Home Front: Renowned designer Barbara Barry joins the weekly chat

Nov 15, 2012

Barbara Barry, one of the world's most prominent and talented designers, is known for her unique blend of sophistication and livability. Her designs range from elegant interiors for private and commercial spaces to an extensive portfolio of home furnishings with companies such as Baker Furniture, McGuire, Tufenkian Carpets and Wedgwood. Based in Los Angeles, her new book, "Around Beauty," hit shelves last month. Submit your early questions now and tune in Thursday at 11 a.m.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Good morning, everyone! We're thrilled to have Los Angeles designer Barbara Barry here on the chat. Her new book Barbara Barry: Around Beauty shows off her elegant rooms. She designs furniture, lighting, sheets, crystal and more. Let's go!


I want to paint a vintage chest of drawers for my 30 yr old son. He is not into decor, but he does need something to store clothes. I'm thinking about a high gloss gray color, masculine & neutral. I understand that oil based paint is best for painting furniture. Can you suggest a gray in Benjamin Moore? Will use Jura's suggestion of changing out the knobs, possibly at Anthropologie.

I love your idea of painting this chest for your son.

A neutral warm grey would be perfect.  There are lots to choose from and new knobs in a pewter like finish would be perfect. Best of luck!

I am so excited to hear from Barbara Barry. Love all her designs I have seen in magazines! I am looking for a fabric to recover some chairs in a sunroom in my weekend house so I really have until next spring to get it done. It has walls of windows on two sides but no skylights, so it gets a substantial amount of sun but is not a greenhouse. After looking in every conceivable acrylic fabric book and online, I cannot find the perfect one. My question is, when would the acrylics for next spring come out -- around the time of the shows in Feb? Is there another type of fabric I should consider that also might not fade, such as a blend? Many thanks --

I would look at Indoor/Outdoor fabrics.  They are all acrylic but have a really nice hand and feel to them. They are out all the time in the showrooms at the Design Centers. Kravet has lots to choose from.

I see on many decorating shows that the brick fireplace has fallen out of favor. It seems the brick is being covered up with other materials. What do you think? Also is there a way to update a brick facade without breaking the bank?

I say paint it black.

I recently moved to a beautiful new apartment but there is a city street light shining through the blinds so the whole place is lit up, even at midnight. I tried papering over the windows with christmas wrap but what else can I do? Thanks!

Isnt that annoying!  I have one too and I finally lined my roman shade with black out material to shut it out.

If you dont want to do that then I would get 2" wooden blinds as you can angle the light and shut it out completely.

Thanks so much for being on the chat. I have read about your amazing organizational abilities. How do you pass these on to your clients? Is it true you arrange their produce for them in their refrigerators? I need you to come to my house.

No I do not arrange their produce!  But I do arrange my own. I think vegetables and fruit are things of beauty and love opening my frig to a live painting.  And I think organization keeps us sane.  I love the COntainer Store and buy organizers all the time. It feels nice when sometimes the world is a riot.

I very much respect Ms. Barry's work and reputation, I have seen her in magazines and she is elegant and tasteful. But here in Foreclosureville (Fla.) I am struggling with what to store, what to ditch and what to use. Moving from a 4 BR house to 2 BR apt. Worried about upholstered stuff in storage: bugs, water. Dining chairs silk covered... sheesh. Any advice is appreciated!

Let go of as much as you can!  We need less than we think we do. Things do wear out and do get mold.  I would look at everything and judge it from 1 to 10 and only keep 7 and above.

I'll be visiting family for the upcoming holiday and would like to find some unique home stores, prefer Faifax or Vienna. Does anyone know of any that might have Turkish textiles or anything else exotic, unusual and affordable? Maybe a thrift store that might has high end accessories?

Turkish textiles? I would definitely try the Textile Museum in Washington. Also check out local thrift and vintage shops and the Georgetown Flea Market. I'm trying to think of a shop in Old Town Alexandria that might have something. Does anyone know?

I live in a tropical zone. No way to replant a 'real' Christmas tree in this climate. How can I have green decor, and not just junk everything Jan. 2?

