For Barbara Barry, the Secret to Great Design is Simplicity

Barbara Barry, a designer with a storied career, loves the color green. “To me, green is an energy; it’s a life force,” she told a crowd gathered in Interior Design‘s DesignScene lounge during NeoCon June 11. Fitting then that an installation in the space featuring furnishings made by Barry for HBF takes on a verdant palette. “We changed what we were doing [in DesignScene] based on Barbara,” shared editor-in-chief Cindy Allen during the discussion. “She wanted to do a monolith using all green and we thought: Hmm, we’re going to work off that.”

Known for crafting elegant forms that marry clean lines and sensual curves, Barry reminded attendees, which included SANDOW Design Group’s First NeoCon cohort, there’s confidence in quiet moments. From the way light streams through a glass of water to dappled fall leaves, Barry gravitates to forms that elicit a feeling and, therefore, become engrained in memory. “The eye is so sophisticated, it sees everything,” Barry said. The trick, though, is to notice—to lean into a pause.

Barry’s home north of Los Angeles is designed for such reflections. A modernist structure at one with its surroundings, originally built by architect Rodney Walker, the house offers a continuous sightline to the desert scape. Outfitted with low furnishings to maintain the views, Barry’s renovation reflects her signature style, rooted in an ethos of reduction and simplicity. “In a home with all glass, you become more aware of the nuances, of the arc of the day,” she shared, noting the importance of being in tune with nature. “My work has always been about reduction: What can I take off? What is really integral to the design?” she added. “There’s a structural harmony.”

Cindy Allen and Barbara Barry
Cindy Allen shares a moment with Barbara Barry in the DesignScene lounge at NeoCon.

Balanced forms evoke a sense of calm, an invitation to exhale. But honing a defined design aesthetic takes work, and the wisdom gained with time. With more than 50 product launches in 30 years for HBF, Barry told the early career designers in the room to follow their intuition and work with what they have, much like she turned to watercolors. “For me, a watercolor is a way to tease an idea to life,” she shared, explaining that she comes from a family of painters. A hand-painted watercolor, sent via snail mail, even helped land one of her first jobs in the industry.

Confidence also is key, Barry said. “If you’re going to wear a hat, wear a hat but don’t let the hat wear you,” she added, pointing out that the ability to articulate feelings is essential to communicating ideas to others. “What does design mean to you?” That’s the question she asked everyone in the room to consider.

As the conversation came to a close, HBF VP and general manager Casey Baxter joined in, noting Barry’s role in helping the brand craft its aesthetic over the years, from her early works to the Kubi collection on display in DesignScene, which won a 2024 HiP Award. “Barbara is the most talented designer, she has a treasure trove of all of these sketches,” Baxter shared. “What she does, it’s classic—it’s timeless and timely.”

Following the discussion, attendees were treated to a raffle. Prizes featured works by Barry, including one of her signature books and a watercolor painting, as well as the chance to take home an HBF piece she designed.

A big thank you to our event partners: HBF and DesignScene.

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