Whether on the beach or in the backyard, summertime living is made up of warm, lazy afternoons. And while you’re kicking up your feet, you may as well have a good book to enjoy. Our summer design reading series offers a break from the typical beach read and the chance to be inspired by beautiful interiors.
We’ve long admired the work of Southern designer, Barbara Westbrook, for her effortless ability to create sophisticated interiors that exude equal parts warmth and comfort. She has a knack for combining Southern charm — a nod to her Virginia roots — with European elegance. In her new book, Gracious Rooms, she walks us through 12 stunning projects, from lake retreats to modern homes to historic mansions to her own home, and shares her insightful advice and design tips on how to create truly gracious rooms that, quite simply, make you feel good.
In her introduction, Westbrook admits to only four “guiding lights” that make a house a home: “Make it interesting. Make it beautiful. Make it personal. Make it welcoming and warm.” And how does she know she’s achieved those things? It’s simple: “In life, a well-decorated room should feel like an invitation, something we all wish to offer and receive, a gesture that forms a relationship and is, I believe, the very definition of graciousness.”
Indeed, Westbrook’s lusciously photographed book is chock full of examples of gracious rooms. Page after page, we gathered plenty of ideas and inspiration. It’s hard to highlight just a few, but if there is a single concept Westbrook seems to return to time and again it’s the art of achieving balance, whether it’s through symmetry, color, shape or mood of materials. Here are some of our favorite examples from in her book.
In this lovely dining room, Westbrook balances light and dark and masculine and feminine pieces. A dark wall color and handsome antique mantel create a strong backdrop that she then softens with a generous, floor length table cloth and antique Louis chairs with linen and silk upholstery. You can see Westbrook’s use of balance again in that she uses an ornate, French chandelier with a collection of black and white photography on the wall. Their stark differences create a balanced space that’s interesting but cohesive.
Westbrook often uses color and texture in a room to create a comforting balance, as she does in this kitchen. The gray-green cabinetry is balanced by the bright white marble countertop and backsplash. Then, Westbrook layers in warm woods and brown tones, like a gorgeous antique rug, antique stool, and a collection of brown pottery. The balance of warm and cool and light and dark help make this space feel welcoming and comfortable.
The designer is a firm believer in the judicial use of symmetry. “When a furniture arrangement is symmetrical, I always make sure the individual parts vary.” In this living room, the pairs of chairs flank the coffee table, but one pair is upholstered leather club chairs and the other is spool chairs with ticking cushions. On either side of the sofa are a pair of end tables and lamps. While the lamps are the same, the tables take a different shape.
This bedroom illustrates Westbrook’s style beautifully — perfectly appointed spaces that incorporate the charm of antique pieces and blend them with all the necessities of a modern life. A skilled interior designer can give a space enough detail that it feels special and interesting, while still allowing it to feel serene and uncluttered. Westbrook is an expert in this realm!
In her own dining room, Westbrook creates a classic space that can spaces with personal details, like monogrammed dining chairs, a pair of sculptures, and her collection of dish ware and pottery. We think it’s those personal touches in this space (and really every space) that achieve those four ‘guiding lights’ — a beautiful, interesting, personal, and welcoming space.
We loved this book, and highly recommend you get your hands on a copy for tons more photos and even more inspiration!
Find more design book suggestions here.