown is where my grandparents live and 30 minutes from where I grew up. It was a place for us to start fresh but still be close to family. We moved right at the beginning of the pandemic. Creating this house in Chestertown, being able to decorate and have all that time together, was cathartic.
On a cool town: We wanted a small town feel. Being queer, we also wanted to feel safe. Chestertown is this little gem. It has that cozy vibe but we feel so welcomed and accepted here.
On a playful routine: We work opposite schedules, but when we have days off together we hang out in our living room. We play video games on a vintage Nintendo, which is very nostalgic for us. We’re into reality TV, too, like RuPaul’s Drag Race.
On repurposed curtains: Our curtains are from Mexicali Blues, which recycles silk saris. They take the panels from sections that aren’t damaged or worn out and patch them together to make curtains.
On an heirloom table: This table was in my childhood home; I did arts and crafts on it, every single family dinner I had growing up was here. It has nicks and scratches. Our parents wanted us to have it for our own family. My mom comes over once a week for dinner and she sits here, and it’s just really cool. Even though it’s just wood, it’s important wood.
On go-to meals: We’re getting closer to perfecting some of our favorite meals — charcuterie boards, taco nights, red curry, breakfast hash. I like to try different parts of the world’s foods and cuisines. But I can’t bake AT ALL. I cannot make boxed brownies. I leave that up to Hannah.
On decorating the dishwasher: We found this dishwasher sticker on Etsy — the best place for quirky decor!
On a vintage look: Our room is very ’70s. A lot of people, when they see it online, say it reminds me of their teenage daughter’s dream room, which is funny.
On thrifting tips: The floral piece above our bed was $2 or $3 at Goodwill. I heard this quote once — a room should feel collected, not decorated. And I just love that. Everything we have here is from thrift stores or travels. I tell people, if you buy the things you love, you can make it work in a room. During the pandemic, we’ve switched to thrifting online at Facebook Marketplace and Goodwill. Goodwill online is a thing now, which a lot of people don’t know about. You can shop Goodwill anywhere in the country and it ships to your house.
On three dogs: We have two Boston terriors named Louie and Clark, as well as a rescue. He was named after Maui from Moana because we knew he was going to be big and strong. They’re all really funny together. I can sit and watch them all day.
On celebrating color: There’s so much grey and beige and white in interior design right now. In a little act of rebellion, we’ve tried to add as much color as possible. It’s a representation of the rainbow, too, which I find to be pretty cool.
Hannah (left) and Sarah Kate (right)
On a life-changing surgery: I identify as non-binary, and I use she/her and they/them pronouns. It was a recent discovery, about four years ago, when I started to understand that that was even an option. I was raised in a very strict gender binary. I was also raised as a dancer — ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop — and that world is very gendered. But once I graduated from college, although I identified as a lesbian, I didn’t feel that was the end of who I was and how I wanted to express myself. So, I started looking into an online community of non-binary folks, and that felt exactly right.
I began considering top surgery. At first, I thought that top surgery was simply for people who were transitioning to be the opposite gender — I was born a female, I want to be a male — but top surgery is for anyone who is uncomfortable with having a chest.
My surgery took place last summer. Now I’m truly the happiest I’ve ever been my whole life. It was an outpatient surgery — recovery was a breeze — it’s what I had to do to be who I am and to be happy and I have no regrets, it was the best decision I ever made.
(My parents now are very accepting, which I’m very grateful for.)
Everything felt like a first after top surgery. I remember trying on a T-shirt without having to wear a sports bra, and it was the coolest thing in the world. Shopping for swimwear. The way clothes feel. The way things fit me now. I had no idea I could feel so good and confident in my body.
I get asked the same questions over and over, so I documented my recovery on Instagram and started a YouTube channel. Being comfortable in my body now, I’ve opened up my vulnerability online and am able to be totally honest with people.
I’ve found that through sharing my interiors online, too, I’ve had a lot of people come to my social media who would otherwise never follow a transgender person. It’s really cool that sharing something I love about design and sharing who I am as a person has melded these two worlds together. It allows me to reach people I normally wouldn’t be able to. That’s been really rewarding. I hear that more than anything else, ‘I came for your interiors and I’m staying for the queer education.’
Thank you so much, Sarah Kate!