I first met Barbara about seven years ago when we collaborated on a ladieswear collection for George at ASDA. It was career highlight to say the least and we formed an unlikely friendship travelling back and forth to Turkey every few months to work with the factories. I say unlikely as it was my seventh year in the fashion industry, and my first major collaboration since graduating. For OBE Barbara is was probably her zillionth project in the biz since opening the doors to her iconic fashion brand Biba in the 1960’s. Since then Barbara’s career has never really slowed down; she’s a fashion designer and fashion illustrator, interior designer and basically full time workaholic. If she’s not designing wallpapers for Graham and Brown or fireplaces for Chesneys, you’ll find her in the Bahama’s or Jamaica designing hotel interiors for Chris Blackwell’s hotel group. Not jealous at all.. much!
THE PROPERTY: A spacious apartment in the center of Miami, Florida, USA.
Barbara moved into the building about twenty years ago when it was first divided into apartments. The ground floor was originally a lobby with 30ft wooden ceilings which was a common style in Miami in the late 1920’s. Its conveniently located only one block back from the beach, and is walking distance to the town.
“Every few years the character of the sea front changes . First it was all rock and roll because of the influence of Chris Blackwell , then it was fashion photography. Films then followed, and then rapp music….I can’t wait to see what comes next”.
Barbara’s used light grey walls throughout the workspace and living area to work with the bright pops of orange from her 1960’s glass collection and Asian influence textiles. As Barbara puts it the grey cuts down the bright sunshine. Sometimes the walls look charcoal and other times pearl grey. I suppose that’s the beauty of living in the sunshine state.
She calls her style MISH MASH KITCH. I like to call it futuristic global traveller based on the vibrant colours from the asian style textiles, and the use of steel and perspex furniture in the living area and kitchen. The custom-made steel desk and arc light remind me of the 1960’s space-age movie Barbaraella, although the desk is actually more industrious and modern in age, and i'm sure the perspex table is too.
Barbara tells me she’s collected items from the 1950's through to the 1980's miami vice days from local dealers. She very kindly gave me a pineapple ashtray, which was previously owned by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. Escobar lived in Miami and I idea how Barbara came to own it, but it does makes quite the conversation piece when I tell people at dinner parties.
There’s an obvious theme running throughout Barbara's entire apartment which keeps things zingy with pops of orange and pink grounded by the cool steel frames of the furniture. From the Elton John orange sunglasses which Barbara picked up from a dealer, to the beautifully curated 60’s glass vases shining brightly by the window. Her home is such a contrast to her own personal style where she’s usually dresses head to toe in black.
Then there’s the orange wall adorned in gothic crucifixes and Barbara's jewellery collection from over the years, and a wavy edged mirror which is a signature look for art nouveau loving barbara. This wavy line can also seen in a chair in the studio space which reminds me of her hotel interiors and cements her love of redesigning the obvious.
A favourite piece of home styling though, has to be the cleverly painted orange air conditioning pipe in the kitchen come studio. Ironically it blends seamlessly in this eclectic come industrious home and only highlights Barbara’s love for all things orange.
She tells me that the days of buying retro bits in Miami is harder now, especially when trying to find multiple items to kit out the hotels she’s refurbishing in the Bahamas. In old Biba days, we would get up at five o’clock in the morning to go to Brick Lane in the east end. All the early BIBA shops were furnished in theses amazing finds for a couple of pounds from the markets. They are worth a fortune now. Her advice to you and I Buy the stuff you really hate, as it will be great in twenty years’ time. I discovered that after loathing everything that came from Carnaby street!
I do wonder how many of the retro pieces in Barbara’s collection made it over from Carnaby street to Miami. She first moved to Miami in 1987 to design the interior of Rolling Stones Ronnie Woods 'Woody's on the beach' bar/club and her passion for interiors has never left.
Barbara’s advice when decorating, don’t change the colours, just refresh them. You will start a colour war if you change colour schemes. Wise words, and especially since she's got the cv to prove she knows what shes talking about.
Barbara's home is a creative mecca for her many projects. The apartment oozes creativity and screams design studio rather than lounge and relax. There might be some truth in the slogan 'If I rest, I rust', as her home certainly shows that at 80 years old (She's going to kill me for saying that) she shows no signs of slowing down, and still has a youthful attitude towards design in this ever changing industry.