If you're good at pulling together an outfit, can you also be good at pulling together a room? Designer Jhane Barnes says yes.
For almost three decades, furniture/textile/menswear designer Jhane Barnes has created rich, intricate designs for a line of high-end clothing for men. Lately she’s turned her eye–and her computer, which she uses to create the patterns for her fabrics toward carpet, upholstery, textiles and furniture. Barnes’ textiles grace the headquarters of Apple, Coca-Cola, GTE, Walt Disney, Hewlett Packard and IBM. Her furniture collection is available through Bernhardt Design, and she’s partnered with Collins & Aikman to create elegant carpets.
"I thought furniture was different when I first started designing it, but then I realized I know how to design a garment that starts with a flat pattern and then becomes three-dimensional, and furniture is also like that."
Here is her advice on the key elements of design, as they translate from the world of fashion to the world of interior design:
"There’s not a lot of difference between the colors you like to wear on your body and the colors you like to be around," says Barnes. The one big difference is that you live with your furniture every single day. "With interiors you’re going to be living with it for a long time. You can buy a brightly colored shirt but you don’t have to see it every day." Barnes, who loves rich colors in both the clothing she designs and the clothing she wears, chooses to keep her interior spaces very neutral. "Almost everything is neutral in our house because so much of what I do is bright. You walk into the closet and there are all these colors," a marked contrast to the white walls, bluestone and wood floors, and neutral furniture. She introduces color into the house with vases and art. "Sometimes it’s just a pattern I’ll print out and frame and put up on the wall."
Whether you’re looking at a dress or a table, the proportions have to be right. "If I’m creating a textile pattern I’ll be very close to it on the computer screen then I’ll have to get up and look at it from across the room to make sure the elements are all balanced." Furniture is similar, she says. "Look at it from across the room to see if the distance between the legs and the top of the chair is balanced."
Balance is a dominating force in Barnes’ table designs; Equal and Divide are both symmetrical and sophisticated.
"I like to layer lots of different things together, not only in pattern but in materials," says Barnes. In the 1950s modern house she shares with her husband, Katsuhiko Kawasaki, she’s currently re-doing the white stucco and glass exterior. She’s chosen Ipe wood with a dense grain, bluestone and Cor-Ten steel, a metal that’s a combination of copper and steel. In addition to the varying textures, Barnes loves the layers of color: "The bluestone is that natural bluish gray, Cor-Ten is a rusty color and the Ipe wood is natural."
In putting a room together, look at the lines of your furniture first, says Barnes. Barnes recently designed a boxy sofa called Headline. "I didn’t want it to look too bulky and like deadweight, so I put a very skinny cushion along the top of the base. It gives the eye relief so it’s not all a big box." Similarly, look at pairing furniture and textiles that have similar lines and aesthetics, says Barnes. On a recent room design project, Barnes chose a plain carpet with two "very skinny, bright pinstripes" to complement the sleek lines of the furniture.
A line of Barnes Byline chairs for Bernhardt (www.bernhardtdesigns.com) show off their sleek design.
Transition areas–such as where walls meet the floor, or where floors flow from room to room–are key in the overall design of a room. The traditional crown moldings and baseboard moldings used in many homes "make me crazy," says Barnes. "It’s like wearing cuffs on your pants. All it does is catch dirt." One wall in Barnes’ home is made of bamboo, laid vertically on the wall. She used the same bamboo, set horizontally, to edge the base of the wall, but inset it, so the molding is flush with the surface of the wall. "The eye sees only one color, even though the direction of the grain changes. And there’s no molding to kick and have to clean." Similarly, Barnes has used bluestone for her floor, and then run an edge of bluestone at the base of the walls–but again inset so it is flush.
Finally, don’t feel you have to do it all by yourself. Just as Barnes works closely with a mathematician and software designer to create her unique textiles for menswear, she doesn’t hesitate to bring in an architect and interior designer to help with her home. "There are basic rules of structure and design that every architect knows," Barnes says. "If you try to do it all yourself and make a mistake, you’re not saving money."
Barnes' Havoc rug, part of a collection designed for Collins & Aikman (www.tandusshowroom.com).
Kathy McLeary writes frequently for HGTV.com.