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Interior and Home Product Designer Barbara Barry Takes on Light and Openness

How the interior and product designer masters the art of simplicity

“Designing furniture that will become a part of a family’s history is one of the things I love about my work,” says Southern California-based Barbara Barry, one of the world’s most prominent designers.

Barbara Barry is among the world’s most prominent and talented designers. Based in Southern California, she has created quietly beautiful, livable interiors for more than three decades. Barbara is inspired by the natural world, and she believes that home furnishings should evoke calm and serenity as an antidote to the chaos of our modern lives.

The ideas of simplicity, understated elegance, and timelessness define Barry’s design ethos. In her words, “Designing furniture that will become a part of a family’s history is one of the things I love about my work.”

Barbara was raised in a family of artists. She is an active plein-air painter who takes her inspiration in the subtle colours and forms in nature. She founded her Los Angeles design firm in 1985. Her practice has grown to international renown and her interiors and product design are celebrated through partnerships that include furniture, lighting, textiles, bedding, carpets, crystal, plumbing and tile.

More recently, with 30-plus years in the business, Barbara has taken on private consulting for businesses looking to elevate their brand aesthetic and partnerships. Highlights of an exclusive interview with Prestige:

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How important has living in Los Angeles been in shaping your beliefs about design?

In Los Angeles there is a sense of light and freedom and openness along with a casual way of living that has greatly affected my design ethos.

What’s the first thing you want people to feel when they step inside your home?

A sigh, an outbreath… a feeling of serenity and comfort.

What’s the best decorating advice you ever received?

Keep it simple.

What’s the biggest decorating mistake most people make?

Not keeping it simple.

What are a few of your favourite things at home?

My luxuriously comfortable sofa in my media room, my mini down comforter on that sofa, my freshly ironed linens and thin porcelain coffee cups, my long-haired dachshund Oliver, my iPad Pro.

Where do you work – in the office, on planes?

I work everywhere… but mostly on my white Italian lacquer kitchen table. I am never without a small sketchbook and a little watercolour kit. Ideas are ephemeral and you have to catch them when they come.

When you’re designing a room, what’s your process? Do you begin at the beginning, or at the end?

I sense the overall feeling of the room and see it pretty well complete before I start. I am trying to capture a mood more than a style, and that is all about color and scale.

What gets your creativity flowing? Nature?

Yes, mostly nature… as in Southern California it is always green and full of light. I am inspired and moved by my surroundings wherever I am and that is why I live here.

Is there a time period you look back to for inspiration? What is it about that time that interests you?

I love the 1940’s when early Modernism was budding. When things were still crafted and there wasn’t so much plastic and signage in the world.

When mentoring young designers, what advice do you give them?

I tell them they need to be able to articulate what they are seeing in their mind’s eye poetically. They need to be able to sell their ideas and they need to believe in them 110 percent. They need confidence.

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What is your favourite place in the world, and why?

California by far… for all the reasons I have mentioned… the light, the air, the indoor/outdoor living without screens, the no humidity, but mostly the freedom and forward thinking.

What do you typically bring back from your travels?

Small hand-crafted objects like a Japanese wood bowl or tray, a piece of vintage Swedish ceramic or Czech crystal.

How do you spend your Sundays?

Going for a walk or run, then going for a good coffee and then to the Farmers Market, taking a piano lesson and reading on the sofa with my dog.

What’s the best design book you’ve read recently?

I adore Monocle Magazine.

What’s next for the Barbara Barry brand?

Partnerships with European manufacturers and the refurbishment of my store in Bangkok.

What are you excited about right now in the world of design?

I am still very excited about all aspects of design, from fabrics, to tabletops, furniture and architecture.

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