Interiors & Design

Nature-Inspired Fabrics and Wallpaper by Interior Designer Barneby Gates

Vanessa Barneby and Alice Gates are the team behind Barneby Gates, renowned for their quirky take on classic wallpapers and fabrics

Friends since childhood, Vanessa Barneby and Alice Gates always knew they wanted to work together. In 2009, they finally decided the time was right. Today, their nature-inspired fabrics and wallpapers are all printed in the UK using traditional methods. Vanessa Barneby talks to us about the company’s work and plans for the future.

How did you and Alice meet, and when and why did you decide to go into business together?
We met as children growing up in a village in Hampshire, then both ended up going to Edinburgh University. Alice studied fine art then figurative painting in Italy, followed by a Masters degree in London. She went on to design prints for a couple of fashion labels. I studied anthropology at Edinburgh, then decorative painting and restoration courses in London. My passion for textiles and print led ultimately to my role overseeing the interiors section at Vogue (via House & Garden).

We set up Barneby Gates in 2009, working from the basement of Alice’s house. We’d been discussing the idea for years – since university – and then, while both designing our own houses, it seemed the perfect time to pool our experience. I had an intimate knowledge of fabric and wallpapers from my styling work for magazines, plus a good idea of the market and what might sell. Alice likes working on a flat surface because of her training as an artist, so wallpaper made sense as a starting point, and her background in fashion print design meant she knew how to take an idea and turn it into a workable design.

Above image: Pooling their experience in the areas of textiles, print, furniture, and design, Vanessa Barneby and Alice Gates set up Barneby Gates in 2009. Banner image: Chairs wallpaper.
Above image: Pooling their experience in the areas of textiles, print, furniture, and design, Vanessa Barneby and Alice Gates set up Barneby Gates in 2009. Banner image: Chairs wallpaper.

What were your homes like growing up, and did they influence your take on design now?
Certainly a lot more traditional than our own homes! But having a welcoming and pretty home has always been important to our parents, so appreciation of interiors and our surroundings is something we just grew up with. Now our parents are great sounding boards for ideas, and good critics of our work at the various stages of design.

Where do you get your design ideas?
Our studio is in a converted barn in rural Wiltshire, so we’re surrounded by nature – this can be seen in many of our designs, such as English Robin, Wild Meadows, Bugs & Butterflies, Honey Bees, Deer Damask, Boxing Hares, Horse Trellis… Having said that, inspiration can be found in anything from graffiti in Berlin to floor tiles in the back streets of Barcelona. Fashion and interiors are also important. Often we’ll take time out and go to a gallery in London or visit some cool new place that’s just opened that we feel is a must-see. There is often an element of surprise about our designs – we’re not influenced by trends, and right from the beginning we knew we wanted our designs to stand the test of time.

The Horse Trellis geometric print, available as a lampshade fabric as part of the new collection for spring, features rearing horses linked by triple bars.
The Horse Trellis geometric print, available as a lampshade fabric as part of the new collection for spring, features rearing horses linked by triple bars.

What is the Barneby Gates look?
I always find that question hard to answer – a bit like being able to see oneself in one’s children – much easier for someone else to judge! But I guess quite bold designs, often with a quintessentially English feel. We’re known for having quite a diverse range of prints, too, which combine traditional techniques and historical reference with a fresh, contemporary twist.

Often seen as a symbol of hospitality, this pineapple-motif wallpaper in bright pink/red would bring a contemporary feel to any room in the home.
Often seen as a symbol of hospitality, this pineapple-motif wallpaper in bright pink/red would bring a contemporary feel to any room in the home.

Please talk us through the inspiration and ideas behind some of your designs.
The inspiration for the All Star wallpaper came from a Chanel dress Kate Moss wore to her 30th birthday party. We wanted to create a star design with the same fluidity – which is quite hard when you’re working with a totally flat, static surface, compared to a flowing silk dress. So we added a bit of decay to the stars, and gave the pattern repeat a gentle rhythm to add movement to the design. Anchor Tile was inspired by some old Moroccan tiles we saw in Spain, but we added a nautical twist, creating a pattern of anchors and chains.

Drawing on the correlation between fashion and interiors, Barneby Gates's All Star design was inspired by a Chanel dress Kate Moss wore to her 30th birthday party.
Drawing on the correlation between fashion and interiors, Barneby Gates's All Star design was inspired by a Chanel dress Kate Moss wore to her 30th birthday party.

Where and how are your goods made?
All the designs are done in our studio in Wiltshire, starting off with hand-drawings, before moving on to the computer to play around with pattern repeats and scale. Both the wallpapers and fabrics are then traditionally printed in the UK – the wallpapers in Leicestershire and the fabrics up near Carlisle.

You’ve talked about the link between fashion and interiors. Why do you think it’s so strong, and is it changing?
There’s always been a correlation between fashion and interiors – it was something I looked at closely in my years at Vogue. I don’t think it’s that one follows the other necessarily, but that they both inform each other and have always done so. The increasing use of interior sets for fashion shows – like Erdem did in 2015 – is a really good example of this.

What are your plans for spring/summer 2016?
We’ve got two new wallpapers coming out in spring  – Chevron and Seahorse. We’re also launching a range of bespoke lampshades featuring our fabrics and wallpapers.

New for spring, the Seahorse wallpaper draws on Barneby Gates's love of natural motifs.
New for spring, the Seahorse wallpaper draws on Barneby Gates's love of natural motifs.

Tell us a little about where you live.
Alice lives in Wiltshire – our studio is a converted barn on a farmyard by her home. I live in Hampshire. For after-work drinks, we love The Seven Stars Inn in Bottlesford, or the Michelin-starred The Red Lion Freehouse in East Chisenbury. For a bit of retail therapy, there’s Mojo & McCoy in Hungerford, which stocks all our favorite fashion labels. And then for all sorts of furniture, from antiques and mid-century to modern or up-cycled, there’s Digger & Mojo – the showroom happens to be right opposite our warehouse, which is rather dangerous!