Chris Barrett moved her interior design business to the desert in 2021, and will showcase her work during Desert Oasis Show House, March 31 through April 10, in Indian Wells.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY DE WAAL & ASSOCIATES
Chris Barrett didn’t anticipate ever meeting actors John Stamos, Sean Hayes, or Charlize Theron. In fact, she didn’t even think about being an interior designer.
“When I was in my 20s, I was an actor, and I then I had kids and I decided I needed something that was a little more stable,” says Barrett, who moved her design business in 2021 from Los Angeles to her home at Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert.
“Interior design is not stable either. You never know when your next job is coming from. But if I were a great actress, I would probably be doing that so it’s good thing I switched.”
Barrett met Stamos while assisting the director of the late 1980s TV sitcom, Full House, while attending design school. He remains one of her clients, and similar word-of-mouth connections led her to Hayes, Theron, and author Judith Krantz.
“I think a breakthrough was Charlize,” Barrett says. “I worked on a couple of houses for her and it was great. I was working with her contractor at the time and he told me he had met this actress. She had just bought the house. It was a complete redo.”
What she found with celebrities as with all of her clients is to make the most of her time with them to ascertain their wants and desires. “With a celebrity you get whatever time. So you take as much as you can take in, and hope that they're giving you everything, and usually they do,” she says.
Barrett will showcase her work at Desert Oasis Show House, March 31 through April 10, in Indian Wells. The 4,000+ square foot show house is located within the El Dorado Estates and was designed by architect John Walling in 1978 as an ode to midcentury design. Barrett has designed the primary bedroom suite and the exterior furnishings.
Desert Oasis Show House includes a Tiki cocktail party on April 2, house tours, and a dedicated show, “Rethinking the Backyard”, that includes Barrett as one of the speakers.
Barrett chats further with Palm Springs Life about her move to the desert and design tips.
What was the appeal to moving to the desert?
I woke up one day and I said, "I don't want to live in L.A. anymore." I grew up in L.aA. I've lived there my entire life. And I just decided, "I just don't want to be here anymore." And nothing bad was happening in my life. But I called my broker and told her I wanted to list it. She said, "Okay." And we put on the market, I sold it on practically the day it was on the market. And I knew I would be coming out here, because I had been to Marrakesh. It must be 15 years ago. And I had walked into one of the units and, thought "God I love this so much." So when I knew I was going to come out to the desert, I was 99 percent sure I would buy here. But I looked everywhere. I didn't see anything with such architecture that appealed to me so much. This is a special place. It's like living in a pink bubble.
If you are going to refresh your house, where do you start?
Have a look at your most public space first, and try to look at it as if it's not yours and see what other people see. If you imagine it completely empty, what would you take back, and that you just have to have? Say it's a living room. Well, you assume you should have something to sit on. Do you love those things? If you do, use them, maybe you could reupholster them, if you want a new, fresher look. For me, I like to find a couple of key pieces that say something. Like this table is a vintage table. Took me a long time to find this. I want another table. I can't find anything to go with it, but I will someday. And to me just layer as you go, the cleaner it is, the easier it is to feel things and experience special pieces, like this vintage lamp, love that.
What checklist do you suggest people make before they even begin a project?
I always ask what pieces, if any, they want to reuse. Are they open to recovering? Do they have special art? Do they want to collect art? Do they use an art consultant? I work with a really great art consultant. Her name's Tiffany Lendrum. She's just great. What colors do you like? How do you entertain? It's really just logic, and a lot of people don't think those little things matter but it all adds up to your lifestyle.
What trends have you seen emerging from the pandemic?
A lot of our clients are wanting to add pizza ovens outside. They've been home so much, and they really want that outdoor kitchen. So we've been doing a lot of outdoor kitchen planning, and it's a lot of outdoor living because people are really using their houses. I got lucky. I'm in a house that's pretty large for me, but I did have an office. I'm lucky to have the space. Many people had to figure out how to make a space for an office. I've made an office out of a closet. You can make anything work if you put your mind to it.
You would expect most homes out here to reflect a light and airy mood. Can dark colors work here?
I like black tile a lot. There's something about it that really pleases me. Like in my last house, I painted a big black wall. I've used black tile for back splashes and kitchen, and it's really striking, and it's not Gothic or anything. It's very sophisticated. I think the pallet to like blacks and beiges and lighter woods, and it just feels really good.
Your home has 10-foot ceilings and you can tell that impacts the design. What about homes with less than 10 feet?
So for me, one, the most important thing about interior design is the architecture. If you're decorating something that doesn't have good bones, it's lipstick on a pig. So for a low ceiling, you can do really flat molding in the ceiling. You can create coffers in the ceiling, even if it's just three quarters of an inch thick slats going this way and that. You can do a very low profile light fixture. You can create texture on a ceiling. I guess I've only done it in a restaurant, but wallpaper on the ceiling. I wouldn't say that this room is not conducive to wallpaper, it would just be too much, but small areas you can do some wallpaper, maybe grass cloth on the ceiling. There's all sorts of things you could do, but it's important to think about the ceiling.
Would you say your approach to your job is the same as it was when you first started, or has it changed?
It's probably about the same. The most important thing is communication. You have to understand your clients and make sure you're communicating with them, so they understand you. I think I'm better at communicating now, than I was when I first started. People give you money. They want to know what's going on. For me I was thinking, "Give me money and then, OK, I'm going to go do it now." And then, "Hello, what's happening?" So I've gotten better at communicating.