I think doing just a mantle or a table with a garland and a few lights is enough.  If you can find a fresh one then you get the benefit of that delicious fragrance and dont feel so bad about ditching it afterwards and the mess is minimal.

Good morning, Barbara & Jura! In your work as a designer, I am sure you find, as I do, that there is sometimes a conflict between form & function. Something is really pretty but it doesn't work well for the practical daily living needs of the space. (As for me, I find things that are super practical but maybe not so pretty!) Do you have a fun story about making that work? - Lorie Marrero, ClutterDiet.com

Good Morning Laurie!  

I love your question...hmmmm, I think that beauty reigns so I try to find something that is beautifully functional and I generally succeed. Can you be more specific?

Can you share some of your favorite paint colors with us - celadons, whites, grays?

Oh I love this question because I love color!  And paint colors although they seem endless sometimes lack what I am searching for.  I often end up mixing the two I like to get the perfect one.

I like Benjamin Moore and European Fine Paints.  The one color tip I can give you is to always go lighter and a little faded out. Much easier to live with and the color intensifies when it gets on four walls!

I enjoyed the holiday decorating story this morning, so thank you! I have a related question. I am now in Louisiana doing hurricane relief work and will be here for Thanksgiving. About 14 of us are getting together and I have agreed to do some table decorations for the two tables. Given that I have none of my own vases, bowls, decorations, etc., to use, how can I pull this off without spending a fortune? I have already gathered a bunch of pine cones and found some candles at Tuesday Morning .. what next? FYI, Louisiana has no Crate & Barrel or HomeGoods stores, which would have been my first stops...

How about buying some gorgeous persimmons which are in season right now as they will add the perfect amount of color and holiday feeling and you can eat them later.  Add a few low votive candles for night and the table will sparkle. Remember less is more!

Hi! I just bought a new home with super high (15+) feet ceilings in the kitchen. We have 42" cabinets that are dwarfed and the space feels cold and echo-y. Have considered stacking another set above them, but that feels impractical. Any suggestions to make the expanse above the cabinets feel less so? Thanks!

High ceilings are hard to live with. I would consider hanging a large shaded candelier lower into the space to bring a warm pool of light into the room. The space above it will fade away and it will create a new ceiling height visually and emotionally.

Have you ever done any homes in DC? What are your favorite cities to work in?

I have not done any homes in DC but hey...I'm open!  Obama don't you want a woman in the White House??

I love to work all over the world but as I am a Californian I feel the most secure working here with the natural light and the more casual lifestyle.

Tell us about your own house. Do you change it up a lot?

It is funny that you should ask about my house as I am spending a lot of time in it currently having fallen and broken my foot. I see that I did my house as a "Project" like my other work and when it was done I didnt really take it in like I am now. 

I LOVE my home because it is so nourishing to me.  I dont change the furniture but I change the accessories and the pillows.  I thought long and hard about what I wanted and did it slowly and am happy with my choices.  I will probably leave it as it is until I move!

Good Morning! On August 30th I posted a question re paint colors for our front door. Lori Graham suggested a Benjamin Moore blue but I'm unable to access the question when looking at the archived chat (only the first few question/answers load). I would very much appreciate any help, we'll be home this weekend and I'd love to get the door painted before Thanksgiving guests arrive. Thanks so much - have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Hi there! I'm sorry that you can't view the full chat, I am working on Google Chrome and am able to view that transcript in its entirety. Here is the answer to your question that Lori Graham gave: 

LORI GRAHAM : Thank you so much for the kind words - and yes, come see us!  Your instincts are spot-on as I would definitely want to balance all that warmth from the bricks wiht a striking, cool tone.  I love the silvery-slate blue "Zydeco" by C2 or an even deeper blue/charcoal such as Ben Moore's "Silver Streak" (its the color in the conference room at my stuido -- mention this chat and I'll give you a private peek when you stop by the Showroom :)

Barbara, thanks so much for joining out chat. I have been a fan of your work for years and years! Believe me, if I could afford you, I'd be your longest standing client. My question: My fiance and I are moving into a small but beautiful apartment in the city and it gets decent, but not phenomenal, light. How do you suggest we maximize the light that we do get? If there is one thing I've learned from scouring design blogs and magazines, it's that you can never underestimate the effect of natural light (which is harder to come by in New York and DC than it is is LA). Your advice is much appreciated!

