For designer Barbara Barry, the home is sanctuary

Barbara Barry stands behind her belief in the home as sanctuary, striving to create islands of calm through the interiors and home furnishings she designs.

For designer Barbara Barry, the home is sanctuary 1

For Barbara Barry, being a “master of one’s domain” has become a personal mantra, one that grew out of her belief that the home is one of the few environments over which we have total control.

“The world inundates us with too many things,” says the Los Angeles-based designer known for sophisticated, serene interiors and exquisite use of subtle color. “The daring color, the squiggly lamp, the wild-shaped sofa, the patterned fabric — it all adds up to chaos and confusion.”

For designer Barbara Barry, the home is sanctuary 2
Barry's watercolor illustration of a chair for Baker Furniture

Instead, she shapes a space into an “island of calm” by employing a neutral backdrop that will allow such simple, personal pleasures as a colorful pillow, a bouquet of flowers, or a framed photo to create the pleasing detail, the special moment in the room and in life.

To create this important neutral backdrop, Barry often insists on the same color for walls, draperies, and upholstered pieces, with only subtle changes in hue to add a sense of visual rhythm. But neutral doesn’t necessarily mean colorless or beige. Having grown up in a family of painters, Barry possesses a keen sensitivity to the subtle nuances of color, as well as a passion for nature.

For designer Barbara Barry, the home is sanctuary 3
A neutral backdrop with subtle variations in color is a hallmark of Barbara Barry's interiors.

“Nature is the most profound teacher,” she explains. “The colors in the sky, in the clouds, in the ocean are so subtle. These are the colors I use.” This influence also accounts for her search for colors that imitate “pond-scum green” and “elephant’s-breath beige” and for her description of a room as “having the feel of four in the afternoon on a winter’s day.”

The same attuned eye that draws on the subtlety of color also exercises restraint when it comes to the furnishings and objects placed in a room. “It’s not about decorating and it’s not about the stuff,” Barry says. “It’s about how we live our lives.”

In her own bedroom, for example, Barry chose not to hang any art. “I don’t like artwork in a bedroom; I like colors that are dreamy, because it’s hard to turn the mind off after a busy day.” This allows her personal luxuries — the simple silver tray and pitcher of water on the nightstand; the single rose picked from the garden the day before; the crisp, freshly laundered sheets and favorite pair of pajamas — to stand out and give the room its tranquil center.

“It’s the smaller things around us that nurture us,” Barry remarks. “I want to teach people how to honor the finer moments, something we’ve forgotten how to do.” Her master plan is to teach this — to provide an aesthetic for living well — through both the interiors she creates for clients and the products she designs for the home.

So far the remarkable range of products Barry has applied her sensibility to includes rugs for Tufenkian Tibetan Carpets, a collection of more than 30 pieces of furniture for Baker, several generations of furniture and fabrics for HBF, lighting for Boyd, and bathroom fixtures for Kallista. Stemware for Baccarat and a scented candle will be in stores soon, as well.

For designer Barbara Barry, the home is sanctuary 4
Tufenkian rug by Barbara Barry

“In designing the furniture for Baker I didn’t want it to be all one thing,” Barry recalls. “I wanted to build an eclectic mix from a lot of different periods and show a structural harmony, a thread through time.” The result is a mix of classic shapes and forms edited, refined, pared down, and made new according to Barry principles. “I live in a world between the traditional and the highly modern,” she says. “I want my things to have classic proportions, but I want them to be suited for today’s living.”

She incorporates into her designs proportions from the 18th century, when “man was used as the measure of all things” because “the body tells us what is right.” But modern shapes truly inspire her, and the late French designer Jean Michel Frank is a particular design demigod. Many of Barry’s ideas for line, shape, scale, and detail stem from her love of movies — from Hollywood classics of the thirties, forties, and fifties to the best of cinema today. “I can freeze-frame films, analyzing the interiors from shot to shot,” Barry admits.

For designer Barbara Barry, the home is sanctuary 5
Faucet handle by Barbara Barry for Kallista

What’s next on the drawing board for Barbara Barry? “I want to design everything that has to do with the home,” she says. “I’d like to have the biggest, simplest white plate. I hope to design the perfect wineglass and the simplest oval crystal candy dish. I envision designing a line of paint, certainly a wallcovering line. There’s bedding and linens, and I’d love to do more fabrics.”

Perhaps the ultimate would be a Barbara Barry Basics for Living guidebook that would help people decorate their homes, not as showplaces, but as reflections of who they are and how they live. Simply put, to help them enjoy the special moments of the home.

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