Inside design: Barbara Barry
For some, Barbara Barry's style epitomizes Hollywood glamour. Her rooms ooze sensuality and drip with luxury. Yet there's little extravagance in the interiors she designs, including celebrity homes and corporate offices, for a vast clientele. Instead, the Los Angeles-based designer creates soothing sanctuaries by imbuing her settings with Zenlike tranquility to create the signature Barbara Barry style. That style is now shared with consumers worldwide, as the Barbara Barry brand extends to furniture, carpeting, lighting, bathroom fixtures, tiles and even crystal accessories. Here, the designer imparts a few pearls on how to create Hollywood glamour in your own home without spending Hollywood money.
S@H: Your trademark style has been called Hollywood glamour. What does that mean to you?
BB: There are certain elements from 1940s Hollywood that capture the essence of my work. It's not stars and celebrities and power deals. There's nothing formal or fussy about it, either. It's casual elegance – a look that was shaped by growing up in California, where the sun's out and there's a beach and a sea breeze. I like to think of my designs as being evocative of twin-sets and pearls, cocktails by the pool. It's gracious, everyday living.
S@H: What are the essential elements to consider when creating casual elegance in a home?
BB: Most important, there's simplicity to it. It's a look that has a pared-down quality. I no longer feel I have to finish every corner. I believe in what I call the “presence of absence.” I like to come home to an empty, polished table that I can throw my handbag on. There's a saying, “When things look simple, you know you're in the hands of a master.” I really believe in that. I don't work with a lot of antiques. I find that's when people run into problems; they collect big, heavy pieces that don't work together. I started designing furniture because I wanted a simple look – pieces with good lines that would carry throughout the home, so the sum, the entire house, has continuity and an elegant feel to it.
S@H: Your interiors look rich; do you need to be rich to get that look?
BB: Style has nothing to do with money and everything to do with discipline and restraint. Quality speaks for itself, and I think we should build our interiors over time incorporating quality. A dark, polished wood floor will look great even with sparse furnishings.
I like to stand back and look at a room like I would a picture. Then I can really see what's working. You know the line of something is right when you notice the shape of a piece before the pattern of the fabric. But composition is the single most important thing in decorating. You can make a room look rich by arranging the furniture in a balanced composition. If there's a big, black fireplace, balance it by painting the doors black or using chocolate brown cushions. It's just like in painting; if there's a red dot there, then you need something red over here. You have to move things around until, boom, you have it.
S@H: Your colour schemes are a signature statement.
BB: I'm a big fan of ivory – you can add almost any other colour to an ivory room. I also use green as a neutral. Green is so pervasive. We all relate to green, and it's so soothing. But I wouldn't mix complementary colours with green. I tend to do colour blocking. I'd use lime green, yellow green and blue green and then accent with silver or ivory. The result is harmonious, almost hypnotic.
S@H: You credit your mother for teaching you about style for less.
BB: I come from humble beginnings. My mother is an extremely stylish woman and she raised four daughters on her own. I shared a room until I left home, so I understand about space. But my mother taught me that it's not about how much you have, it's about what you have and how you use it. I'd watch my mother at her easel painting, and I learned to see the world in terms of colour and texture and composition. The power of those three elements to make an impression is huge.