Barbara Barry, "Around Beauty"
One of the courses I teach at New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk University is Residential Design Studio. It's a course for sophomores; one of the interior design courses they will take early in the program when they have had little training. For the first project, I ask students to research a famous designer and design a room in that designer's style. The objective is for the students to learn the techniques that characterize designers' styles, and in turn, start to develop their own design vocabulary. Invariably, a student will choose Barbara Barry, the iconic California designer whose name and products are synonymous with grace and beauty. That Barbara Barry was a featured speaker at last month's Design Bloggers Conference was a driving force in my decision to attend.
In a soft, lilting cadence, Barbara spoke at the conference of the inspirations for her newly-released first book, Around Beauty. The fundamental challenge for anyone involved in creative endeavors is finding a source of inspiration. We've all heard how some designers will simply look to the pattern and palette of a textile as the springboard for their designs. For Barbara, inspiration lies in the simple things right in front of her: the perfect ovoid shape of an egg; the surroundings where she is designing.
How light transforms the surroundings is also material to Barbara. She works in watercolors, finding a palette in the subtle layers of paint. Watercolors are the perfect metaphor for the nuances of color and layers Barbara creates in her interiors.
I'm always fascinated by other designers' creative processes. Mine is unfortunately grounded in procrastination. I have to let my ideas percolate and anxiety build. At some point, I'm forced -- by my anxiety and the perceived lack of time -- to focus. Barbara's process is grounded in ritual. She begins her day "full of intention." The simple act of brewing her morning tea becomes part of the "circular, organic, odd stop and start" that becomes her "dance of design." Barbara embraces this ritual flow; in doing so, she knows her ideas will hatch.
Some of Barbara's remarks made so much sense to me. For example, Barbara believes that the design of a room should not compete with the actions occurring in it. For that reason, she tends to downplay dining rooms. A dining room, she maintains, is a temple which becomes alive when the room comes to life. She also feels that restful spaces need to have a quiet palette: just like minds and bodies need rest, "our eyes need rest from the visual impact of the outside world." For Barbara, the most important room in her house is the master bedroom, because "it infuses your thoughts; it's where you start and end your day."
With clients, Barbara likes to cultivate a sensory connection with objects of beauty that inspire her designs. This methodology helps clients slow down, forget the distractions of the outside world and connect with the emotions that her designs stir. It's a very holistic process: engaging human emotions to forge connections between the beauty in nature and the manmade beauty she creates. With this dance of design, it's no wonder Barbara is at the top of her game. And no wonder she is such a model to me and my students.
I got to meet Barbara at the conference and have her autograph my Around Beauty book. This book is a must for the library of any designer and fan of great design. Between David Meredith's photography that captures Barbara's beautiful inspirations and her anecdotes and personal reflections, it's uniquely. . . beautiful.