Design Experts
May 28, 2012

Inside design: Barbara Barry

By: Sara Cation

Inside design: Barbara Barry Author: Style At Home

Design Experts
May 28, 2012

Inside design: Barbara Barry

By: Sara Cation

Barbara Barry has earned her induction into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. She’s the empress of everyday elegance who imbues every interior with an air of quiet confidence. Simple and stately, grand and girlie, Barbara brings that ivory tower of chic within reach.

hailbarry-story-mainlivngroom.jpg Photography courtesy of Baker Furniture

Style at Home: How would you define your brand?
Barbara Barry Simple, elegant, quiet. I’m not really about fashionable items; I’m about understated items because they’re something that you go back to again and again. You can dress them up, you can dress them down and, over time, those pieces serve you most.

SAH: Who inspires your designs?
I come from a family of painters, so I’m inspired by artists like Ben Nicholson (a British painter known for his abstract reliefs) and John Singer Sargent (the prolific American portrait artist). I love art and art history, but my biggest inspiration is nature.

SAH: In what ways?
BB From the most beautiful celadon agave to the palest pink rose in my garden, I see beauty in the simple things that exist all around us – I don’t have to be in a forest or a field to be inspired. I love watching the colours blend as I stir milk into a cup of dark coffee; I get excited about the pavement turning wet and dark grey when it rains. I’m a nut for life’s little subtleties.

Lead photography by Mike E. Harris.

Photography courtesy of Baker Furniture

SAH: What can you tell us about the first room you designed?
BB I’m told that, when I was young, I designed a picket fence to go around my bedroom – likely because I shared my room with three sisters!

SAH: How has your aesthetic evolved over time?
BB My style is simpler, but quality means more. As I mature, I notice little details, like a jacket with the most delicious silk piping, the lining of a handbag or the seams on the bedsheets I sleep in. hailbarry-story-bedroom.jpg
Photography courtesy of Baker Furniture

SAH: What’s on your bedside table right now?

BB Because I begin and end my day in the bedroom, I consider it the most important room in the house, so I work hard to keep it fresh and uncluttered. On my beautiful bedside table I have a small tray holding a carafe of fresh water and a crystal tumbler, my old wooden Baccarat clock, a little fresh-cut something ( lavender, a rose, even a green leaf), artfully arranged books and my iPad if I’m listening to something. All of this creates this important little “moment” that I’ve styled for myself. These things aren’t out there for others to see; they’re for me. Even the inside of my refrigerator is a thing of beauty!

SAH: How so?
BB When I go to the farmers’ market on Saturday, I come home and spend half of the day washing and arranging fruit in glass bowls and pouring milk out of the carton and into a glass jug. A cursory glance is as important as sitting and looking at something closely – seeing it on the inside as well as out. hailbarry-story-diningtable.jpg
Photography courtesy of Baker Furniture

SAH: In what ways have your Californian roots influenced your design?
BB Hugely! In colour, shape, light. Take London, England, for example. It’s so grey there that I can see why it’s highly decorative – the people need it! And I’m so impressionable when I visit. I think, I love all this colour! I love chintz! I love florals! But when I return to California, look out my window and see colourful flowers and lush greenery, I don’t want to compete with that.

SAH: When you’re decorating a room, what’s the most important consideration?
BB Proportion. Man is the measure of all things, meaning that the minute we walk into a space, we know in our gut if it’s way too big and cold or really warm and inviting. We tend to pay attention to labels, but instead we should quiet the mind and tune in to how things feel, like does this sofa say "Come sit on me"? You’d be surprised, our bodies know what suits us. hailbarry-story-familyroom2.jpg
Photography courtesy of Barbara Barry Inc.

SAH: What piece does every living room need?
BB The one you’re sitting on! That is my favourite chair; I call it the Bracelet Chair. It’s in my bedroom in silver leaf and in my guest bedroom in ivory. It’s a little bit of sculpture in a room.

SAH: And it makes those sitting in it feel so delightfully petite….
BB See? Proportion!

SAH: When should you splurge and when should you save when decorating your home?
BB If you spend your dollars right and you buy better, it means you’re going to buy less. A lot of people say they’re going to buy less expensive furniture because they have children and they’ll just have to redo it in 10 years, but I was raised with some of the same furniture I inherited and, because it was well made, adding a slipcover makes it new again. You know how it is when you buy a really beautiful purse or watch and, even though it cost you everything, you get a certain feeling every time you engage with it. hailbarry-story-kitchentable.jpg
Photography courtesy of Baker Furniture

SAH: Who would you love to design for?
BB I would love to design for an English silversmith because I love the precision of handworked silver. I’d design the smallest, simplest bud vase, the most perfect teaspoon, a tray and a coaster.

SAH: What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
BB I move into my guest bedroom for a few days because it’s all ivory and there’s no interruption. When I lose my way, I just need to be calm, in crisp pyjamas with the perfect cup of tea. No books, no magazines, nothing! If I hold still long enough, pretty soon that little motor starts working again and I start drawing.

SAH: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the design business since you’ve been in it?
BB To stay small, to stay authentic. My vision is actually quite fragile. I can’t look at everything because I think I would lose my way. hailbarry-story-dogLAST.jpg
Photography courtesy of Victoria Pearson

Barbara's big 15
15 easy ways to achieve everyday elegance.

1 Small space solution: Enlarge any room with a simple mirror to bring in the sparkle of light.

2 Use your silver every day, not just for special occasions.

3 Dress windows in fabrics that are the same colour as the walls to visually expand the space.

4 Declutter your rooms every now and then. Simplicity equals elegance.

5 Open up one of your beautiful books to a page that inspires you.

6 Organize your closets; this will instill a sense of order.

7 Remember that a nice stack of fresh towels or linens is a thing of beauty.

8 Cut something fresh, even a branch with leaves, to bring the outdoors in.

9 Uplift humble household items by placing them in pretty bowls or glass jars.

10 Take time to take in what you have. A moment for tea by yourself or with a friend can be wholly renewing.

11 Always choose quality over quantity. It pays dividends.

12 Opt for plain fabric over patterned fabric – life is the pattern!

13 Create daily rituals, such as a warm bath, that make you feel well cared for.

14 Honour the intimacy of bedrooms and bathrooms by leaving shoes outside the door.

15 Treat yourself special because when you feel better about yourself, you treat others better. That’s elegance in motion.
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Design Experts

Inside design: Barbara Barry