After working at Vogue and House & Garden, Vanessa Barneby set up the wallpaper and fabric company Barneby Gates with an old friend, Alice Gates. Here she talks to us about interior decorating tips, her favourite UK hotel and which design trend she’s glad to see the back of.
What was the idea behind Barnaby Gates?
We set up Barneby Gates in 2009, working from the basement of Alice’s house in London. We’d been discussing the idea for a while, and then we found ourselves both designing our own homes so it felt like the perfect time to make the idea a reality. From the outset, we wanted to appeal to a wide range of age-groups and create designs that work equally well in a sprawling country pile as they might in a hip urban apartment. Between the two of us, we had a baby every year for the first five years of the business so there was no option other than to let it grow at its own pace in those early years. We’ve lived and breathed it for ten years now and often can’t see the wood for the trees, so sometimes we have to consciously take a step back to appreciate what we’ve created.
Your designs are so playful and cheeky – where do you get your ideas?
We both live in the country, and our studio is set on a farmyard in Wiltshire, so as you can imagine we get a lot of inspiration from the natural world around us – English Robin, Boxing Hares, Wildflower Meadow, Bugs & Butterflies etc. etc. But we get ideas from all areas of our lives really – fashion, travel, art. Designs often start off from quite a traditional standpoint – an old damask reference for example, and then we’ll inject a bit of a playful twist either into the design itself or using modern colour combinations and metallic finishes.
You run the company with Alice Gates. Who does which parts? What’s the working dynamic like?
Alice and I are really old friends – we’ve known each other since we were 10 and grew up more like sisters than just friends. We never sat down and said who’s going to do what – our roles kind of evolved organically as the business grew and moulded around us. Alice has a background in fine art, so she is our master draftswoman. My background is in magazines and styling, so I’ve bought other stuff to the table. We both understand and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we aren’t afraid to criticise or take criticism from the other, and we both know instinctively when to give the other a bit of space – I think that’s probably the key to a successful working relationship.
What’s the process like from conception to finished product?
It normally takes about a year to get a new idea on the shelves. We traditionally print all our wallpapers and fabrics, which is quite a lengthy process. We spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off one another before we settle on something both of us feel is worth pursuing. It’s very much a collaborative process. Alice draws out each element by hand before scanning it into the computer and playing around with the scale and repeat. When the design is right we meet up with the printers and roller cutters to work out the best printing technique. We do a lot of ‘Surface Printing’, a process by which thick layers of ink are pressed onto the paper giving a lovely hand painted quality to the finished product. We then shoot all the wallpapers in-house at the studio – my background in styling has really helped in this department too.
Lots of people think of using fun wallpaper in a loo. Do you have any advice on how to go for it with confidence in other spaces in the house too?
I have to say, I’m delighted to finally be seeing the back of the ‘feature wall’. I think part of the reason it came in was that it felt like a small/safe way of dipping one’s toe back into wallpaper without committing to a whole room, but I always felt it created such an imbalance to a room. I’m a big advocate of wallpapering all four walls, and often the ceiling as well – particularly in tiny loos. I think there are no hard and fast rules – large prints can look fabulous in small rooms, and vice versa. If you feel nervous about wallpapering, you can never go wrong with a trellis design – they create a perfect base on which to layer artworks and textiles, and all sorts of other prints. (Our stone Boxing Hares is a good example).
Which of your prints has proved the most popular?
The ‘Deer Damask’ was our first ever design, and still remains one of our best sellers, but camo green Pheasants, pink Pineapple, charcoal/gold Honey Bees are hot contenders.
How much pattern is too much pattern in a room? What are your feelings about clashing a variety of prints? Any tips?
There’s never too much pattern! I love nothing more than a room that looks as though it’s grown organically over time, with layers of history. Print on print, and a wide range of textures is just the most warming, welcoming, cosy look and makes a house feel like a home.
Where’s home? And where do you work?
Home is a small village in Hampshire – the same village that Alice and I spent most of our childhood. Our studio is in a tiny hamlet in the beautiful Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, where Alice now lives. It’s a converted barn with all the original beams and brickwork, but with full-height windows at one end looking out over the countryside. But work can take me the length and breadth of the country – our wallpaper printer is in Leicestershire, and our fabric printer in Lancaster, we regularly have meetings in London, and our stockists are world-wide so we try and tie in visits when we’re travelling too.
What do you love about living in the country/miss most about London?
I love the freedom it gives my children (Lily, 11, and Gabriel, 9), and the slower pace of life. When I miss London, I have to remind myself that the London I’m missing is the London life I had pre-children, not what it would be now! Now when I go into London I get a real buzz from being there, I appreciate the architecture In a way that I never did before, I become a tourist with eyes on stalks at every turn. But I always breathe a sigh of relief when I get back home again.
What’s your favourite room or building in the world for interior design?
My favourite public building has got to be The Royal Opera House, it always takes my breath away. My favourite private house is that of my great friend, the knitwear designer Alex Gore-Browne (below). She’s so creative and her home is always full of inspiration, and she’s used our wallpaper in the most beautiful ways.
Which hotel do you think has great interior style?
I love all of Kit Kemp’s hotels. She has such a fabulous eye for mixing prints and making a room look completely uncontrived. In fact, she just ordered our new Vintage Bird Trail fabric for a room at the Charlotte Street hotel so I can’t wait to see what she does with it! As well as Kit Kemp’s hotel, my smaller lesser known favorite it The Bull Inn, Charlbury (below) – owned by my friends Willow and Charlie Crossley. Willow did all the interiors and each room is completely unique and feels more like staying at a friend’s house than a pub.
Tell us 3 things you keep on your bedside table…
A black+blum glass water bottle with charcoal filter for fresh water all night
Clarins hand cream
A pile of books – currently these are:
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud (just finished)
Josser by Nell Stroud (current read)
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (next on the agenda!)
We spotted your new scallop shell design in House & Garden. What else do you have on the cards for the autumn?
Excitingly this September we’re doing our first pop-up at Chelsea Harbour Design Centre (15th – 20th Sept, during Focus). We’ll be launching new wallpapers (including the new Scallop Shell), along with a new collection of fabrics. On Wednesday 18th, 11am, we’re doing an event on our stand that’s open to the public – a discussion between us and Giles Kime of Country Life.