Creativity is clearly her super power! Tonight’s Meet a Mom, Ani Sandoval, of Ani Mandara Design, is an impressively creative designer with a gorgeous aesthetic, and also a woman of many other talents, including performing in a local band, running marathons, and horseback riding to name a few.
Ani shares with us how she transitioned from the TV world of SNL and Good Morning America, to cold calling design firms when she realized she needed a career change and ultimately launching her own design firm right here in Greenwich.
And she is honest about how difficult it is to find balance and why it takes a village to get it all done as a Mom.
Keep reading to learn all about Ani’s many passions and how she manages it all!
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally? Names/ages of kids, etc.?
I’m a Connecticut girl through and through! I was born in Stamford (St Joseph’s Hospital, which has now become the Tully Surgical Center) and raised in Darien, I was the class of 2000 from Darien High. My parents currently live in Stamford now and my sister and brother-in-law live in Westport.
My husband, Dre, and I have 2 boys – Desi, age 8 and Rex, age 6 – and we have 3 dogs, Sandy (a golden retriever) and Topper & Twinkie (two Pomeranians).
After graduating from Syracuse University in 2004, I moved to NYC. Shortly after, I met my husband – while on the check-out line at a grocery store on the UWS (Balducci’s).
We lived on the Upper East Side for over 10 years and then moved out to the ‘burbs during the summer of 2016, before our youngest was born.
Where do you live in Greenwich and what do you love about Greenwich and your neighborhood/ what made you decide to move there/ how long have you been there?
We currently live in Riverside (since 2021), but our first house was in Old Greenwich (from 2016-2020). Right from the start, we were drawn to OG / Riverside because of the proximity to the beach. I’ll never forget when we were first driving around town looking at houses and drove out to Tod’s Point to see what it was like; we happened to go on a beautiful winter day during low tide and fell in love.
For those of us who aren’t familiar, how would you describe Ani Mandara Design and what makes it unique?
I would say my personal style is transitional, handsome and casual. Growing up, I had a living room that was beautifully decorated but was very much a ‘grown-up’ space. I think that notion stuck with me in that I want my family to use every part of our house, just like I want my clients to fully live in their house. I make a point of using performance fabrics and family-friendly pieces that are both durable yet sophisticated. I also love the renovation process and thoroughly enjoy coming into a new project and having the eye to push the limits of what’s possible and making something even better than before. I want spaces and the flow of the home to make sense, whether it’s rejiggering a furniture plan or bumping out walls can make a huge difference.
Can you please share about your professional background and career highlights – how did you come to start Ani Mandara Design?
My first job out of college was working for Saturday Night Live – that connection was made during my summer internship the year before, while working at Last Call with Carson Daly. At SNL, I was the assistant to the Directory of Photography in the Film Unit; the department which produced the commercial parodies. While there, the “Chronicles of Narnia” with Andy Samberg became an overnight sensation. Then, I went over to ABC’s The View – when Rosie O’Donnell was the lead moderator, followed by Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd. From there, I worked at Good Morning America for a few years, followed by Viacom/MTV, working for the VMAs (Video Music Awards) and the Movie Awards. All along my fun and wild career in television, I always had an affinity for design. Somehow I knew in the back of my head that I was destined for a different industry. So I told myself, “if not now, when?!”, and cold emailed a number of design firms in the city – pitching myself as a talented and hungry project manager (which I was). And before I knew it, I accepted an apprenticeship at foley&cox interiors which was such an amazing launch into the world of design. To get to spend time with such talented people, seeing how they operated their business, their creative processes, is really what I’ve modeled my own shop after. A vital part of the apprenticeship was them sending me to design school at Parsons School of Design. From there, I worked for a few other amazing designers – including Scott Sanders and New Canaan-based Morgan Harrison Home. In February 2020, I branched out on my own and started Ani Mandara Design. My firm specializes in design and decoration, as well as design-foward home renovation – which I clearly love, having fully gutted and renovated 2 personal homes in the last 7 years.
What are some design trends you’re loving?
