When we last spoke with Samantha Sano, she was balancing a new baby with a Lake Highlands home reno and Swoon, The Studio, the multidisciplinary design firm she founded in 2009.
Five years later, Sano has hit her stride as a boy mom of two and a Dallas tastemaker, celebrated for her creative and collaborative approach to branding and interior design.
With her friend and principal of design, Joslyn Taylor, at her side, Sano has grown Swoon from a graphic and interior design studio to a creative powerhouse, specializing in everything from luxury branding to art direction and commercial design.
Most recently, the duo added “historical renovation” and “hospitality” to their list of services, overseeing a renovation of Dallas’ iconic Adolphus Hotel that just may be the crowning achievement of their careers.
“Work makes me really happy,” says Sano. “And my kids make me really happy. I love to create and I feel really lucky to live the life I live.”
DallasChild: Last time we talked you were a new mom of one. What’s it like having two? Samantha Sano: Crazy. Two really rocks your world. But it’s all good. I’ve never smiled more in my life.
DC: Did you ever imagine you’d become a boy mom? SS: Being a boy mom is perfect for me. That hand was purposefully dealt to me and I really love it. I just let them go out and get dirty. It’s fun.
DC: Is it important to you to cultivate creativity in your boys? SS: I’m constantly trying to do little projects with them. They really love to draw and cut paper. They’re very curious. If we have downtime, we try not to watch the television. I’d much rather them do an art project.
DC: While raising the boys, you’ve also grown Swoon. Can you believe it’s almost been 10 years? SS: We’ve really expanded. When we talked last, we were doing mostly residential projects. Now, it’s a whole different thing. The Adolphus project really changed everything for the studio. We’re working on a hotel in Charleston and the Virgin Hotel in Dallas, which will open this year.
DC: What did it feel like to find out you got The Adolphus? SS: I was terrified. I kept telling Joselyn, “I want to make sure they understand we don’t have experience like this.” We kind of feel like we got our Ph.D. in hospitality. We learned so much. We’re really proud.
DC: What have you learned in the decade you’ve been a business owner? SS: Thinking about those first days is crazy. I’ve learned a lot about individuals’ limitations and managing people. I’ve learned so much about interior design and branding. We’ve really blossomed into this branding firm that’s much more strategic and holistic.
DC: Has there been failure? SS: I’d call it learning from things; failure feels like a strong word. I’ve learned that it always works out in the end. I’ve lost employees I love and that does feel like a failure. But people have to grow. In terms of projects, I don’t think there have been any massive fails. I’ve tried to start a few things and they haven’t come to fruition, but there’s only so much time in the day.
DC: If you could go back 10–15 years, what advice would you give yourself? SS: I went through a lot in my 20s. I had a lot of anxiety at work and I also got married and divorced to my high-school sweetheart. I adulted in a big way. I would tell myself to be patient professionally and take charge of my life more personally.
DC: What do you credit your success to? Ambition? Follow-through? Luck? SS: All of the above. And persistence. I’m passionate about what I do. Everything that we work on is something we genuinely care about. We’re lucky in that way.
DC: How do you stay inspired? Do you ever feel burned out? SS: All the time. I stay inspired through the people that work for me and with me, and through the people that we get to work for. Clients are constantly pushing us. Last year we took everybody at the studio to Miami for the weekend. We just had to get out, get inspired and get our mojo back. Those inspirational trips are important to us if we get in a place where we need a boost.
DC: You’ve grown Swoon alongside a dear friend. What’s it like to do this with Joslyn? SS: It’s pretty darn special. She and I just get each other, professionally and personally. I couldn’t ask for anything more. As moms and as women, there are moments when you can totally melt down. To have that person to pull you out of it is super cool. It’s a very rare partnership.
DC: How do you balance it all day to day? SS: Well, my husband is amazing. And I have the best nanny on the planet. My mom and dad are awesome too. We have our little village. I couldn’t do it without those people.
DC: Do you struggle with mom guilt when you’re being pulled in different directions? SS: All the time. It’s a bummer. I just try to do the best I can to be present when I’m there.
DC: How do you keep your own cup full? SS: I work out. That’s important to me. This year, I’ve really taken ownership of my nutrition and that’s been huge too.
DC: Do you think about the legacy you’re building? SS: I don’t. I’m just doing what I can to put one foot in front of the other. If I start to think about that, I get anxious. There are only so many hours we have to give, especially when the kids are little. When they’re off to college, maybe I can have other arms of Swoon. I’m a big dreamer, but I think all people are. It’s just whether or not you do something with it. In this moment, we’re a little bit limited on time because we have little men to grow.
DC: Where do you imagine yourself 10 years from now? SS: I couldn’t tell you and I love that. Everything has been beyond my wildest dreams, which is so crazy. If I could ask anything of myself, it would be to continue to try to be a better businessperson. I’ve always prioritized employee happiness and inspiration over profitability—and that’s fine—but wouldn’t it be awesome if I could do both?