Classic meets 21st-century design at Charlotte Barnes

Contemporary meets traditional.
Modern meets classic.
Old World meets New Age.

This is Charlotte Barnes’ approach to interior design.

“I feel like you should be able to walk into every room in your house and love something or everything,” she says.

Barnes is the founder and CEO of Charlotte Barnes Interior Design & Decoration LLC in Greenwich, mixing antiques and modern décor. With an impressive portfolio of projects that extends across the globe — from New York and Connecticut to Colorado, Florida, Spain, London and beyond — she serves both residential and commercial clients, having been named last year to the New England Design Hall of Fame.

But despite Barnes’ packed schedule, her office is all about serenity. She settles in behind a white desk in a cream-colored studio, which is accented by soft lighting and sea-grass carpeting. Classical music plays in the background.

“You just feel relaxed here,” she says. “You should be able to go home and chill out. You should be able to come here and chill out.”

THE ‘ACCIDENTAL’ DESIGNER

With apologies to Freud, who believed that there was no such thing as accidents, Barnes’ interior design career seems to have come out of left field. She worked in fashion, traveling between Europe and the United States for Ralph Lauren womenswear for 11 years. While she was living in London with her husband and their 6- and 4-year-old daughters, a journalist asked to photograph her home.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that seems strange,’” she says. “I didn’t have a decorator. I did it all myself.”

When Barnes moved from London to Greenwich shortly after, she wasn’t sure about her next career move. But then the photographs of her London home were published, and people began inquiring whether she was an interior designer.

And that’s how Barnes’ business was born.

She started slowly, working as a “housewife decorator” — as she refers to it — on smaller projects, which eventually blossomed into a full-time business. During these early stages, Barnes also became involved with Pomellato, an Italian-jewelry company, serving as president and CEO of Pomellato USA from 2000 to 2003, working to solidify the brand’s growing presence in the States.

“The training from Pomellato and Ralph Lauren, who are really brand-oriented, was how I became a little bit more of a perfectionist,” she says.

After years of working as a designer and growing her business, Barnes took on another endeavor — her own custom-made furniture collection. In 2014, she launched Collection Charlotte Barnes, a 30-piece line of furniture, including sofas, chairs, mirrors, cabinets, stools, desks, end and dining tables and lighting.

THE FUNDAMENTALS

Barnes believes in design simplicity and repurposing, always seeking ways to reuse already-owned furniture and décor.

“I feel that in a house, you need certain things that are solid, good bones,” she says. “When you’re building a house, you want to have great floors, great paint, great hardware. You just need a good backdrop of staples. You may want to change a lampshade or a table lamp to get a different look in your house, but a lot of that can be done with rearranging everything you already have.”

Barnes points to a set of yellow-green books and a glass shelf in her office, explaining how the space’s décor is often rearranged to refresh the look, including the front showroom, which features a simulated living room.

“If you buy what you love, you’ll always have a place for it,” she says. “I can change the whole look with very little, but it’s that one thing that inspires you to create a whole new feeling in the room.”

For a well-tailored design process, Barnes begins each project by designating time to learn about her clients’ tastes.

“The way we kind of plan our schedule is so that I have a month at the very beginning, so I can really spend time with the clients, get into their houses, see what they’ve got already or take them shopping,” she says. “I like to take them all over to get a feel for what it is they’re really hoping to achieve, because it’s the best way for us to decorate for them. We don’t live there. We want the house to look like them and feel like them.”

But most important, she believes the final product is always best when clients trust their decorator.

“You have to trust that your decorator is going to do the very best job for you,” she says. “We help these clients realize their dreams, and it’s a great privilege and honor to get glimpses into these people’s lives.”

Charlotte Barnes Design & Decoration LLC is at 173 Davis Ave. in Greenwich. For more, call 203-622-6953 or visit charlottebarnes.com.

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