Photo: Larsen & Talbert
Los Angeles-based interior and furniture designer Barbara Barry manages to pull off a near-impossible balancing act, merging simplicity with 1940s Hollywood glam. As Barry explains, it's all in the details.
1. Don't fight what you cannot change. Anything that's permanent has to become your best friend, so learn to love it and to play it up. If you have a brick wall outside your window, bring terra-cotta into the room through pillows or flooring. If your fireplace has a charred hearth, paint a door black to pick up on that color. Expand on what's there by extending it: That makes it seem intentional.
2. Quality counts. Once you've slept on soft sheets or dried off with a fluffy white towel or sipped tea from a porcelain cup, you understand how the smallest details can have an enormous impact on your sense of well-being. The body knows quality. So I say buy less, but buy at the highest level you can afford.
3. Windows shouldn't look like party dresses. Think of window treatments architecturally, as extensions of the wall. Treat them simply with a fabric that's the same color as the wall so that you enlarge rather than constrain the space.
4. Make choices based on your gut, not your head.
5. Not every piece of furniture has to make a statement. A Louis XVI chair can be fabulous, but best to surround it with neutral, pared-down pieces that will complement and not compete with it.
6. Restrained color palettes bring order to the chaos of life.
7. The best design strikes a balance between toughness and gentleness. I'm always looking to blend a line and a curve; if I make a chair with a straight leg, it will have a curved back. Geometry offset by sensuality inevitably stands the test of time, and resonates with every taste, both masculine and feminine.
8. Different tasks require different lights. I put a 40- and a 60-watt bulb in a double cluster lamp so that I can have three choices: 40 for the party, 60 for reading, and both—100 watts—for cleanup.
9. Go easy with patterns. I'm searching for calm all the time—that's why people come to me—and life is already a pattern. We create it with the shape of the furniture, the windows, the doors, the pillows, what we wear, and the stuff we have. Unless you have a sure hand, adding a print to that can just make for more visual noise.
10. Live glamorously! Glamour is not about money, it's more a quality of character...but having elegant furnishings can certainly set the stage. I love how California was and still is the backdrop for a casually elegant lifestyle: palm trees and swimming pools, cocktails and pearls. Perfect.
From the Fall 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!