Back to Barbara: A Dialogue with Barbara Barry

Good design stands the test of time…the adage and the reason Baker returns to Barbara Barry and her designs and ideas again and again.

From her first collection for Baker, she captured the essence of American taste resonating with designers and homeowners across the globe. Since then, Barbara’s portfolio has grown enormously and her name has become synonymous with good American design.

For Spring 2015 market, Barbara has designed a small portfolio of lounge chairs and ottomans bringing her restrained sensibility once again to the fore. We asked Barbara about her process, what inspired these new designs and how she is looking at her work these days.

When it comes to designing a new product, how do you get started?

Design is all about the process, or rather I should say that design is process, and a never-ending one at that. For me design is fluid, it doesn’t begin or end with a single thought or idea but rather it is a continuum, a continuum of ideas, sometimes fragments, sometimes whole ideas. It is a dialogue in my head where I link one thought with another, one shape to another, a certain color to another.

What is your process?

My process is not linear but circular and often stop-start. I’m inspired by the most subtle things…meaning I’m not drawn in by high-contrast but rather I am very much drawn in by subtlety. The subtle differences between things…things at the edges, the simple shape of one thing in front of another, and mostly these things are from the natural world. I am not one to scour design books or magazines for inspiration but rather I am one to take a walk and to observe…the light and whatever might be on my path.

The way the light catches something like the ripple on an ostrich egg…that really thrills me. As humans we have this extraordinary capacity to take in nuance and we delight, or at least I do, in doing so. It is the palest shade of a color, a color that I can’t describe in one word, that I am searching for, or the smallest detail like the hand-sewn lining of a favorite jacket; this is design to me and what makes it so special.

Living and working in California has been a huge influence on my body of work. The light here illuminates and reveals so much that over the years I have built a muscle and a thirst for nuance. I find my visual awareness is heightened by living here; my home and my studio have large windows that let in the light and all day long I feel we see things here that others might not see living elsewhere. Have you ever noticed how the leaves of palm trees look shiny like they are wet? It’s their smooth surface and the way the light catches that surface that makes them sparkle.

You have crafted a signature style that feels at once timeless and timely – what’s the key to creating a piece that stands the test of time?

I believe timelessness comes from simplicity. Anything that is too decorative defines the moment in which it was designed and I stay away from that idea. I live unabashedly for beauty and for me beauty never goes out of fashion. I look at the same simple paintings I have cherished for years like the work of Ben Nicholson

What are some of the nuances of your new collection, the special little details?

Design is in the details…always, and these new pieces are about a certain mood and the casual and natural elegance of California living. So this collection has a little more “kicked back” attitude to it; a relaxed style that is still very luxurious and very Baker but coming from someone who lives this kind of lifestyle.

I love the way some of the Tiburon sofa looks like it is slipcovered but it is actually upholstered very crisply. The generous scale and easy swivel put one at ease immediately. You just want to climb into it.

And the pitch to the Presidio lounge chair has the perfect pitch inviting one to get comfortable and relax. There is nothing uptight, nothing formal nor period specific about this work…it is more a state of mind.

The way the wood meets the natural caning on the Marin lounge chair speaks to the craftsmanship of a Baker product…one-by-one, by hand.  And I love how the new wood finishes open up the possibilities for the mood of the room; one where different woods can mix and there is no longer a tyranny of brown.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring designers?

Learn to draw and never stop drawing. It’s the way you work things out…like a writer that might use words or a musician notes, a designer has to keep their pencil sharp and get those ideas out of their head and onto the page. When you can draw, in section, elevation and in context, you will have far less surprises and move much more quickly.