Barry Dixon and his dog Dinah on the loggia of his home, Elway Hall.
Interior designer Barry Dixon lives and works at Elway Hall, his 1907 Edwardian estate in Warrenton. The house has beautifully appointed sitting rooms and bedrooms and 17 fireplaces with lots of mantel space. Dixon is famous for moving around his treasure trove of accessories: overscaled apothecary jars, Venetian brocade pillows, flea market candlesticks, lusterware porcelain and French garden orbs.
Dixon, known for his warm high-end interiors that mix color and texture, was the perfect person to join us for our second Shopping With Tastemakers excursion. This time we went on the lookout for five great affordable accessories to add to your home.
Designers, as we know from Instagram, like to use their own homes as design labs. Dixon, who opened his own decorating firm 20 years ago, layers objects that reflect both his Southern heritage and his global travels. These all influence his own line of paints for C2, fabrics and trims for Vervain, lamps and other pieces with Arteriors, and a furniture collection at Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth. He is working on residences in Florida, Wyoming and Nantucket, so he’s always shopping for things in interesting places.
A fan of mixing high and low, Dixon likes the constantly changing array at West Elm. “The selection is fresh and always different,” he said. “You never know what you’ll find.”
Dixon spent a few hours on a recent Friday afternoon at the West Elm on 14th Street NW. He made himself right at home, combing both levels of the store for just the right pieces he thinks would add sparkle to a home of almost any size and style.
When I walked into the store, Dixon had just discovered a wood and resin sphere ($69) that had been rolled under a coffee table. These intriguing nine-inch balls are made from solid teak, then a crackly clear resin is used to fill out the natural burls in the wood, creating a perfect sphere. “I like them because each one will be unique,” Dixon said, adding that they work well in almost any room. “They have a wonderful look to them, like they were brought home from a jungle island or something,” Dixon said. “You put this in a corner of a contemporary urban apartment, and it looks like Krypton.”
A large panel of whitewashed wood ($369) with precision-cut designs hanging on the store’s wall caught Dixon’s eye right away. The piece is inspired by geometric stone carvings and is an impressive size: 47½ inches by 47½ inches. “This is instant architecture in a bland space, and it’s not a huge investment,” Dixon said. “You can put it over a console or over a mantel or in the dining room.” His other ideas for it: attaching four legs and topping it with a sheet of glass to make a cocktail table or using it as a twin headboard. “Buy things you can use for a lifetime that can have multiple incarnations,” Dixon said. “You will never tire of something like this.”
The modern, compact Martini table ($159) is an iconic West Elm piece that Dixon immediately recognized. It is available in a number of colors and finishes. He was excited about its new incarnation, a white base with an antique-brass-finish top. The piece is made of aluminum and is indoor/outdoor. “I like the combination of the high-gloss lacquer and brushed-metal top. It’s very modern,” Dixon said. You could put it by a wing chair or use two in front of a sofa instead of a coffee table. “I would put one beside the bathtub for bath salts and a glass of wine,” Dixon said. “Or it could go on the front porch with the wicker furniture.”
An interesting new pillow instantly freshens up a room, Dixon said. He spotted this abstract pattern silk pillow ($44 for the 20-inch square zip-on cover, insert extra) on a shelf and was drawn to its watery design and smooth silk fabric. “It has shimmer and a soft silk-satin finish,” Dixon said. “This is a great price for a real silk pillow.” He also pointed out that the pillow had the same fabric on both front and back. “I don’t like pillows that are different on the front and back,” he said. “Both sides should be the same.” He suggested putting a real down insert into it. “I like the gold and gray patina of it. It reminds me of sun and sand. I could put this in a penthouse in South Beach I’m doing. It looks handcrafted,” he said.
Inspired by a 1960s design, this small-scale arc floor lamp ($229) with an antique brass finish was something Dixon thought was a great find. He could see it next to a sofa or a reading chair, or even by a bed. In a small space, it would eliminate the need for a table lamp, freeing up a side table for other things. “The size makes it perfect for small rooms. And the burnished brass finish has the glamour of gold but doesn’t look as fancy,” Dixon said. He thought it would be perfect in an apartment because you get nice light and you don’t have to put a hole in the wall or ceiling. “This lamp is simple, sleek and chic,” Dixon said.
More from Lifestyle:
Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Designer Barry Dixon joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice.