Women Empowerment: Barbara Barry Style
Women Empowerment: Barbara Barry Style
Empowering women come in many forms! Today we turn our lens on an internationally renowned interior and home décor designer who may not directly preach about women empowerment, but certainly does her fair share of empowering through her self-made success story and extensive library of celebrated interior designs and product creations! The legendary Barbara Barry!
A design icon and industry trailblazer, Barry’s drive and steadfast beliefs about design have made her a household name in the world of interior design and beyond. Known for her unpretentious yet elegantly luxurious interiors and home décor product designs, Barry’s philosophy is that “living simply, and with quality, is the highest form of luxury.”
“I live unabashedly for beauty, both inner and outer and I see them as intimately connected”
At her Los Angeles-based namesake design studio Barry’s talented team helps bring her vision of gracious living to life through bespoke residential and commercial interiors, and signature home décor designs. On her website, she admirably acknowledges she would not be where she is today without the support of others and provides a glimpse of her gentle demeanor, “With the help of my talented and dedicated staff we work to create homes in which I’d want to live and products of which I am proud. They make it possible for me to travel for inspiration and to speak globally on the things that I love. I feel blessed to have the life I do and grateful for the relationships my career has engendered.”
In addition to her well-appointed interiors, Barry’s illustrious and unwavering vision of home décor product designs can be seen through her partnerships with renowned brands such as Baker Furniture, Kallista Bath, Kravet Fabrics, Tufenkian Carpets, and Visual Comfort Lighting.
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.”
Surrounded by a family of painters, from a young age Barry learned to see the world through an artistic lens. She grew up noticing the subtle distinctions in the colors and forms in nature and explains its consistent influence on her work as, “my constant inspiration with its elegant colorations and perfect patterns.” Rooted in her love for nature, Barry’s signature principles of good design – simplicity, proportion, and harmony – are explored in her 2012 book Barbara Barry: Around Beauty.
“The neutral palette allows the moments of color to pop,” says the designer about her Los Angeles home’s living room. The space includes a few of Barry’s own designs, including aBaker sofa, a cocktail table for Henredon, and Kravet carpet.
Barry’s rise to fame didn’t follow a traditional trajectory, but rather one stemming from an organic and natural passion, making it even more inspirational! A born designer, she did not come from wealth, in her words she grew up with “rather modest means”, but she did grow up in an artistic family who nurtured her innate talent from an early age. In particular by her mother who saw her potential from the get-go and of whom Barry says, “The best advice in everything creative came from my mother, who told me I was a natural. That vote of confidence paved my way in life.”
After a stint in art school, Barry set off to Europe and fell in love with wine and cheese (this says a lot about her!) Upon returning to her home state of California, she opened a small shop in Mendocino where her penchant for design caught the eye of a patron, who asked for some design help. “I think I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Barry – but I am not so convinced that just anyone would have been able to take such a happenchance entry into the field to the heights she has!
Next stop Los Angeles – Barry says she knew if she were ever going to get anywhere in the design world, “it was necessary that I move to a major city, create a portfolio of my own bedroom and chairs in just the right light, and march into the design center and announce myself and my availability for work.” So off she went!
In 1985 Barry launched her namesake residential interior design studio and quickly built a roster of high-profile clients such as Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency and former president of The Walt Disney Company, Darren Star, creator of television series Beverly Hills, 90210 and Sex and the City, and billionaire mogul Eli Broad. In 1995, she expanded her business to include commercial work completing stunning spaces such as The Savoy Hotel in London, Brooks Brothers’ flagship Manhattan store and the Avon Centre Salon and Spa in Trump Tower in New York.
The mid-90s also marked the beginning of Barry’s product design career. After meeting the then Design Director at Baker Furniture, John Black, her first collection with the well-known luxury home décor furniture brand was launched in 1996 and was a huge success. Barry relishes in simplicity, a vision and opinion she has consistently stayed true to from day one.
“The most obvious influence she has had in the furniture business is bringing a sense of simplicity to product design; not just modern design, but the strength and versatility of simple forms,” says Black.
The art of watercolor also inspires Barry and she uses the medium to help evoke her designs. “I love the way watercolors allows me to tease an idea alive,” she describes.
Innate talent aside, having an opinion and sticking to it is certainly one of the secrets to Barry’s success! In her words –
“Design is expression, and I look back now and I realize I just had a lot of energy and I had an opinion. Because what’s the difference between a weed and a flower? An opinion.”
So, to those of you looking to reach the top of the design industry, heed her words of wisdom,
“Look inward…not outward where trends are distracting. Try to understand what it is that YOU have, uniquely, to offer the world and build on that. Put words to it, define it and take it forward.”
“Stand up for what you believe in. What separates you from others is your opinion and that is what you are selling. Don’t worry about blending in…develop your own voice.”
Around the same time as her luxury furniture collection for Baker debuted, Barry also designed an incredibly simple yet elegant and unique collection for Tufenkian Carpets, a New York-based dealer of artisan rugs handmade in Nepal and Armenia. James Tufenkian, owner of Tufenkian, says, “The success of that collection opened the eyes of the interiors industry and expanded their notions of what could be done in handmade rugs.”
Her stamp on the industry began!
The image above depicts designs by Barry for Tufenkian Carpet, Visual Comfort Lighting and Baker Furniture.
In an interview with Iván Meade of LifeMStyle, when asked what Barry would like her legacy to be she replied,
“I would love to see my designs around for a long time because that would mean that they brought a lot of pleasure to people. I am so proud to be a woman working in the way I do and to make a mark in the annals of American design.”
With product collections for everything from furniture, fabric and rugs, to plumbing, tile, lighting, and accessories, a 2000 induction into Interior Design magazine’s Interior Design Hall of Fame, which recognizes designers for their contribution to the evolution of Interior Design, and a spot on Architectural Digest’s “World’s 100 Best Designers” list in 2005, I think it is safe to say she has succeeded. She has most certainly left her mark on the industry and empowers designers around the world!
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So, what is next for this empowering woman and her design empire?
This Fall she is launching a new collection for Baker, “A new collection for the way we live today; neither precious nor formal, but rather a collection of warm materials, relaxed comfort and lots of style. Eased finishes, textural fabrics and sculptural lighting bring a new modern luxury to Baker.” Sounds like more Barbara Barry beauty awaits!
We hear she wishes she could design a jewelry collection for Tiffany’s – we can only hope!!
And in her words, “What is next for me is more quiet time and to be able to work with smaller companies producing smaller collections alongside artisans all over the world.”
For Barbara Barry’s empowering words of wisdom, we took a little bit of a different angle, a design inspired one of course!
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.”
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.”
Live elegantly, and share it! “I love living elegantly every day and sharing that with whomever comes to my home. I love crisp ironed napkins for every meal. I love freshly laundered sheets filling my armoire. When people stay with me I want them to feel like they’re in the finest hotel where they can have breakfast in bed or out in the garden and where big fluffy towels await them after a warm bath or a dip in the pool.”
There is Power in Beauty. “I hope we can all find the simple beauty that surrounds us daily and stop to take it in. “Beauty has the power to stop you in your tracks and take you outside of yourself.”
For more inspiring women in business visit our Women Empowerment page!