Style Setter

‘Cultured’ Mag Founder Takes Us Inside Her Home and Her Mini Media Empire

The cover of the current issue of Cultured — the art and design magazine started and led by Sarah Harrelson (top) — features a commissioned portrait by Awol Erizku of the young Nigerian-born, Alabama-raised painter Toyin Ojih Odutola (above left) and the musician Solange Knowles (portrait by Gesi Schilling). All photos by François Dischinger unless otherwise noted

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes,” wrote Marcel Proust. If that’s the case, a good set of eyes to borrow would be those of Sarah Harrelson. The peripatetic founder and editor in chief of the art and design magazine Cultured and the recently launched Los Angeles–focused LaLa magazine, Harrelson has spent a lifetime combing creative avenues for the stuff that makes her heart race. Her favorite finds often make it into her publications, but Harrelson’s mission is also personal. She’s driven by a desire to understand what today’s creators are thinking, doing and making — and to help others do the same. “I think it’s really important to see everything, and to listen and watch,” she says. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of incredible artists, designers, dealers and collectors.”

This desire to know more, and to spread that knowledge, is what inspired Harrelson to found her own magazine. “I was simply thinking that I wanted to create something that I wanted to read, something about the people that excite me and that I’m passionate about,” she says, recalling the origins of Cultured, which she launched in 2012. She was, and remains, particularly committed to “uncovering new voices,” she says. “I wanted to read about people I’d never heard of.”

With its feast of photo-driven profiles, Cultured soon became a sourcebook for contemporary art and design buffs, and so Harrelson decided to take it a step further. In 2013, she established Cultured Commissions, collaborations with artists and designers, each of whom makes a small, limited-edition of objects that are presented in the magazine, with five commissions released every year. “I wanted to deepen our relationship with our readers and create something that was unique to the magazine, while at the same time engaging artists on this level where they are creating something for us,” she says.

The Miami-based Harrelson launched Cultured in 2012, following stints working for South Florida magazine, Women’s Wear Daily and the Miami Herald’Home & Design magazine, which she founded. More recently, she brought out another magazine, the Los Angeles–focused LaLa.


The most recent commission — now offered online exclusively through 1stdibs — is by New York–based textile artist Dana Barnes. “I first discovered Dana’s work through my dear friend Ralph Pucci,” says Harrelson, who attributes her own taste in art and design to instinct. “Her pieces are beautiful and poetic, and the scale she works in with these natural fibers is incredible.” For this project, Barnes made miniature sculptures, combining an unlikely but complementary mix of ingredients: Portuguese pink marble, Lucite and walnut, with cascading rope-like forms made of Gotland sheep, baby camel, yak, cashmere and merino wools.

Designer and architect Rafael de Cárdenas made the first of the Cultured Commissions: a colorful set of cube-shaped receptacles. In 2015, the glamorously psychedelic Los Angeles design duo Nikki and Simon Haas (aka the Haas Brothers) created a set of corpulent, phallic candles. And last year, Matthew Day Jackson produced a wood panel with a photo of astro-chimpanzee Ham — the first hominid sent to space, in 1965 — the proceeds from which benefited the ASPCA. Snarkitecture, Daniel Arsham, Kelly Lamb and Amma Studio are among the 20 or so others who have collaborated with the magazine.

In 2013, Harrelson expanded the purview of the magazine to include annual Cultured Commissions, a collection of limited-edition objects by artists and designers. The latest, by New York–based textile artist Dana Barnes (above left with her work In Knots), is now available online exclusively through 1stdibs. The miniature sculptures Barnes created — including CLING Assemblage — Material Study 01 (above right) — combine unexpected but complementary forms, textures and materials. Photos courtesy of Dana Barnes Studio


Harrelson, 46, is a gracefully stylish fixture of the art and design scene in Miami, where she’s lived since 2000 — two years before Art Basel Miami Beach started and five years before Design Miami began drawing international crowds to the South Florida city. For her, looking, listening, reading, visiting, traveling, touring, watching and observing have become a way of life — one that she shares with her husband, Austin Harrelson, an interior designer, and their three children (ages 17, 14 and 12).

