Decorated with numerous accolades in her profession, including the well-known Best of Houzz design award, Dallas-based designer Barbara Gilbert has achieved success because of her natural talent, as well as years of hard work, dedication and patience. Her breathtaking interiors are best known for their clever mix of color and pattern. As a certified color specialist, Barbara knows how to procure certain moods from color alone, which transforms her ideas into a sensory experience. With a discerning eye for function and flow, Barbara makes each space she touches an absolute oasis. Today she tells us her story, from how she got started in the design world to how she continues to find inspiration to fuel her career.
When did you know you wanted to be involved in a creative profession?
I had owned an insurance company for years but I eventually sold the agency because I got burned out. I’ve always been very creative and had lots of hobbies that entertained this artistic need, from making porcelain dolls to knitting — anything that involved color. Even from the time I was 14 or so, I would help relatives decorate and rearrange their spaces, choose fabrics and wall color. I realized I had a natural talent for it early on and my hobbies helped develop my awareness of color.
Then one day, shortly after I sold my business, I went down to a neighbor’s house to help them choose paint colors. I got into a conversation with the painter who said he needed someone to join his team to serve as a color specialist. I decided I had nothing to lose, so I took him up on the offer. I started doing paint colors for him, then I gradually started into window treatments.
How did you begin your career as an interior designer?
I decided to go back to school for interior design. I was, by far, the oldest person in class and my professors advised me that taking classes at this stage may not be the best way to get involved in the industry quickly. So I joined IDS (Interior Design Society), which is an association for professional interior designers that promotes community, education and the growth of their business. From there, I began forming a network of contacts and, gradually, started to make a name for myself.
How would you describe your style?
I think my style is pretty eclectic. For years, Dallas was traditional but now it’s growing more transitional, offering a mix between traditional and contemporary. Personally, I love to mix different periods, like working with existing furniture and adding new accessories. I’m really big on designing with color. Sometimes people want to stick to a neutral palette, so I add texture, instead. You can easily get people out of their comfort zone with just a few textured accents.
You are a certified Dewey Color Specialist. Tell us more about that.
Basically, it means I have studied how specific colors interact and how they affect people psychologically. It’s amazing how much color can change your mood. For instance, warm colors — especially reds — produce anxiety or excitement, so fast food chains use them to ensure people eat quickly and leave. Blues, by contrast, are incredibly soothing.
How do you stay true to that style while making clients’ wishes come true?
Ask them lots of questions and find ways to arrive at compromises. Ultimately, the client comes first but that doesn’t mean you can’t employ their vision and your ideas in a seamless way.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find it from the craziest places — traveling, looking at nature right outside my window, driving around looking at buildings or finding interesting patterns while I’m out shopping or browsing stores.
What has been the most challenging part of having your own business?
One thing that is very challenging is finding the right people to make up my team. I’ve learned it’s better to hire your weaknesses or, at least, hire for the things you don’t like to do. It’s been an ever-evolving process but I believe you have to understand business to really be successful.
What has been the most rewarding?
When my clients are just thrilled to death and when my team wins awards for our designs. At these competitions, you get judged by your peers anonymously, so it really means you are deserving of the award when you are chosen and that your work is authentic and innovative.
What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
Join an organization like the IDS or ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). Starting your own business can be very lonely and it can be difficult to find the feedback and support you need. When you belong to a professional organization, you have all of these great resources at your fingertips. You can ask someone and they will help you. It’s like an extended family. I also recommend hiring a business coach; they are invaluable. So many creatives lack business experience and they can make so many mistakes along the way without some guidance.
What is your favorite part of the design process?
I love sourcing fabrics and furniture. And choosing the accessories — seeking out that perfect finishing touch is incredibly satisfying. But really, I enjoy every aspect of the design work, from conceiving the initial concept to managing its implementation.
Thanks to Barbara for spending time with us today. See more of her amazing projects here.