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Exclusive | Style Icon Barbara Barry Shares Her Views on Home Design

Oct. 17th, 2012 | Comments 2 | Make a Comment   
Barbara Barry
Photo Credit: Joe Schmelzer

Award-winning designer Barbara Barry is internationally known for her streamlined interiors and elegant home furnishings. Her look speaks to quiet luxury, comfort and ease – supporting her design philosophy that living simply and with quality is the highest form of luxury. 

Barry’s celebrated vision of beauty finds expression in prestigious residential and commercial commissions and through partnerships with internationally renowned companies, including Ann Sacks Tile & Stone, Baccarat, Baker Furniture, Boyd Lighting, Hartmann Luggage, HBF, Henredon, Kallista, Kravet, McGuire, Tufenkian Carpets, Visual Comfort and Wedgwood, as well as her own line of bedding and bath. Barbara Barry collections are sold in fine stores and design centers throughout the world as well as Barbara Barry galleries in Bangkok, Moscow and Singapore.

With a vision of infusing simple luxuries in the every day, Barry creates refined interiors, timeless furnishings and luxury products that inspire a life of beauty.   

Barry’s first book, "Around Beauty" (Rizzoli New York, 2012), debuts October 2012.

 Barbara Barry

Gail Doby: Why were you compelled to write "Around Beauty"?

Barbara Barry: In looking back over my career I realized I had a core philosophy and a way of looking at the world that I wanted to share. I wanted to write something that would share ideas and process, rather than opine on design, and hopefully inspire.

Gail: Why is beauty so integral to your life?

Barbara: Because it is the starting point, the thing that gets my motor running; the aim and the goal of everything I do.

Gail: How do you define good design?

Barbara: I define good design as simple and human scaled. If you have these two elements you will generally have a good design.

Photo Credit: David Meredith
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Gail: I love this quote, “The experience of being human, intimately connected to the beauty of nature.” Throughout your book, the nature surrounding each home inspired your work. Would you share your favorite project and how you integrated the outside into the inside?

Barbara: All my projects and their coloration and textures are inspired by the context of the project, meaning where they are located, the unique light and colors that are present out each window. This is what I mean about being intimately connected to nature. A favorite project is the one titled A Manor of Speaking in my book. The whole of the house is colored in the cooler spectrum because of it being in northern California with the cool Bay Area fog and deciduous spearmint colored trees. 

Gail: What is simplicity’s role in design, and why is it a misnomer?

Barbara: Simplicity is a discipline meaning you have to have the big picture or the end result in mind when you start, or at least I do, and then it becomes a discipline to stay on track. I am not the kind of designer who shops; I am interested in mood and that is achieved by the harmony of many simple things (choices) coming together. I think people think simplicity sounds strict or boring or bland but it is not, it is the vehicle through which one experiences the space or the interior or the meal, etc., and so it is as rich as it needs to be.

Photo Credit: David Meredith
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David Meredith

Gail: How does one know if the proportions of each element are right within a space, and how do you determine what works?

Barbara: This is a question that cannot be answered because defining "right" is too subjective. I would revert to saying if one works in a human scale then that really isn't an issue...the rest is a matter of taste.

Gail: What do you mean by the “Edge of an idea?”

Barbara: I mean the feeling that pervades your body when you feel an idea coming on...I know it is a universal feeling for any creative person...or maybe a musician or even a mathematician when about to solve an equation...it is mysterious, visceral and thrilling...and unfortunately all too often fleeting. One needs to have one's butterfly net at the ready at all times to try and capture that transitory moment!

Photo Credit: David Meredith
 Barbara Barry water colors

Gail: Would you explain why a beautiful process equals a beautiful product?

Barbara: Well, wouldn't you agree that food cooked with love tastes better? You imbue what you create with the energy that you put into it such that if you are creating it in a beautiful, pleasant enjoyable way it will pretty much guarantee that you are creating something of beauty. In the more abstract sense it means being fully in the present moment in the highest way you can.

Gail: What is the “Dance of Design?”

Barbara: The dance of design is the method by which I create...sometimes linear but much more often circular and stop-start.  I set out to do one thing, end up doing another and finally return to the thing I set out to do. I have learned to embrace that "dance" and see it as my organic and personal process.

Photo Credit: David Meredith
 Barbara Barry home design

Gail: How did you become so aware of ritual? As a society, we are so busy and we move so quickly. Do you think it is a lost art?

Barbara: I know it is a lost art and to the extent that I can keep ritual in my life I find that I am happier and more centered.  It seems like such a simple or silly thing but it is very powerful. Just think about the ritual of evening supper together as a family, or a Sunday call with a best friend...even a quiet cup of tea midday or making the bed in the morning. We are all in too much of a rush and ritual can help slow us down and experience our lives in a more tangible way.

Gail: You commented to one of your clients, “How lucky you are; you can do things that keep the art of the craft alive that will live for a long time.” Custom design is truly an art form, and as you mentioned, it takes a tremendous attention to detail to complete a design project. Do you feel that your clients understand the real importance of their patronage for the artisans you employ for their project? 

Barbara: I think they do once the project is completed and they live with these well crafted things. When one handles these beautiful objects they transmit all the care and the quality inherent in them each and every time.  It is really a privilege of wealth and I love how design keeps that alive.

Photo Credit: David Meredith
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Gail: Share with us the importance of creating watercolor art before creating the physical representation of your designs.

Barbara: Watercolor allows me to tease an idea alive....subtle washes of color bring dimension to a chair or a design for a sheet pattern.  I like the way I can "play" with the washes and sometimes stumble upon something that wasn't intended. I can also paint larger brushstrokes for a whole room to get the palette worked out as well as the mood.  I cannot imagine being without my paints.

Gail: Why is it so hard to design for yourself? 

Barbara: I don't think it is really harder it just takes a different muscle. For a client you decide and present just a few options but as a designer you know the multitude of choices and it can almost paralyze you so you have to really think about narrowing it down and what you really want and that is an effort...

Gail: This quote made me laugh, “My dining room was having an argument with my garden, and like most spats, there were boundary issues, one not stopping where the other began.”  How did you resolve that conflict?

Barbara: You will have to read that story to find out the answer!

Gail: What do you hope for your readers to take away from "Around Beauty"?

Barbara: I love this question and thank you for asking it because I didn't see any other reason to write a book except inspiring someone to see the simple and natural beauty that surrounds her/him every day; to inspire others to pause and take in that beauty (even the beauty of an onion), and believe that that little moment of observation and appreciation can be transformative. I hope I am successful in this.

"Barbara Barry: Around Beauty" is available on Amazon.com and wherever fine books are sold.

Photo Credit: David Meredith
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2 Comments on this Article

Tracey Taylor commented on October 24, 2012

Inspiring article! Thank you Gail and Barbara ~ my favorite: "the dance of design." I will be quoting this often!

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Gail Doby commented on October 24, 2012

Thank you, Tracey. Be sure and download the interview and transcript with Barbara at http://www.BarbaraBarryAroundBeautyInterview.com. Barbara is warm and delightful and I know you will enjoy it. (Free)