Friend of the brand, Vanessa Barneby, is co-founder of the whimsical Barneby Gates fabric and wallpaper brand, here she tells us more about her design journey and how she is inspired by the countryside around her.
Had you always wanted to be a designer and what drew you to interiors?
Like many other teenage girls, I envisaged myself working in fashion. But after a degree in Social Anthropology at Edinburgh Uni, I decided to do a Decorative Arts course in London. We had the most amazing teacher who taught us the art of traditional specialist paint techniques such as marbling and trompe l’oeil. We painted to Classic FM all day, and used piles and piles of old World of Interiors magazines for inspiration – this was my introduction to the interiors world. I spent a year or so after that painting in people’s homes, but then moved on to work as an Interiors Stylist at House & Garden magazine followed by a role as the Living Editor at British Vogue. It was while working at Vogue that the idea of Barneby Gates was born.
When you sit down to create a new design where do you start? Where do you look for inspiration?
Everything and anything might inspire us. Alice and I are constantly what’s app-ing inspirational images to one another – whether it’s a tiled floor in restaurant in Barcelona or a graffitied wall in Berlin, an art exhibition, or a field of poppies on our dog walk. We don’t necessarily ‘go looking’, it’s just something that we are subconsciously doing all the time.
It seems like nature and wildlife underpins a lot of your work – was this a conscious decision or something that has evolved?
I don’t think it was a conscious decision, it’s just something that naturally occurred. Alice and have known each other since we were 10 years old, and grew up as neighbours in the same rural village in Hampshire. A couple of years into the business, we both moved out of London to live in the countryside again. Our studio is a converted barn on an active farmyard, so we are constantly surrounded by nature and wildlife, and it’s a visible thread throughout out collections, as you can see in designs such as Deer Damask, Wild Meadow, Honey Bees, Bugs & Butterflies, Boxing Hares, Horse Trellis, The English Robin – the list goes on!
How did your new collaboration with Willow Crossley come about?
I’m old friends with Willow and we’d discussed the idea of a collaboration for some time. She’s a complete wallpaper fanatic, and although we’ve done a lot of nature inspired designs, we’ve barley done any flowers at all surprisingly – and when lockdown first hit, the time just felt right. It gave us this really exciting project to focus on during an otherwise very unsettled time.
It seems as though travel is also a key influence for your designs. Has lockdown impacted on this aspect of your inspiration or is it making you draw on travel memories even more?
For one of the designs with Willow Crossley, we did a hand-block print style floral, which drew inspiration heavily from past travels in India, while the other design was very much an English country floral, so I suppose both your points are relevant – lockdown certainly made us all appreciate our natural surroundings a little more, but it also made us wistful of past freedom to travel.
How often do you redecorate your own home as you have such a wonderful selection of wallpapers to choose from?
Amazingly, not that often, but probably more than most people! It is very hard when you bring out new designs all the time as there is the constant desire to use them immediately. But suffice to say, I’ve got quite a lot of Barneby Gates designs in my home. I live in quite a small 4 bedroom cottage, and I’ve still managed to use 9 of our wallpaper designs and plenty of the fabrics too!
Have lockdown country walks been a source of inspiration for you?
Definitely! I think the whole nation started noticing the changing seasons, the buds on the trees, the beauty of nature in a completely different way than they had before during that first Spring lockdown. This was the time when we were working on the designs with Willow, and you can see the results!
Who else inspires you?
The Interior Designer and hotelier Kit Kemp has always been an inspiration for the way she throws rooms together, mixing and matching styles and eras, and mis-matching to perfection.
Willow Crossley introduced me to the work of the botanical collage artist Mary Delaney, which was a huge source of inspiration for our joint Botanica design collaboration. Her work is exquisite – she didn’t start her career until her 70s, and it’s amazing to see what she achieved in those later years of life.