Barbara Barry is Wired for Color

The Renowned Designer's Approach to Palette

Words
Barbara Berry
Photography
David Meredith

Pops, bursts, accents— color is often used as a visual exclamation mark. Barbara Barry, among the World’s Best 100 Designers, sees this medium under a different light. With nature as her muse, the Los Angeles interior designer plays with possibilities of a single tone of color. Shades and opacity create infinite variations, offering a soothing setting and constancy for life’s unpredictabilities.

Gather inspiration from approach to palette as a subtly transformative tool— after all, power lies in the understated. From Barbara Barry:

 

We are Wired for Color

It’s part of who we are.
Color has an effect on us even when we unaware of it.
Color can affect our mood and I believe it can change our mood.
As human being we have this incredible ability to perceive color’s nuances and the infinite subtleties.
And as a designer that’s where I hang out… in the subtle nuances of color and the moods those colors can create.

Color of Nature

My highest inspirations come from nature where these color subtleties are infinite.
In nature, observing my surroundings, I find these color subtleties draw me in.
A process takes place in my psyche on a deep, deep level where these shadings and textures mesmerize me and I think it is the same for everyone.
Who doesn’t like to spend time in nature?
Probably we all do but it’s not just because it’s outside and away from the office but also because in nature our moods can change through experiencing the power of color with what’s at work there.

My highest inspirations come from nature where these color subtleties are infinite.

Think of the millions of shades of sand on the beach and how we all become mesmerized walking and gazing down on them.
Think of the ocean with its infinite and changing shades of blue and how we find we can gaze at it for hours on end.
What is the color of water anyway? Can it be said in one word?
I love colors that need many descriptors…pale-frosty-blue, or soft-sage-y- silvery-eucalyptus. It’s more evocative maybe that’s because it’s asking us to dip into our memory bank to help us better define it.

The Science of Color

It’s so interesting to me that color is actually a science…and here is how I think it works…
Our brains translate colors to help us define space.
We perceive how cool colors recede and warm colors move forward. We perceive and decipher the millions and millions of shades of one color, say the color green, in a forest, or in a huge leafed out tree with the sun shining through it. I believe our brains love to do that deciphering because as we do this it seems to cause us to become calmer. Taking in all those similar, but slightly different, shades of one color, draws us in, if we are really looking and creates a mood; a mood of calm.

And here is one of the things I most love about color…I love that it is a language, and that it’s a universal language, the same language for everyone; there’s no escaping it. That common language creates an even playing ground— and because of that it means I can use that language to create mood too, in my work.
I can create rooms and products that can also create a moods of calm and I do in that same way that nature does with the use of few colors in infinite tones.

As a painter I’ve studied (and played) with color my whole life. I’ve seen this color science at work and I use it to color the fabrics I design and the rooms I design often with those fabrics. And I use it for my sheeting, carpets, lighting and tableware too as they all reflect or maybe express… the same philosophy of soft, tonal color.

I spend countless hours obsessing over this one question: How can I use color to create a mood? Because I think that is what I can do and give.

We all live in such a hectic world and I believe we can all use a little more calm in our lives; and I see how my job can help provide that respite.

So back to nature for a minute…
Remember those two things that nature does… mesmerize us and calm us?
Here’s how I think it does it: through its alliterative use of color.
What I mean by “alliterative color” is many, many shades of one color.
In spoken and written language alliteration is the use of one letter used repeatedly such as: Sally sifts sand at the seashore, here an S.
And In the same way, I build my rooms and products around a single color, light to dark, warm to cool, and I see how it is calming.

When I show my clients how this color science has an affect on them by explaining how it works, and then, when they experience it, they embrace it immediately. And I believe the effect on them has to be a positive one—why else would they accept it so fast? And I see how it helps them navigate the world of too many choices to better understanding their choices.

My personal color palette revolves around a very few colors but I find them infinite. Soft-watery-celadons, faded-tawny-taupes, greyed-out-greens, soft-silvers and burnished-bronzes gives me plenty with which to work. And when I design with these single color concepts I find my rooms more calming, my products more timeless and my clients happier.

I know it makes me happier to be in a room that’s more or less all about one color: white, grey, green or blue. And then, when that one color is layered with its own different tones and textures, I know I suddenly feel able to just come to rest, feel peaceful. It’s as if the room becomes this quiet backdrop for all the noise and the “stuff of my life.”

And this stuff of my life, of our lives, is always changing; we can’t control that. But we can control the environment where it lives.
Here’s what I mean…think about your dinner table. Picture simple white or dishes paired with simple clear glassware, a quiet backdrop for the ever changing colors of all the things they hold: your eggs and bacon, your spaghetti and meatballs, your white wine, red wine, black tea or green tea. And those the simple products are supporting the daily changing color and patterns of your food by not competing with their colors and compositions. They’re supporting them just by “holding” it or “framing’ them and in that way they never get old to us.
And it’s in the same in a room…a mono-tonal room can hold all the colors of the people who enter it. It allows them to make the patterns with their clothing, and their books, and their flowers, and their kids with their toys, and their sneakers, and their backpacks. And on and on it goes.
So when I can design a “calm constant” I feel I’m actually doing something with purpose. I feel I’m helping.

In our bedrooms, color works at even the most subconscious level.
In here, I see colors as so incredibly gentle…and I want to use them to help us gently unwind from all the thoughts and patterns that have assaulted us throughout our day.

I want to help people balance the overload in their lives and for me, being a designer is all about color and the support it can bring.

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