Successful conscious design emanates a feeling, not just a look. It must also have a basis in nature, as our inner space is best expressed as a reflection of the natural world outside. This is the philosophy of Barry Dixon, a nationally recognized earth conscious designer based out of the Virginia Countryside. He’s taken his own brand of warm hospitable southern design style and applied it to projects around the world. As a DESIGNINGreen Leader for the Sustainable Furnishings Council, he’s devoted his life to designing homes with a higher level of environmental awareness.
As a part of our ongoing Creative Home Living Report Series, The Conscious Connection team caught up with Barry during his busy schedule to pick his brain on how you can incorporate earth conscious design practices into your own home.
Conscious Design Inspiration with Barry Dixon
Conscious Connection: So tell us, what first inspired you to become a conscious designer?
Barry Dixon: When I was growing up, my family worked for a foreign corporation troubleshooting various scenarios all across the globe. We would move from place to place, continent to continent, all the time – from Kyoto and Argentina to India and South Africa. With this nomadic life, we were constantly reinventing our realm of living — our home. So with all this travel and relocation, I became very interested in setting up a house. I can honestly say that I was bitten by the design bug as a kid and didn’t even realize it.
Conscious Connection: How did you cope with having to completely upend your home every time you moved?
Barry Dixon: As we moved into each new home, we would layer in all of the things we had acquired and learned from one place to another. But no matter where the house was, what the style of the indigenous architecture was like, or what we saw through the windows of that home, we always found a way to make it ours. We learned to layer in the things that were ours with what was already there, essentially re-purposing them into that new environment. This was something I was doing all the time subconsciously as kid, so it was only natural that I became a designer as an adult.
Conscious Design Works in Harmony with Nature
Conscious Connection: I really like how you learned to incorporate the indigenous cultures by layering re-purposed local items with your existing furnishings. Tell me more about this design philosophy you’ve developed.
Barry Dixon: My conscious design philosophy encompasses a unified awareness of the natural world. As we traveled from place to place, the cultures always changed, but the colors of nature and Earth were constant. Instead of seeing how different the culture was everywhere, I saw how the influence of the natural world was omnipresent. My design philosophy is based on this ubiquity of nature and my goal is to bring the beauty of the natural world into the home. I also try to relate whatever that realm is to the interior of wherever I am. That way the interior of the home seems to belong where it is in the external world.
Conscious Connection: It’s fascinating how you to learned as a child to see the unity of nature despite the culture shock I imagine you must have often been confronted with. Can you describe in more detail the process of how you bring the natural world inside?
Barry Dixon: I like to believe that in the same way there is a hierarchy of elements that make of the natural world; earth, air, fire and water, there is a similar representation in home design. I attribute every color, texture and concept of something I might employ in a room to one of those elemental forces. For instance, the color gold could be thought of as fire or earth because it’s mined from the Earth. Or light blue can be represented by water or air. But regardless, I always stay true to this hierarchy within the home. For rooms that are down next to the Earth or under the ground, I like to use colors that we would find there. Whether they’re the greens and tone of the garden we might see at that level or the subterranean stratification seen beneath the soil. The rich browns, coppers and mineral tones are things I would like to see at a lower level like in a wine cellar or lower level lounge.
When up in the sky, as in a second floor bedroom or a high rise in the city, I use those foggy mist, clouds or sky kind of a color so I’m at one with what I see through the window. And at the same time, my room isn’t confined by the four walls that keep it. It’s open to what’s on the other side of the window and becomes part of a larger whole: tearing down the boundaries between the room and nature. This connectivity becomes the thread that is woven through the inside and outside with a spread of relation into the interior. So even though we lose perception of the natural world at night, we have it represented inside so we don’t ever lose it totally. And then when the sun comes up each morning, we are reminded again of those natural world colors.
Designing the Most Important Room in the House
Conscious Connection: I’m really loving the idea of designing a home to reflect the colors found outside in nature. So tell me, what is your favorite room to design and why?
Barry Dixon: I love family rooms because they’re actually the room we spend the most time in. Therefore it’s pretty important that we get this room right, as opposed to a spare bedroom, let’s say, which is maybe used thirteen times a year. The master bedroom is also important, but we’re asleep in there most of the time. A full eighty percent of our waking time in the home is usually spent in the family room or kitchen. We always focus on these rooms for families that hire us because we want them to experience the most positive results possible from our design work.
Conscious Connection: Great! So what are some tips for designing a family room?
Barry Dixon: The idea behind a family room is to hospitably welcome a group of people. So you want to have something in there for everyone. You want a balance, from my perspective, of both masculine and feminine attributes and effects– because you will have men and women there. You also want things that are large and small because you will have children there and potentially people like myself who are 6’ 4”! Although the room should speak to your personality, physically it needs something for everyone. It’s not like your master bedroom which you are only in; so you have to hit all those marks.
And I love the tension of opposites. So bringing that masculine and playing it against feminine. Bringing that big and playing it against the small. Bringing the smooth and playing it against texture. Bringing the lofty museum quality pieces and playing them against the common, simple, everyday things that are less expensive. This helps to relax the tension of expense in a room and make it more accessible to everyone.
I also like the mix of old and new. Antiques are forever green in that we’re repurposing them. You don’t cut down a new tree to use an old piece of furniture. Plus they bring the magic of their history with them. They take the showroom quality out of any room because they’ve been touched by generations and lived lives before they came here. So they bring all of their own history and romance into the room — and that ignites another spark of relation, romance and hospitality that comes along with it. I love employing all these things and using one with purpose juxtaposed against the other.
Creating Sustainable Homes with Conscious Design
Conscious Connection: Tell me more about how you’ve designed your own home and property using this earth conscious design philosophy.
Barry Dixon: I always re-purpose everything I can and use only natural finishes created sustainably within our own factory. In regards to antiques, all these wonderful things were created long before we could put these toxic lacquers on newer furniture, so I use them as much as I can. I’ve also used my property to provide a sanctuary, and welcome local wildlife. I’ve learned all about where the birds and geese are nesting on my property and have found that the more you know, the more you care. And the more you care, the more you’ll do. The circle of life moves in and around us at all times and is crucial for our survival that we become conscious of its presence and rhythm.
Conscious Connection: I couldn’t agree more. Any final advice for our readers?
Barry Dixon: Don’t be afraid of thinking organically. We often think we’re so limited by what’s available out there. The truth is there are so many wonderful new products coming out everyday for staying within this Earth friendly realm and designing beyond any restraints or barriers that we may think are there. If everyone was just 30% more green, all our environmental problems would be solved. We just need to understand that there’s an alternative way to doing things. And that’s what conscious design is all about!