Well there is a kindred spirit!   Thank you for your kind words.

Light is everything to me!

I would choose the palest color of grey or creamy white and paint out everything and I mean everything including the moldings and doors.  This will spill light all through the apartment even on a grey day and make the spaces feel larger. 

Counterpoint that with pale furnishings and dark floors and you will be surprised how classic and simple and satisfying that will be. Remember the color of life comes in every day in fruit, clothes, books art, etc...

Good Morning Ladies, I would love to repaint a traditional and formal living room another color, currently painted "Bagel" by Sherwin Williams, kitchen right off living room, painted a yellow with tan swipes, only one source of light which is front window, would love to bring in more light. Suggesstions. Thanks Ms. Vee

I just love the name of your paint. When guests ask your paint color, you must love telling them, "It's Bagel!" But if you insist on changing it, what about Farrow & Ball's Farrow's Cream or Dorset Cream or Benjamin Moore's Pale Moon or Coastal Fog?

i was fortunate to hear you speak in May 2011 (blogfest) about your amazing and inspiring travels. Where did you travel in 2012? Will those travels inspire new fabric palettes and/or furniture designs?

in 2012 I spent my holidays in nature....a few different lakes in the woods.  It is my new favorite setting and I am inspired to think of a fabric line for places on lakes and in mountains.


We're replacing all of our bedding and I love the look of a fluffy, full white bed spread with comfy pillows. However, I have a quilt from Anthropologie that I absolutely love (linked here) and it's CREAM. My husband is convinced we can't use it anymore.... but I actually don't think cream and white would look that bad. Am I way off here?

Cream and white are heaven together.

Just buy a lot of both and mix and match. Men often have to see it to believe it!

As a low-budget single, I bought a (lightly used) round card table. For 10 years I ate on it, used it as a desk in grad school, and set it in the front room of my first house, with lamp and pretty botanical print cloth. Now my Haitian foster daughter is using it in her 1st apt. It fits in any car easily, serves many purposes and looks less 'card tabe-ish' than square, esp. when covered. Highly rec. this item as a core purchase for young folks. Works as gift table at shower, seats extra dinner guests, can be covered with oilcloth on porch or patio.

So true. What a great investment! Thanks for the tip. I pull out several folding square card tables during the holidays and set them up in my basement for storing gifts.

I'd love to know what some of your favorite organizing tricks are. And your favorite organizing baskets, bins, whatever. I know beautiful containers make the job more fun and elevate your possessions, right?

I just got the best basket with a white cotton washable liner from Restoration Hardware.  I also love the Container Store.


I have a window that butts right up against a wall. So, do I remove the round finial from the curtain rod and press it up against the wall, or do I leave the final on (it is a small finial, about 3 inches total) and just deal with the fact that it is right above the window instead of extending beyond the window.

I would remove the finial.

How high should a hanging fixture be above your dining table?

I usually go between 39 and 40 inches off the table to the bottom of the chandelier.

Hi there, we have a cottage on one of the Fingerlakes that is used as a rental, so it gets a bit of use. It was originally built by my FIL as a hunting type cabin, so there are features that really aren't so "design smart", such as about 3 coats of industrial gray oil paint over pine flooring. I would love to strip the paint and refinish the flooring-would be georgous-but I'm also thinking that that would be way too difficult, so am wondering if painting the floor would be a better choice? If you agree, do you have any suggestions for colors? (Cottage doesn't get much direct sun, as it's surrounded by trees, but there are lots of windows.) I was also thinking maybe painting an area rug or two? Any suggestions for wall color that might go with a new floor? Thanks much!

I would strip those floors in a heartbeat!  There is nothing like real wood and pine at a cabin.  It might be hard work but you will be glad you did it!

Get edible decorations! Barbara Barry suggested persimmons. I would add clementines and scatter them--purposefully--on the tables, along with some walnuts (pick up a couple of nut crackers). All that would look really pretty with your pine cones and candles.

Love it.

