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FURNISHINGS : Barbara Barry Looks Homeward to Alter Interiors : Landscape Inspires Decorator to Make Transition From Arranging to Creating


Barbara Barry's furniture designs are a natural progression--"like stepping out of a boat onto a landing," she says--of her work as an interior designer in Southern California.

Her tables, sofas and chairs are inspired by the personality, history and architecture of Southern California: the lines are simple, the uses versatile, the sitting comfortable. She has named the pieces after the likes of San Marino, Catalina and Brentwood.

Barry, 40, is based in Los Angeles but has worked throughout the region (one of her first jobs was in Orange County, doing a home on Lido Island). Her interior work has included a Richard Neutra garden home and a steel and glass home on Balboa Peninsula designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson.

But now there will be Barbara Barry furniture--a whole line of it--produced by a national firm based in North Carolina, the center of furniture manufacturing in this country.

Hickory Business Furniture had sought a pared elegance or "new tradition" for its contract furnishings. The firm had admired Barry's work and approached her about designing the collection in early 1993.

Contract furnishings--produced for offices, hotels and businesses--must meet specific strength and safety codes not required of other types of furnishings. The design of the pieces has traditionally been oversized and blocky. The pieces Barry has designed are a marked departure, and her sofas, chairs and tables work equally well in the home.

Crisp, no-nonsense silhouettes, with meticulous attention to detail, such as her trademark oval-shaped covered buttons and "X" stitching, give Barry's line a tailored, graceful feel.

"Contract furniture has to pass strict fire codes and has always been clunky and masculine looking. My designs feminize it, and I think that's what appealed to HBF," Barry said.

Having her work produced for national distribution by a mainstream firm--HBF is part of the Lane Corp.--is a major break for Barry, who has worked in the design field about eight years. "They honor the artist in every design, and that was important to me," she said.

This spring, the firm debuted Barry's seven chair and three table groupings, each named after towns and communities in Southern California. Her pieces, which range from around $750 for a side chair to $2,500 for a chaise lounge, are available through HBF at (704) 328-2064 or at its Los Angeles Pacific Design Center showroom, (310) 652-5344.

Barry seldom chooses patterned fabrics for her pieces. She'd rather see the furniture shapes, fresh flowers in a simple vase and even the people themselves create the patterns and the focus of a well-composed room.

"I like a room that ranges wide in historical references," she says. "This grab-bag approach can be seen throughout our culture today--in fashion, in art, even table settings."

Her tables are characterized by the juxtaposition of straight lines and subtle curves. The Avalon table and console has curved legs and a pillbox top; the Balboa table has a solid wood top carved and fluted with tapered legs; the thick top of the Catalina table draws on proportions of the '40s and '50s.

Her chairs and sofas are comfortable and versatile. Influenced by the lines of a woman's bustier, the Santa Barbara chair, fully upholstered, with solid cherry arms and legs, has an optional, contrasting oval button at the center of the chair back.

Dressmaking details also are the focus of the San Marino chair, which has '40s appeal and '90s sensibility. The chair, with a reeded front leg, has a deep seat and a down cushion.

The Brentwood series, inspired by the works of 1930s French designer Jean-Michel Frank, features a central oval button and optional "X" stitching.

The great ocean liners of the 1930s come to mind in the Venice chair. The arched back leg and angled arm give the chair surprising wit with a retro feel.

Fluting on the face of the front leg and a gently splayed back leg bring together Old World and contemporary styling in the Montecito chair.

The San Simeon series, named for Hearst Castle, is tailored yet stately, with delicate legs and over-scaled body. Key to the architectural look of the chair is a "cap" that stretches across the top length of the seat back.

The Pasadena series, with its elegant curves, tapered legs and thin arms, includes a pull-up chair, a semi-club, a full lounge and two- and three-seater sofas. The "drop front" upholstery on the club chair gives the look of a slipcover.

While each grouping has a distinctive look, one constant throughout is simplicity, something Barry strives for in everything she creates. To her, simplicity is the ultimate luxury.

" 'Less is more' is a very modern concept," Barry says. "I like just a few carefully chosen things on a table or a mantel. I prefer visual tranquillity, no clutter."

Free-lance writer Diane Dorrans Saeks also contributed to this tory.

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