Paper Doll: Vanessa Barneby

A designer with a gift for all things graphic finds inspiration in the walls that surround her. take a peak into vanessa barneby's enchanting family life at church end cottage in hampshire

Photographed by Ali Allen | Words Natasha Inchley

  2. Vanessa Barneby’s two passions have always been fashion and interiors, but who knew she’d find the best of both worlds in wallpaper? “I went through school, and even university, thinking that I was going to somehow work in the fashion industry,” says the English designer. “And then I enrolled in a decorative arts course – all murals, restorations and Trompe-L’oeils – and suddenly I was obsessing over the home.” It prompted a career change with Barneby taking on stylist roles at House & Garden and British Vogue respectively.
  4. She then teamed with childhood friend Alice Gates to channel their experiences: “Alice could paint and draw and I was very much aware of trends, colour and how to style shoots. We thought wallpaper was a good medium for us to work with and we both also happened to be renovating houses and were frustrated by the lack of options.”

There's no place like home: main picture top, Barneby wearing Rag & Bone in her cosy living room. Conversation pieces: above left, her linen Honey Bees pillow from the Barneby Gates fabric collection, and right, the staircase is papered in her Fresco Birds. 

Family ties: above, Barneby wears Rag & Bone, with her children, Lily and Gabriel; and right, the study serves as the perfect reading nook, featuring her Boxing Hares wallpaper, a framed artwork of Playboy's 45th anniversary cover and a Lucinda Chambers-designed pillow from The Rug Company.

Barneby describes her aesthetic as a “mish-mash” of moods. She says, “We started the business from scratch and let it grow quite organically – largely because it happened to collide with us both having children, which perhaps wasn’t the easiest of times to start a new venture, however it did force us to take things step by step.”

Today, the Barneby Gates business has grown exponentially; fashion still forms part of the inspiration ­– this week, the duo’s Rag & Bone collaboration is being installed in the brand’s Brooklyn store in New York – however longevity is key. “Having worked at Vogue, I certainly appreciate trends and the way in which the runway informs the world of design, but we generally try not to be fashion-led because we really want our papers and fabrics to stand the test of time.”

Barneby’s decorating philosophy is as compelling as it is simple: “I think wallpaper really transforms a space,” she says. “One of my favourite things to do is paper an entire room – ceiling included – so when you enter, it feels as though you are walking into a pretty jewel box. It can be so impactful.” Feature walls, however, are a no-no. “I was never into them,” the designer says with a laugh. They may seem like a safer option but I don't know that they create the right effect.” Another common fear is that you can’t hang a picture on wallpaper. “It’s not true. I think some papers look best when they’re almost hidden, like a secret – in a cloakroom, for example, and covered with paintings and photographs.” 

Not surprisingly, Barneby's own home serves as the ultimate showroom for her designs: an elegant yet family-friendly cottage she shares with her husband Tim, a commercial producer, and their children, Lily, 5 and Gabriel, 3. When the couple moved into Church End in Hampshire, the first thing they did was restore the fireplaces in order to maximise its cosiness, and line the library shelves with treasured books and objet collected over the years. 

Each room is papered in a different wallpaper with the exception of the living room, which features a sackcloth sofa filled with Barneby’s printed linen pillows. “I kept a lot of things that I picked up in markets or had made when I was propping for shoots, so the house has become quite a storyboard of stuff I love,” Barneby explains. “Rather than planning the room from the start, we slowly incorporated antiques and recycled pieces such as old apple crates as side tables. My style is not hugely conscious and purposeful, it’s just a culmination of things that I’m drawn to.”

“The house has become quite a storyboard of stuff I love ... My style is not hugely conscious and purposeful, it’s just a culmination of things that I’m drawn to.”

– vanessa barneby on decorating

“The countryside has been such an inspiration for all our designs. Although both Alice [Gates] and I spent ten years living in London, we grew up in the country together and have now returned to our roots. Our designs reflect a love of nature, animals and our surroundings – hares, robins, bugs and butterflies, the list goes on.”

Field of dreams: above, Lily and her mother, dressed in Ralph Lauren, love to take country walks in the afternoons together; below, the designer and a selection from the Barneby Gates fabric collection including the Deer Damask and Butterflies designs. 

The children’s rooms, too, are anything but staged; Barneby purposefully created playful yet sophisticated spaces that afforded Lily and Gabriel plenty of room to grow. “I never wanted to go down that typical pink route for a baby girl so I focused on red and set out to create a space that would last into the teen years.” Indeed, the starry paper was a design inspired by a dress Kate Moss once wore to celebrate a birthday. Barneby papered her daughter’s walls, then matched custom bedspreads to the pattern and had them edged in velvet ribbon from The Cloth Shop in Portobello Road, London. The effect is refined whimsy.

When it comes to the issue of work-life-family balance Barneby says, “That’s always a tricky one – I’m fortunate because my studio is away from home so I’m able to separate work from family life. But of course, sometimes you can’t help but feel guilty when projects impact on family time. I have to remind myself that I’m also teaching the children about the ethics of hard work – it’s just a constant effort to not let it creep in when it’s not supposed to.”

Her philosophy on motherhood is simple: “I’m one of three girls, I didn’t grow up with boys and so my son has certainly taught me to go with the flow,” Barneby says. “Most of all, I think it’s about understanding the importance of encouraging children to just be who they are, I’m very mindful of that. Ultimately, I’m lucky – my kids love each other very much, they’re very sweet little people and I just couldn’t ask for more.”

Star bright, star light: above, Lily's bedroom papered in All Star wallpaper; and below, It's storytime: the main bedroom features Barneby's soft Wild Meadow design in the palest shade of plaster pink. 

– Additional photography by Claire Richardson.


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All Star fabric by the metre

Barneby Gates — $87

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Honey Bees fabric by the metre

Barneby Gates — $87

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Dragonfly wallpaper by the roll

Barneby Gates — $142

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Wild Meadow wallpaper by the roll

Barneby Gates — $142

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