I have a small powder room that has high, bare walls. Also, I have a bunch of small pictures--mostly small pieces by friends--that I'd like to hang in there. I'd like to create a sort of art gallery look in the powder room, but worry about it seeming cluttered in a small space. What do you think?

I like the idea if it is done right.  I would either paint all the frames the same color and make the wall color harmonious to that color so that it feels designed and not just thrown together.

The other thing you can do is put a molding up above them so that they terminate at a determined height which will add some intention.

I have a brick hearth and fireplace that goes to the ceiling. We have a woodstove insert and use this as our primary source of heat in the winter. Do you still recommend painting the brick? Once styles change, how easy will it be to remove the paint to reveal the unederlying brick?

I love painted brick and I generally paint it out the same color as the walls and then paint the interior black as it looks better than a bunch od soot marks. Don't think about removing the paint...you will love it!

Ladies, I am so happy you do this weekly chat. I got my kitchen renovated (yay) but now stumped on what color to paint the kitchen. The kitchen is adjacent to the living room with Benjamin Moore Peale Green (yes, we like bold). The ceiling is Linen White, the cabinets are cream colored and appliances are stainless steel. The countertop is black, gray, whitish granite (Luna Pearl). Please help suggest paint color for the kitchen. Thank you so much

I love Benjamin Moore's Thunder grey from the Aura Collection as it is a mellow neutral and goes with all the stainless steel in the kitchen. 

I found some cheap basics at the Goodwill and at a discount store. I put some pinecones in them. I also placed 3 ears each of Indian corn on the table. I had some burlap left over as a photo prop, so I put it on the table over a burgandy table cloth. I had a leftover orange poppy silk flower arrangement and put that in the middle of the table. It was a cheap and easy tablescape. I hope this helps.

We all need more ideas. Thanks!

From a native Alexandrian and dedicated shopper: Shop along King St. -- the 1200 block to the 800 block has lots of great home decorative stores on every block including a few with turkish/indian fabrics. The lower end near the river has only a few stores and I don't think any with fabrics.

Oh great! I knew someone from there would know. A great stroll for a Saturday - I must do it myself soon.

I need to recover a couple of dining room chairs before Thanksgiving guests arrive. I'd like a fabric that's sturdy, fairly neutral, and dark-ish. Any recommendations? (Needs to be something I could get at a JoAnn Fabric, as that's my only option where I live.) Thanks much!.

Have you considered leather  - or faux leather or suede? It holds up really well. Otherwise, I'd go for a print or jacquard or tone on tone woven just incase someone puts a greasy finger on those newly upholstered chairs!

Cause one day it will be back in style and painted brick will never be the same! Especially black. Good brick work never goes out of style. think WIlliamsburg and brickfront townhouses in G'town!

Another opinion!!!

Thanks for all the help in the past. I have two wonderful Henredon sofas that either need to be reupholstered or tossed. I love the style of the arms and back and would hate to add to the landfill. Does anyone know a good upholster in the Fairfax area? My second part to the question is: I would like to put a good velvet on the sofas-what should I be looking for in the make up of the velvet, blend, cotton, wool, etc.

As I sm not local I cannot help you with an upholsterer...

I like to use cotton, linen or a cotton and linen blend on upholstery as it feels so good to sit on.  If you choose a velvet I would choose a cotton velvet.  Best of luck!


We've been searching, what feels like high and low for a quality piece of furniture for our bedroom. We need a bureau and like the look of pieces at Room & Board but the quality feels like it's lacking (and for the price, I'd hope for something sturdier) and the quality of brands like Drexel Heritage, etc. Is there a happy medium, modern yet well-made, and preferably doesn't cost $7,000? (Saw a piece in a Hickory catalog and thought, it's just holding my underwear!)

Buy the best you can afford as you use it, you touch it every day. When we live with quality it pays us back in spades. 

You will live with it a long time. Hickory and Henredon make good quality furniture at a decent price.

What is "the rule" for hanging window treatments "high and wide?" Should the brackets generally be a certain number of inches out from the window frame? How close to the ceiling? Thanks.

I like to hang my rods a little hight (a few inches) above center between the top of the window and the ceiling. I also go a good three to six inches past the sides of the windows depending on the scale and the amount of stacking of the drapery.

