I am delighted to feature Vanessa Barneby who along with her business partner Alice Gates founded the brilliant Barneby Gates in 2009, their product range of indiosyncratically English designs give classical ideas a contemporary edge using subtle metallic finishes and often a wry touch of humour. Hand drawn, designed and proudly printed in England, their collection includes wallpaper by the roll, fabric by the meter and a range of beautifully crafted cushions.
I loved chatting to Vanessa about her journey from Edinburgh University, where her passion for furniture, textiles and print led to a position of interiors stylist at House & Garden and then Living Editor for British Vogue. Then founding Barneby Gates with her childhood friend Alice, who is a classically trained artist, where they have very brilliantly pooled their experiences together by creating one of the most exciting companies in interiors today, with clients varying from rock stars to royalty.
Tell us your story and what inspired you to set up your company?
Alice and I have known each other since we were 10 years old. We grew up in the same village in Hampshire, and both went to Edinburgh Uni together. Alice went on to study fine art in Italy and had a successful career as a painter, while I got a job as a stylist for House & Garden magazine and subsequently as the Living Editor at Vogue. It wasn’t until we were both starting our own families and embarking on decorating our first family homes, that we decided to design a wallpaper collection together. Wallpaper was just beginning to have a resurgence and it seemed like the perfect way to pool our experience. We launched our first collection soon after Alice had her first child and I was on maternity leave from Vogue, and we exhibited at Decorex when my second child, Gabriel was 6 weeks old and still being breast-fed! We had 5 children between us in the first five years of the business which was a little chaotic to say the least, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
We’ve always wanted our products to appeal to a wide range of people and ages, and we were utterly delighted when Prince Charles (as he was then) selected our Deer Damask wallpaper for the revamp of Dumfries House, a project he worked on with interior designer Annabel Elliot. He has also used our Crab wallpaper in one of his properties on the Scilly Isles, another project he worked on with Annabel. And now, we can proudly say that King Charles III has used Barneby Gates wallpaper – does that qualify for a Royal Warrant?!
What are the most rewarding aspects of what you do?
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing our work covering the walls of someone else’s home.
What do you think it takes to build a successful business and brand?
Authenticity. Believing in what you do and loving what you do - my daily motivation.
Favourite part about your job?
Working with my best friend. So many people ask how it is to work with a great friend, as though that would automatically throw up all sorts of issues. I can honestly say we’ve never once had an argument. We know and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and our roles within the company have evolved organically over time as a result.
Describe yourself in 3 words
Creative, loyal, adventurous
What book should we all read?
One of the books I read last summer that really resonated with me was ‘If in doubt, wash your hair’ by Anya Hindmarch. An essential read for every female business owner.
What have you learnt over the last two years?
That I chose the right career path, and I never could have made it as a teacher! To hold my family tight. And I certainly appreciate living in the countryside more than I did.
What is your greatest personal achievement?
My two children, Lily (14) and Gabriel (12)
How do you unwind?
Taking my dog, Ziggy out for a walk. It’s the most relaxing and mindful thing if I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Tell us about your personal style?
I’m no minimalist! At home I like collections and clutter, comfort is key with loads of cushions - mixing and matching prints and textures, old and new; pictures all over the walls, photos all over the surfaces. I like a home that’s grown organically over time, that has a bit of history, that tells a story about its owners. My clothes taste is probably a bit simpler – I wear a lot of jeans and trainers, but am also often influenced by my travels and pick things up along the way. I’ve always collected vintage textiles and pieces from far flung places, and these have always made their way into my home or my wardrobe.
Where is your favourite place to travel to?
I love travelling and did a lot before I had children. Nepal is probably the place I long to return to most. I spent almost a year there in my early 20s, and it would be so wonderful to take my children there. Tresco Island in the Scilly Isles is probably my favourite family holiday destination – when the sun shines on Tresco I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We went to Hydra this summer for the first time though which was truly special. It made me want to explore more of the lesser-known Greek islands.
Top Tips for entertaining?
Keep it simple – a pretty table, lots of candlelight, a cocktail bar. I’m lucky because my husband Tim loves cooking, which allows me to focus on the decorating side of things!
Beauty & Wellness essentials you can’t live without?
In no particular order:
Westman Atelier Lit Up Highlight Stick.
Oskia Micro Exfoliating Face Balm.
Rhug Wild Beauty Active Treatment Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
Dr Vegan Gut Health and Skin Saviour supplements.
What does living well mean to you?
Finding balance. Getting the right work/home life balance is particularly important – so I’m not sacrificing mothering for work, and vice versa. Getting plenty of sleep is an essential part of achieving this. And having the occasional blow out with friends is key!
Image product copyright Barneby Gates. Portraits images (in layout order) Candice Lake, Helene Sandberg and Alicia Waite