Former Vogue Living Editor, Vanessa Barneby is the co-founder of wallpaper and fabric house Barneby Gates. Loved for bright prints and eye-catching designs, the brand has a rock ‘n’ roll to royalty following
When I meet Vanessa Barneby she’s chic and colourful in a red and white colour-block sweater and a floral print floor-length skirt. Like her wallpapers and fabrics, there is nothing greige here. Vanessa’s first wallpaper memory is her parent’s house in the early 80s. “Our house was head-to-toe Laura Ashley and all the bedrooms were in ditsy floral prints”. But as Vanessa herself acknowledges, fashions are very cyclical. “There can be something bubbling under the surface for a really long time, then a huge fashion house like Gucci will put chintz on catwalks”.
Barneby spent 10 years working at Conde Nast, first as a stylist on House & Garden and five years as Vogue’s Living Editor. As the girl-to-go on dream publications, why head into the unpredictable world of running your own business? Vanessa replies that she wanted to do something for herself, while working with her friend Alice Gates who has a background in fine art and textiles. Best friends since both were ten-year-olds, the two have a sisterly relationship and enjoyed the challenge of working for themselves while doing up their own
houses. After spending so much time putting together trend stories and sourcing the perfect papers, fabrics and trimmings, Vanessa relished the creativity of being her own boss. There were concerns that working with a close friend could end in disaster, but Vanessa and Alice drew up a “business pre-nup” and got on with things. For the first five years of the business one of them had a baby every Autumn. At one point Vanessa took a call from The Telegraph while she was in labour. She still managed to get the wallpaper samples to the editor a couple of days later.
Five babies on and all children are now at school and the business is heading towards its ten year anniversary. How much has changed since the 2010 launch? Vanessa talks about an increased online focus, and the “huge” role of influencers. “The kudos of being in a fashion glossy is wonderful, but you’ll get a more immediate response from someone prominent on Instagram”. Saying that, interiors are a lot less throwaway than fashion: “It’s not just slapping something on the wall – clients are looking at five, probably ten years. Our designs last – we still sell all our original collection.” The brand’s “rock stars to royalty” appeal means everyone from Prince Charles to Liam Howlett of Prodigy fame has chosen Barneby Gates designs.
Style-wise Vanessa is a huge fan of Firmdale Hotels’ co-founder Kit Kemp for her, “fabulous ability to effortlessly mix prints and styles”. And she loves the way her business partner Alice is brave with prints in her own home.
To celebrate the ten year anniversary Barneby Gates is bringing out old designs in new colourways and working on a collection with fashion designer Tabitha Webb. Vanessa is proud to have kept production firmly British and works only with printers and mills in Leicestershire and Lancashire: “You’d be amazed to see the old-school colourists mixing by eye”.
Business is starting to pick up in a big way in the US, with Barneby Gates signature quirky British pink pineapples and imposing pheasants gaining a dedicated following. Distribution is now from a warehouse in Wiltshire.
With its artisan quality and eccentrically English vibe, the future is bright for Barneby Gates’ loyal fans. Long may the perfect pink pineapple – the brand’s most Instagrammed design – continue to reign over us.