OK, more specific... thanks! Maybe a piece of furniture that was just lovely but had very little storage in it, and you found a workaround elsewhere in the room? Or a time when a very practical storage piece needed dressing up to make it work?

I just painted a huge storage cupboard ivory on the outside, grey on the inside and painted the feeo black.  I think paint is a good answer to taking a storage piece and making it work in a way that feels right and intentional for the room. Be brave!

Spicer's Upholstery in Alexandria is very good and reasonable. They also pick up and deliver -- they may serve your area of Fairfax. I would give them a call to check. They charge a lesser price for upsholstering if you buy your fabric from them but if you get your own fabric they are fine with that as well. He can usually tell me how much fabric I need just by talking on the phone.

Yes. I have heard good things about them. Thanks.

What are some good choices of BM paint in beiges and whites? Warm and cool suggestions are needed. Also the best white ceiling paint.

This is a hard question to answer as there are so many to choose from.  And I think you could be happy with many of them. So you need to just choose a warm one meaning no blue in it and go for it. Also it is nice to use a few different ones together as the human eye sees different walls differently and I for one believe we like those subtle shifts.

Waiting for it to "come back into style" means you live with something you DON"T love or enjoy for a potentially long time...even if you never really liked it in the first place. I painted mine (midcentury -type home) a few years ago and still congratulate myself every day ....

Yippee! I love people who say that. Life is too short to just do things for some future resale date that may be years down the road. You should love whatever you do in the house that you live in. Congratulations to you!

I completely love the idea of painting the walls light gray or a light gray-cream. That sounds like a dream. Do you have any specific color recommendations for either shade?

I use Thunder Gey by Benjamin Moore (Aura Collection) all the time.  Good luck!

To the person who is debating whether or not to paint the brick - if you're debating painting it, then you want to paint it! If you loved the brick the way it was, you wouldn't be wondering "should you" or "shouldn't you". And what is more important than if brick is or is not in style is what YOU want because it is your house! So go ahead and paint it!! As for a color, I prefer either charcoal gray or ivory or white. I think any of those colors looks very smart on a fireplace. However, if your color scheme calls for black (or chocolate), then by all means, go for it!

Love all these messages of empowerment!

NOOOOOOOOO.....painted brick looks worst then the dated brick!! Why decorator/designers on TV paint brick and it looks awful.

I see a story here...

Thanks so much for doing the chat today! I would love to ask you for your favorite tablesetting advice. Do you like mixing china? Do you prefer placemats or tablecloths? Where do you buy your table linens?

You are welcome...this is a fun thing this morning to do!

I love linens and I love china and have a lot of it...and I always opt for a tablecloth.  It makes the whole thing come together and doesn't limit where you put things.  The most important thing is to have an under lining meaning a big piece of felt.  You can buy it at a fabric store and have it sewn to hang over the edge of your table. When you put your tablecloth on top of that it feels heavenly!  It is quieter and softer and feels padded.  Do it! You will never be without it after that.

I do mix my china and still am surprised by the new combinations.  I think all matching is BORING!

Hope this helps. 

What kind of kitchens are you doing these days? Do you think stainless appliances are still the way to go? What about counters?

I am not a big lover of large surfaces of stainless steel.

I prefer a painted kitchen and I love Corian for the countertops.


Thanksgiving dinners with outlying tables set up in sunroom etc. seem to slight the outliers. Feeling exiled to a table on Mars, and then missing the fresh round of warm rolls, hot gravy, another cranberrry mold is depressing. Short of hiring a butler, how can the diners in outer space get props - and seconds?

What a great question! Would you consider a table switch in the middle of dinner? When it's time for the second plateful, the sunroom people and dining room people change tables. Another idea: Do a buffet so everyone gets to get up and get hot stuff whenever they are ready.

Everyone seems to love the look of a wall collage these days, and done right, I think it can look beautiful. But how do you decide what colors to get for frames? If they all match, I feel like this could look really catalogue. But it they all mis-match, I worry it would look too random. What is the right balance, here?

