Meet Barneby Gates
From small beginnings in a London basement, Vanessa Barneby and Alice Gates have cornered the market in country cool and boast a client list that includes rock stars and royalty. Pooling their experience in both ﬁne art and magazines, they hand-draw designs and use traditional printing techniques to create a wide range of designs with a quirky contemporary twist.
We met as children growing up in a village in Hampshire, and both went to The University of Edinburgh. Alice studied ﬁne art and then ﬁgurative painting in Italy, followed by a masters degree in London. She went on to design prints for fashion labels such as Libélula. Vanessa studied anthropology and after graduation focused on decorative painting and restoration. Her passion for textiles and print led to my role overseeing the interiors section at Vogue.
We set up Barneby Gates in 2009 working from the basement of Alice’s house. We had been discussing the idea for years, and as we were both designing our own houses, it seemed like the perfect time to pool our experience and make the business a reality. I had an intimate knowledge of fabric and wallpapers from my styling work for magazines, plus a good idea of the interiors market and what might sell. Alice’s training as an artist and background in fashion print design meant she knew how to turn an idea into reality.
Initially it was just the two of us. When we started out we wanted to make wallpapers, fabric, rugs and cushions, but quickly realised that we would need to focus on one thing, so concentrated on wallpaper. In terms of our roles, we didn’t really sit down at the beginning and say ‘right this is your job and this is mine’. The business developed organically, with everything slotting together according to our individual strengths, such as Alice focusing on drawing while I style shoots. Our inaugural collection was ready by the end of 2009 and in September 2010 we did our first Decorex show, which felt like the official launch of the business. We were taken aback by how successful the collection was and particularly by the international recognition. In 2013 we added our ﬁrst fabric range and last year introduced a collection of cushions.
Our inspiration comes from everything around us. Anything, from English robins and wildﬂower meadows to bugs, bees and butterﬂies, inspires us. Fashion and interiors are also important in everything we do and we’ll take time out to go to a gallery in London or visit some chic new place that’s just opened for inspiration. There is often an element of surprise about our designs. We are not inﬂuenced by trends, as we want our wallpapers and fabrics to stand the test of time. We are very much a visually led company; photograph-sharing websites Instagram and Pinterest are our most successful social media networks and many customers find us through them.
All our designs start with a hand-drawn motif. It’s very much a collaborative process and we work together from start to ﬁnish. The most complicated phase is getting the design to work as a pattern repeat. It also has to ﬁt the rollers the pattern is cut on to. We do a lot of surface printing, a mechanised form of block printing, which uses thicker inks than most printing processes to give a lovely hand-painted feel. We also do quite a bit of gravure, which allows a fine level of detail that’s photographic in quality, and flexographic printing that’s much like surface printing but uses less ink to get a crisper finish with more detail. Colour is key to the design process and we go through several prooﬁng stages to establish the exact shade we want to use for each design. We like to work on ideas that grab us at a particular moment in time. We bring out two new wallpapers in spring and two more in autumn, and have a small fabric collection that is based on some of our wallpaper designs.
Right from the start we wanted to be British designed and British made. All our paper is PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certiﬁcation) certiﬁed, which promotes sustainable forest management from well-managed sources. The fabric is printed near Carlisle in Cumbria and the wallpaper at one of the few remaining print works in the Midlands. This means we can control quality and finish. Dyes and paints are made up in the UK and mixed as one-off colours, so that they are customised especially for us.
Most of our time is spent in the Wiltshire studio, which is in a converted barn that has plenty of space. If we are working on new designs then we will be fully engrossed in that, while the rest of the staff hold the fort regarding the day-to-day elements of running a business. Our days tend to be a real mix of design work and development research. We also shoot a lot in the studio and outdoors, creating and styling room sets to suit our purpose. When we launched our fabric collection it made sense to do a shoot around the farm where our studio is based. We also make regular trips to the factory and have meetings with interior designers.
For more information or to view Barneby Gates’ beautiful wallpaper and fabric collections, visit barnebygates.com.
Photography/ Alun Callender