The family’s 1930s British Colonial–style Miami Beach home (designed by Austin) is filled with an ever-growing collection of historical and contemporary art and design — from pieces by French Art Deco master Jacques Adnet to ones by rising art stars Tschabalala Self and Analia Saban — and family trips are often planned around art destinations. “We’ve traveled to Basel, Switzerland, for the last five years with the kids, and we stay in this crazy hotel with bunk beds that they think is the coolest thing in the world,” Harrelson says. “We most recently went to Paris and saw the Dior exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs just before it closed, which really inspired my two daughters.” Her son, at the tender age of 17, has already guest curated several shows of work by emerging artists at galleries in Los Angeles and Miami and been featured in Artforum.


‘Cultured’ Mag Founder Takes Us Inside Her Home and Her Mini Media Empire
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‘Cultured’ Mag Founder Takes Us Inside Her Home and Her Mini Media Empire

The living room of Harrelson’s Miami Beach home — which she shares with her interior designer husband, Austin, who decorated it, and their three children — features Haas Brothers stools, a David Wiseman plaster-and-bronze owl on a branch and bergères from Maison Jansen.

At the desk in Harrelson’s home office sit two custom cerused oak directors chairs by her husband’s studio and a Thonet stool with a leather top. In the foreground at left, a Jeff Zimmerman glass sculpture lies atop a low, two-tiered brass and sycamore Maison Baguès table.

In the master suite, a Lucky DeBellevue diptych hangs above the custom bed, and an antique Swedish mirror presides over a Maison Jansen commode, which holds an Alberto Giacometti table lamp cast in 1948. To the right is an intaglio of Harrelson by Doug Meyer.

In the sitting room, the Harrelson kids make themselves comfortable on seating that includes a vintage rattan Bielecky Brothers sofa. An African stool sits on the zebra rug.

Together with the Manhattan design gallery R & Company, Harrelson hosts an annual party at her British Colonial–style home during December’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair.

A Lucy Dodd painting holds pride of place above the sofa in the family room. Flanking the low bronze table are wicker Eero Aarnio chairs. The slipper chair at right is by Jean-Michel Frank, while the white two-tiered Parsons table is Karl Springer. The white-plaster Jacques Grange table lamps are in the style of Giacometti. Photo by Gesi Schilling

Left: In the green-painted dining room, a vintage Angelo Lelli light fixture hangs over a Guillerme et Chambron table; in front are a pair of Maison Jansen stools. Right: One of the Harrelsons’ daughters climbs the house’s main staircase, whose wall features black-and-white photos and works on paper by Irving Penn, Richard Tuttle and Le Corbusier, among others.


Culture and travel are important to the Harrelson family (four of five of whom are seen here).“We most recently went to Paris and saw the Dior exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs just before it closed,” she says, “which really inspired my two daughters.” At the right is her husband, Austin. Photo by  Gesi Schilling

If Harrelson’s kids take anything from their mother’s lead — beyond her passion for emerging art and her seemingly superhuman work ethic — it might be the gumption to make something new. Recognizing a need for cultural coverage in Los Angeles, Harrelson launched LaLa last May, with business partner Carlos Suarez. “It’s incredible the creative movement out there right now,” she says, explaining that the content-rich magazine covers California’s robust art and design worlds but also fashion, music, film and a number of other intersecting creative industries.

LaLa follows a long line of firsts for Harrelson. Raised in Rumson, New Jersey, she studied political science (with a minor in journalism) at New York University. After college, she scored a position as an intern for Governor Mario Cuomo but soon realized that the world of politics wasn’t for her. She moved to Miami Beach around 1993 to take up a job offer at South Florida magazine, and quickly rose through the ranks to become its editor in chief. “I realized just how important it was for me to be in control of the whole vision, to put together the whole package,” she says. “It was a small group, but we were a team of incredibly engaged people. I was only there for two years, but it was an amazing experience.” During that time, Harrelson fell under the spell of art, which, in the Miami of that era was the purview of a handful of creators and collectors. “The city was a very different place back then,” she recalls, mentioning the influence of locals like art patrons Don and Mera Rubell and artist Janine Antoni.