Maybe lay them all out on the floor first. Then see what the common denominator is...maybe they all have dark frames.

If so then a meduim color on the wall will help ground them and hold them together.  You could do a medium grey green on the wall  and still do the molding above them and then a lighter softer green above the molding and on the ceiling.  the idea is to have a look that pulls it all together. Play around with this concept and see what comes to mind.  Design is always a bit of an experiment.

What are the best places in DC/Baltimore, including any discount stores, for good upholstery fabric?

Discount Fabrics in Thurmont is popular. Also DeBois Fabrics at 1835 Washington Blvd, Baltimore.

I am 84 and have never had a comfortable reading chair. Hate the Lazyboy type. Since I am under 5 ft tall and need footstool,which I own, what would you suggest.

I believe you need a firm seat that is not too deep. Our backs need to stay in a line and not be curved for too long a time. A low footstool is the best.

Try a couple of different chairs from around the house until you see what works best. You might be surprised that you have a desk chair or a dining chair that works best.

Thanks Barbara for your thoughts! Oh my, I was slightly afraid you'd say this! :-) but will go for it now!

Go girl!

Jura can you buy things at the Textile Museum? I've always wanted to go and I think I will this trip! Thanks.

They do have a lovely shop with many different products.  The Textile Museum is at 2320 S Street NW and it is a fascinating place to visit.


We had a discussion on here before about painting brick and most posters were against it....a big decorator mistake, IMO is painting brick on the outside of a house....you might as well used vinyl siding!!

It obviously pushes a lot of buttons.

We had a typical 1980"s colonial style house with a raised brick fireplace in the family room. I thought the brick color made it appear to stand out too much and make the rrom look small. LIke you, I was frightened to paint it and worried about potential resale in a few years. So, I took a deep breath and painted it the same as the wall color (cream) with fireplace black paint inside. IT WAS GLORIOUS!!! BEST THING I EVER DID TO THAT HOUSE! When we sold the house a few years later, we had no problem getting top dollar because the house looked fresh everywhere. You will not regret it --go for it.

There you go!

Always think of unifying things...painting them the SAME color, using that same color on furniture and accessories. The world is such a busy place with so much going on it feels like heaven to come home to calm spaces where we can clear our minds and get renewed.

So many decently made wood pieces I see in secondhand shops or yard sales appear useable but dried out. They are sponges for wood soap, and lemon oil leaves splotches. Is there a better way to make G'ma's end table more appealing?

You could always consider painting them and turning them into a whole new piece. Go for it!

For a 12x12 guest BR with 1 window (cream-colored pleated shade, cream carpet) I need a paint color suggestion. Large, padded headboard in dark brown with slight pinkish-coral lines (not pinstripe, more art deco angles.) Hoping to get a mirrored chest: for now need paint. Matching the coral too Pepto; matching the yellowish brown too dark. How about bright lime? Or greige? Open to ideas: trim remains off-white.

Personally I would opt for a creamy white but if you can find the PALEST pink I would think that would be great.

I think Farrow and Ball has a great almost whitish pink that could work.

Good luck!


I have really enjoyed chatting with everyone this morning, thank you. My book Around Beauty has a lot of suggestions for how to think about design and how to open ourselves up to new ideas.  

Jura, you are the best for making this happen weekly.  A big personal thank you for what you bring to all of our lives.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Thanks Barbara. You gave some us some great ideas. I'm going to read this one carefully for tips on paints, organizing containers and holiday decorating. We really appreciate your taking the time to be with us today. The Home Front chat is taking a holiday break on Thanksgiving Day. So our next chat will be on Thursday November 29 when our guest is scheduled to be Washington designer Darryl Carter. Happy Thanksgiving Barbara! And Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

In This Chat
Barbara Barry
Los Angeles-based designer Barbara Barry is known for interior design and home furnishings that exemplify elegance. She has been included on Architectural Digest's list of "100 Best Designers" and was named a "Designer of the Year" by Traditional Home. Her designs range from elegant interiors for private and commercial spaces to an extensive portfolio of home furnishings with companies such as Baker Furniture, McGuire, Tufenkian Carpets and Wedgwood. Her new book, "Around Beauty," came out last month.
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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