Barbara Westbrook’s rooms aren’t all in the country, but her way of decorating a house has roots in the countryside of Virginia, where her grandparents had a farmhouse that she loved and remembers fondly—and these memories infuse her work. I stumbled upon her book Gracious Rooms at my local library (I love when this happens, when I’m not looking for anything in particular, and something beautiful appears). I’m always on the lookout for unexpected ways that elegant country style is expressed.
In her introduction, Westbrook describes the elements of country life that have lingered in her soul (white clapboard farmhouse, red tin roof, bales of hay, freshly laid eggs). She writes about graciousness in the Southern way of life and how it moves and inspires her—how it has taught her about the importance of the “experience of being in the house itself.” Perhaps it is this graciousness with a hint of the Virginia countryside that we see and feel in her inviting rooms.
Her palette is a lovely combination of warm earth tones (especially gray) with accents of soft blues and greens. There is plenty of white—space, walls, upholstery, and accessories—that give the rooms a clean and ever-so-slight modern feel. Westbrook learned about antiques from her mother, and she incorporates them, along with European accents and sophisticated textiles so that her rooms have a sense of history and texture, but don’t feel too “rustic and homespun.” You will find bowls of moss and black iron and salvaged wood and painted architectural elements. You will sense calmness and lightness and comfort.
You will be invited into rooms that feel seasoned and fresh at the same time (my favorite kind of room).
When I find a designer whose work I admire, I look for ideas that might fit into my own way of decorating. Sometimes it is a concrete thing, like Westbrook’s clean-lined, monogramed linen slipcovers on dining room chairs or kitchen barstools or her tip about choosing either matching bedside tables with mismatched lamps or visa versa.
But often, it is an intangible—something that I can’t articulate or emulate. In the case of Barbara Westbrook’s rooms, it is the airy-ethereal-with a hint of the magical-but also down-to-earth quality that I can’t quite pin down. And yet, after spending time with her book, it might seep into my own work like a whisper in my ear