Charlotte Barnes has a saying in mind when it comes to her style: “traditional, but not.” It’s a cheeky take on describing updated classic design, in which she blends old and new, vintage and very modern. She is adept at pulling together stylistic influences from every era and manner of designing, one of the many skills she learned from her years in the fashion world, particularly in the early days at Ralph Lauren. Today, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based Barnes works on varied projects across the globe, everywhere from London to Turkey and East Hampton to Colorado.
We spoke with Charlotte about the evolution of her design style, her seamless methods for mixing old and new, and her absolute favorite projects to take on. See what she had to say below, and be sure to shop her inimitable collection of elegant Chairish favorites.
First and foremost, how would you describe your personal aesthetic?
I would say a bit of everything. Old world, contemporary, clean and “traditional, but not,” of course!
You’re known for blending vintage and antique pieces with contemporary new furnishings. How do you find the right balance in doing so?
I think all these things are very personal, so we buy and select what we love and what we think our clients will love. It’s all about the hunt and the mix for me. Sometimes things just speak to you. Clearly there are projects with specific measurements or parameters that drive some of those decisions, but if one buys what one loves there is always a place for it.
You started your career in fashion at Ralph Lauren Womenswear in New York… tell us a bit about that.
The early days at Ralph Lauren were heady. It was incredibly fun and exciting; a lot of hard work and learning how to do things on your own! We literally did everything, which I really think did prepare me for owning my own business.
How did it jumpstart your work in the interior design space?
My own fashion style was honed at Ralph Lauren and I think that has carried through to my work decorating houses. I decorate a bit the way I dress, a little bit of everything—high and low—to create something interesting, sumptuous, and always timeless. I love that one thing can make the room or the table or the outfit! At Ralph, we learned about patience and how to take the time to get it right. In my fashion days, that might be re-arranging a tee shirt wall or a shop or the office. Ralph taught us to take the time to do that properly as one’s surroundings are so important.
You’ve designed in so many different places, from New York to England, Spain, and Turkey. Do you have a favorite amongst all the contenders?
This is like picking a favorite child! I love all my projects, but the ones abroad are particularly interesting because they allow me the time to wander and think, to get inspired and shop. There is just so much to see when one leaves the comforts of their daily surroundings and laptop!
What makes a project particularly special to you?
When our clients trust us, and we can feel it, those are our most rewarding projects. It’s very hard to communicate every layer of how a project will develop on a board; things just “come” as a job takes shape! And of course those are the things that ultimately make the room. Having the clients’ trust and anticipation is a huge part of our ability to deliver interesting and nuanced rooms.
What would be a dream project for you and why? What’s something you would just absolutely love to design?
Designing a boutique hotel has always been a bit of a dream for me. I love the idea of doing something that is chic and timeless, highly collected, and with the best sheets and pillows ever!
On Chairish & Vintage Shopping…
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
Hands down, the wide range of things in every single category
How does sustainability factor into your design choices and love of vintage?
I believe that what is old is new again, that vintage and antique items offer our projects a beautiful patina as well as color, scale, and sustainability, too. It is deeply important to me and to our projects that they have a soul, and the best way to achieve that is by using vintage and antique.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have?
Years ago I found a gorgeous Georgian gesso console table with a period marble top. I didn’t leap fast enough and I have been thinking about it ever since. I guess you could say I have filed it in the category of the ones that got away, so if you ever happen to see one…?!
What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?
I love this bamboo floor lamp by Jacques Adnet from the 1950’s; this Austrian neoclassical-style bookcase cabinet; and this vintage inlay trunk.
Some Design Favorites…
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”
Flea market finds, real candles, and flowers
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
Just about anything by the French Art Deco Modernist architect and designer Jacques Adnet
Favorite paint color:
Benjamin Moore “Seapearl.” It is a beautiful creamy white that isn’t blue or pink, just warm and wonderful.
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
An 18th-century mirror I bought in London when I was 25. It has a perfect scale and it was also the beginning of my lifelong passion for collecting and buying what I love.
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
Favorite style icon:
Marella Angelli and Jane Birkin. I love the Old World glamour of everything about Marella. Her interiors, the way she dressed, her flowers, and above all, her quiet elegance. Jane on the other hand had a different type of glamour—she was all about cut-off jeans and basket bags. Her no-makeup look and simple kind of cool felt (seemingly) completely effortless. Both women are beautiful, enviable icons in my book, both for their visual sensibilities and incredible timelessness.
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
Hands down: Make sure you have a great bookkeeper.
Some Lifestyle Favorites…
Favorite vacation destination:
The Bahamas. It is a special spot for me! I met my husband there, we take our family there, we have some of our most special friends there, and it’s so true that it’s just better in the Bahamas. Lazy, relaxing, chic, and lots of fun. Beautiful beaches and the Junkanoo!
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:
Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda
Perhaps this will sound old-fashioned and most likely out of date, but I adore Caviar Kaspia in Paris. The original.
Favorite small museum:
The Wallace Collection in London. It was one of the first places that I became aware of how great art looks when hung on color. The damask walls are crimson red, coral, and electric blue! I got lost in there during my early days in London and I gained a new type of confidence around color and the display of art.
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
@thelsd, she just oozes style, grace, beauty, and charm. For interiors I love following @umberto_corrado, @chinoiserieandchintz, and I’m totally into my @ouraring! Of course my daughters, @graceharris and @alexandrachappelle, and the queen of bon bons @rderavenel too.
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:
A box of gardenias from High Camp Supply. I still remember the first time I received them as a gift; I felt like I was the most special person in the world! The box, the smell, the ribbon—the whole thing totally blew me away! I love to send these when I want to say a very special thank you.
Favorite adult beverage:
Favorite way to unwind at home:
Backgammon with my husband
Favorite entertaining essential:
I love a good black pillar candle for my table. My go-to resource is Colony Candles; they are handsome and never, ever drip.
Lead image: Francesco Lagnese/OTTO