Harrelson left Miami for Los Angeles, where she worked as West Coast retail editor of Women’s Wear Daily. Eventually, she returned to New York and then back to Miami Beach. “My husband had been in New York City for fourteen years, and he wanted to move. I was pregnant with our first child, and we just thought, ‘Let’s give it a try!’ ” she recalls. “I just remember saying, ‘But where am I going to work?’ ”

Within a half a year or so, Harrelson had started a new magazine at the Miami Herald called Home & Design. “The design world was beginning to get a lot of attention, and I felt like it was a real opportunity,” she says. “I put together a business plan and pitched it.” The Herald went for it and launched Home & Design, which Harrelson ran for around six years before moving on to Ocean Drive and then Art Basel Miami Beach’s annual magazine. Over the years, she hasn’t just watched Miami’s scene change, she has documented and championed it.

A group of inflatable flamingos can frequently be found floating in the Harrelsons’ pool. The home’s landscaping is by Fernando Wong, who shielded the backyard with a hedge of Cuban-Laurel. The custom paddleboards are by Indigo SUP.

“I wanted to create something that I wanted to read,” says magazine editor Sarah Harrelson, “something about the people that excite me and that I’m passionate about.”

“I think it’s really important to see everything, and to listen and watch,” says Harrelson, photographed here with Austin on their back patio. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of incredible artists and dealers and collectors.” Photo by Gesi Schilling

Cultured remains based in Miami, with editors in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. And Harrelson is still involved in the local scene — she sits on the board of the Bass Museum, hosts an annual party at her home with the Manhattan design gallery R & Company during Art Basel Miami Beach each December and pays close attention to the city’s growing crop of emerging artists and designers. And she also serves as the editor in chief of another hometown publication, Bal Harbour Magazine.

But she is also often on the move. That much travel isn’t always easy with a family, she admits. For her and her mission, however, there is scarcely anything more important than visiting artists’ studios, seeing under-the-radar shows and connecting with her editors, writers and photographers.

In one way or another, the conversations she has on these trips make their way into her magazines, bringing together multiple voices, both emerging and established, and mixing in a good dose of escapism as well as the political zeitgeist. For the cover of the current art-and-music-themed February/March 2018 issue of Cultured for instance, she invited the artist Awol Erizku to shoot Solange Knowles and Toyin Ojih Odutola, the young Nigerian-born, Alabama-raised painter. (Erizku was responsible for staging the bare-bellied photo Beyoncé used to announce her pregnancy last year, an image that broke Instagram records.) Previously, Hank Willis Thomas photographed Rashid Johnson for the magazine’s Fall 2016 cover, and Ryan McGinley shot Marilyn Minter for a feature in 2017.

While her passion for unearthing new talent might keep her young, it’s following those creative forces — like Barnes, or the Haas Brothers, or Erizku — that keeps her going. “There is nothing more exciting,” she says, “than finding a new artist and watching a career unfold.”

Shop Cultured Magazine on 1stdibs

Sarah Harrelson’s Quick Picks on 1stdibs

“I’m really into Eero Aarnio wicker at the moment. My husband just bought some of his club chairs, and they are just perfect.”

“We have several pieces by Mathieu Matégot, and I love these the most. I cannot stop buying them.”

“My family is obsessed with Ping-Pong. This concrete and stainless-steel table version is perfect for Miami.”

“YSL,YSL,YSL! I can’t stop thinking about him and the life he lived. The ultimate in chic.”

“Franz Klein was the first artist that I connected with as a child. This piece reminds me of my mother and all those trips to museums as a young girl.”

“François is a friend, and we frequently collaborate for Cultured. I love his personal work, and this image is so powerful. I would love to have been there to hear his cheeky commentary while he was making this shot.”

“I know everyone thinks of metal and upholstery when it comes to Royère, but as you can see, he was a master in any material. Talk about making a room.”

“We just shot Solange Knowles for the cover of Cultured at the Noguchi museum in Long Island City. I’m obsessed with him.”

“The Haas Brothers are great friends, and we own a pair of these already, but they are truly some of my favorites.”

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