I’m really into earthy tones, especially variations of muted pink – so of course, I convinced my husband that we needed to repaint our living room that color. I also love anything textured, especially these amazingly imperfect and irregular artisanal Moroccan zellige tiles we used for our kitchen backsplash. I think there can be so much unexpected beauty in layering texture within any space – the playfully knobby feel of a boucle or velvet fabric on top of a sisal rug, mixed with lacquered linen, grasscloth and stone accent.
What is your absolute favorite design tip or trick when working with private homes? Something small that makes a big difference?
Art and accessory styling – coffee table books, picture frames, objects, plants (real or faux) – always brings a home to life.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding parts of being a designer?
Post-pandemic, there are still so many unpredictable challenges regarding material and product lead times and availability. I’m a stickler for staying on schedule, so it’s incredibly disappointing to have to tell a client that something they’ve been waiting so long for is (even more) behind schedule; patience is the hardest part. But when it finally happens, and seeing everything come together, exactly how it was envisioned, and seeing the joyous looks on my clients’ faces, is the most rewarding!
Favorite project that you have completed?
My current home is a continued labor of love – a 1900’s Dutch Colonial that we took down to the studs and fully renovated. While I’m still decorating it – 1.5-years later – I’m always on the look out for our next big project (aka our next home to flip).
Any designers/ aesthetics that inspire your work?
There are so many designers that inspire me but I have to say, I’ve always loved everything foley&cox has done; they were one of the most influential firms I’ve ever worked for.
How do you find a balance with motherhood and your incredible career as an interior designer? Any tips for the rest of the Moms out there?
What balance! To be totally honest I still haven’t found it; I’m a total work in progress, and that’s okay. Some days I feel like I I can conquer everything and other days, I feel like I’m just getting by. I had a realization when I turned 40 earlier this year – even though I try my hardest to do everything on my own and not want to bother anyone for help, it’s okay to ask for backup when you really need it. I’m fortunate enough that my family lives close by and they are a tremendous help in all aspects. Back in January 2020, our Nanny went to work for another family in town and I was trying to do the stay at home mom thing, while starting my firm. If the pandemic didn’t happen, which kept my husband at home, I don’t know how it would have worked! Since then, my husband and I do our best to divide and conquer but the tides are changing, and we’re finally getting some help, by having an Au Pair join our family next month. As cliched as it sounds, it really does take a village!
What do you like to do to relax/have fun?
I do a lot of things! I horseback ride once a week (at Salko Farms in Southport); I grew up riding (at both New Canaan Mounted Troop and the Ox Ridge Hunt Club, in Darien); I took 20 years off and then returned during Summer 2020. I’m also a singer in a local band – Paloma Skye, and have recently started taking guitar lessons. As of last fall, I began running and since January, I’ve completed 4 half marathons and I just started training for the Chicago full marathon in October, while I’ll be running with my sister. I’m also a huge animal lover and when I can, I volunteer with the SPCA in Westchester; and a few months ago, I went to Fort Lauderdale with Greater Good Charities, to help rebuild the Gulf Coast Humane Society after it got hit by Hurricane Ian.
Anything else you’d like to share?
An interesting fact about me is that my sister and I are 15 months apart (she’s older) and we’re super close. We went to college together, were in the same sorority, then lived in the same apartment building in NYC. Also, our oldest kids – my son Desi and my nephew, Damian – share the same birthday, not planned at all! They were born on the same day, an hour and a half apart, delivered at the same hospital (Stamford Hospital) by the same doctor, on National Sister’s Day. And our littles, my younger son Rex and my niece, Rosie are 4 months apart. Our kids are so close, and they’re all heading to sleep away camp for a few weeks this summer.
We love to support local businesses. What are your fave places when you are in Greenwich to:
Grab coffee: Ada’s in Riverside or Sweet Pea in OG
Workout: I’m more of an at-home exerciser (either Peloton cycling or yoga) or outdoor runner / walker.
Go on a date night: Le Fat Poodle in OG
Go out for a girls night: East End
Go out to dinner as a family: Abis Hibachi or Little Pub
Get your hair done: Maria Livesay Salon
Get your nails done: Tip Top Nails
Have fun as a family: We like to take family walks through Pomerance Park and of course, we love going to Tod’s Point!