For more than 20 years, interior designer Barbara Westbrook has been creating elegant homes infused with a signature Southern grace and antique charm. This year, Westbrook brings her timeless style to the printed page with her new book Gracious Rooms (Rizzoli), which features 10 of her designs, from a handsome home in Tulsa to her own Southern farmhouse. Here, we sat down with the designer author to learn more about the making of this exquisite book.
Q: Why did you decide to write and publish a book?
A: I actually had never thought about publishing a book, but after being put in touch with the fabulous and knowledgeable Jill Cohen, I started to take the idea more seriously. Jill is a book agent with a long list of designer and architect clients and was very encouraging. She helped me to see the possibilities.
Q: The title of your book is "Gracious Rooms." What defines a 'gracious room' to you?
A: A gracious room is one that invites you in to linger, relax and socialize with others or just enjoy yourself! The title was the most difficult decision to come to in the entire three years of producing this book. "Gracious Rooms" was not my first choice, but now I see how it reflects the warmth that my spaces exude.
Q: How did you go about selecting the 10 homes featured in your book?
All of the projects featured are “whole house” projects where I was able to have an influence on the entire design from cabinetry, built-ins and lighting to the furniture, fabrics and window treatments. These projects show the range of my work from French modern to a mountain house.
A: Both the house itself, a 1930s stone mansion, and the client, a down to earth business woman with terrific taste, were inspirations for the house. The home is masculine in its architecture, with dark oak trimwork, all carefully refurbished, and a heavy stone exterior, but our client has a feminine style that needed to be expressed. Her husband loves a touch of the modern, so that also was included in the interior decoration phase. If you look at the sunroom, for example, you can see that feminine touch in the bar I designed along with the gorgeous antique oriental rug that project designer, Elizabeth Hanson, tracked down through our favorite antique rugs vendor, the Sullivan Brothers. Tour the home here >
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges on the project? Biggest surprises?
A: The biggest challenge and the biggest surprise was the house itself. Although it has gorgeous bones, the home had not been maintained properly, so there were lots of surprise repairs that slowed the progress of the renovation and restoration.
Q: You discuss the importance of antiques throughout the book. How did you go about selecting the antiques for this home?
A: I love a mix of antiques or vintage pieces in any house, even the most modern. It gives the house a personality, an uniqueness. The antiques were selected thoughtfully and carefully. One of the first pieces we purchased was a fabulous secretary with a persimmon interior. It's a favorite color of our client's, so we knew that it would be used as an accent in the home. Our palette on the main floor was informed by the secretary and its colorful interior. Because the project took extra time, we were afforded the opportunity to wait for those pieces that the client and I loved.
Q: How does the impact of working and living in the South influence your designs?
A: I am not sure, honestly. I think Southern design is all about being warm and welcoming, but I have also felt that in interiors set in other parts of the country. I grew up in Virginia during a time when the home where you raised your family, spent the most time, and entertained was more important than your car or your clothes. Virginians love their architecture (think Thomas Jefferson) and their interiors.
Q: Anything surprising or unexpected that came from working on the book?
A: How emotional the whole process was! My wonderful writer, Heather MacIsaac, and I talked for hours on end about everything from family to furniture. I knew how much my family and my mom in particular had influenced my direction in design, but it became even more of a reality when put down on paper.
Q: This is your first book, do you have any more planned for the future?
A: The book has only been out since March, so no plans at the moment! Jill has mentioned that she would love for me to publish a book on lake houses. For some reason, we design a lot of them! I am working on two right now at Lake Keowee.