Homegirl London pays homage to Barneby Gates. Creators of wonderful designer wallpaper with a quintessentially English feel and contemporary twist on classical ideas. Vanessa Barneby (left in picture) and Alice Gates (right in picture) are childhood friends who studied at Edinburgh University together before setting up their business. Their decision to design wallpaper arose from the fact that they couldn’t find anything they liked to decorate their own walls with. They now work from their Wiltshire studio where they create a stunning collection of wallpapers using traditional printing techniques. I caught up with the duo to ask a few questions …
Q: Tell me a bit about your backgrounds.
A: Vanessa – I graduated from Edinburgh University in 1999 and went on to study decorative paintings, trompe l’oeil and restoration at Hampstead Decorative Arts in London. My passion for furniture, textiles and print led to a position as an Interiors Stylist at House and Garden for 5 years and then 5 years as Living Editor at British Vogue. Alice – I also graduated from Edinburgh University and studied figurative paintings overseas before achieving a Masters in Fine Art at the City & Guilds of London Art School. Before starting Barneby Gates, I was commissioned by the fashion label Libelula to design a range of prints for their ready-to-wear collections, so had a bit of print design experience.
Q: Why did you decide to set up a business together?
A: Alice and I are childhood friends – we grew up as neighbours in the countryside, so ending up at university together was more than a happy coincidence. When we decided to set up a business, designing wallpapers seemed the obvious way to pool our experience. As the trained artist, Alice is the happiest working on a flat surface, while I tend to be quite good at knowing what will sell, what colours might work, styling shoots and so on.
Q: Tell me more about your roles within the business.
A: We didn’t sit down and say ‘right, you do this and I’ll do that’. It was more an organic process really. Alice is certainly more in charge when it comes to getting our ideas down on paper. Once we have discussed an idea and how we envisage it, Alice will put pencil to paper and make it a reality. I end up in the irritating (for her) position of being a critique until we get it right. Deciding on colour combinations and finishes is also very much a joint process. Then my background in magazines comes into play when we get to shooting the new designs and marketing the product.
Q: Why wallpaper? Will you be branching out into any other products?
A: When we decided on the wallpaper, we were both in the early stages of doing up our first homes and were quite disillusioned with what was out there. Our initial ideas came about because they were what we were looking for but couldn’t find. I love the way wallpaper can instantly transform a very ordinary room into something quite magical and unique – particularly if you are brave enough to cover all four walls. This September (at Decorex) we will be launching a fabric range, based on a few of our bestselling wallpaper prints – so watch this space!
Q: Describe the Barneby Gates design style.
A: Much of our inspiration comes from the countryside around us. Our studio is based in a converted barn and looks out onto a working dairy farmyard. You can see evidence of this in many of our designs from Boxing Hares and Deer Damask, to Wild Meadow and The English Robin. Having said that, we glean inspiration from so many things. All-Star, for example, was inspired by Chanel’s stars and stripes collection – that beautiful star print dress worn by Kate Moss on her 34th birthday. We wanted to create star print wallpaper, but keep the fluidity and movement that fabric naturally has. This meant designing the pattern in such a way as to give the illusion of movement, even though it sits on a totally flat surface. While Fresco Birds was our modern take on the ancient art of fresco painting.
Q: Tell me about your printing techniques.
A: All our designs are traditionally roller printed on 150gsm PEFC accredited paper. We use a combination of techniques, from Surface Print – which lays down thick layers of paint giving a lovely painterly feel to the touch, to Flexographic – which uses less ink than surface print for a smooth finish with crisp detail, to Gravure – which is a technique that allows for very fine detail and the reproduction of images with photographic quality. This was the technique used for This Other Eden (the collage of old photographs) and it has a wonderful 3-dimensional effect in certain lights, unlike digital processing which can so often look quite flat.
Q: Do you make bespoke wallpaper/commissions?
A: Yes. We have just completed a bespoke commission for the US-based fashion brand, Rag & Bone. We did a wallpaper which is about to go up in their store in London and Boston. In 2009 we worked with Nick Knight’s Showstudio to create wallpaper for the Showstudio exhibition at Somerset House during London Fashion Week. Typecast is one design we have often done bespoke commissions – we can put symbolic names and words into the design, for example, children’s names. We can also do custom colour ways for most of our designs.
Q: Do you have any celebrity clients?
A: Not that we can mention I’m afraid! Although I think I can mention that Prince Charles used our Deer Damask wallpaper in the renovation of Dumfries House last year – in the dining room of the guest lodge.
Q: Do you think the British public are moving away from painted walls and embracing wallpaper?
A: Yes definitely. This has been in motion for a few years now. It began with people dipping their toe in by doing what was known as ‘feature walls,’ (something I have never been that keen on), but as people get braver and more experimental, they are embracing wallpaper and it’s transformative effects by papering whole rooms. I’m a big advocate for papering the ceiling as well – particularly in tiny rooms such as cloakrooms/loos etc. It’s like stepping into a jewel box!
Q: Can you give my readers any advice on how to select wallpaper for a room?
A: I think people are often afraid of using dark papers or bold patterns in small rooms, but I think they have all the more impact. A dark paper (charcoal Honey Bees, for example) looks fabulous in a small cloakroom. Equally, a large pattern such as Dragonflies should not only be used in large rooms. It can look wonderful in a small bedroom, and the metallic touches can really bring a room to life.
Q: What exciting plans do you have for 2013?
A: We’re about to launch two new wallpapers – Paisley, which is based on an old Indian textile and is neon-bright paisley on the old tea-stain background. And ‘Dogs’ – which is quite a graphic design based on racer dogs. As I mentioned before, we are also launching our first fabric collection at Decorex this year.
All the wallpapers retail at £78 for a 10m roll – see below for a selection which is also available in additional colours. You can view the range and buy from Barneby Gates. Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Barneby Gates, special thanks to Vanessa Barneby and Alice Gates.
Honey Bees Wallpaper features a geometric pattern interspersed with bees, Gold on Charcoal colour
Horse Trellis Wallpaper features a geometric print featuring rearing horse linked by triple bars, Acid on Grey colour
Boxing Hares Wallpaper features a classic image of hares boxing in the springtime, Billiard Green colour
Deer Damask Wallpaper features stag skulls and thistles in a damask style repeat, Claret and Gold colour
All Star Wallpaper features a fluid constellation of gently decaying stars, Gunmetal colour
Wild Meadow Wallpaper features painterly wildflowers on a daisy chain background, Plaster colour
English Robin Wallpaper features the quintessentially English bird flitting between softly metalicised branches, Jade colour