Five Good Minutes

An Interview with Barrie Livingstone

Malibu resident Barrie Livingstone has trotted across the globe working as an interior designer. He has visited 46 countries, lived outside the U.S., and fashioned homes and hotels from Miami Beach, Florida to Southern California.

Livingstone checked in with Malibu Patch to explain what his travels have meant for his craft, what parts of his career you can't teach, and how he made Malibu his final resting place.

Malibu Patch: Where did your motivation to become an interior designer derive from? What was your childhood like? 

Barrie Livingstone: Growing up in England I was obsessed with how people lived in different periods of history. I loved visiting stately manor houses, historic homes and castles of which there is an abundance. I loved every detail of the designs. The wood carved Elizabethan turns, the Chippendale fancy chairs, and the opulent fabrics in the Royal Palaces.

MP: What are your favorite types of projects? Is it hotels? Homes? Single rooms?

BL: My favorite projects are when my client knows what they like and appreciate that my talent is a skill for which I make a living. Homes are second nature for me to design and I treasure the close relationships that I make with my clients. Hotels are enjoyed by more than a family so it is special to me that more people enjoy my designs when in a public space.

MP: You've visited 46 countries throughout your career. What effects have your travels had on your work?

BL: Travel is everything to a person. Those who travel frequently and to far off lands are rich with knowledge. Seeing how others live and occupy their dwellings has shaped how I think about space. From the extravagant interiors of Dubai to a dung hut in the countryside surrounding Jaipur, I learnt something. Interior decoration is as much a human need as is water. In a small hut in India I saw labels from the side of boxes arranged in the center of a wall, hung as if they were the most hallowed of art objects. It was all they had but they needed something to adorn the walls.

MP: You started in Miami Beach and still work there. But you've made your home in Malibu. Why Malibu? What is it about this town that compels you to stay instead of working in a bigger city or in another country?

BL: Malibu gives me so much of what I need. A deep connection to the planet. The roaring surf, the canyons and mountains, sunrises and sunsets that become a part of your day. I also love that people stop and say hi and in general are so much more friendlier than in town. Because I do travel so much and came back to Malibu after a 2 year stint in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai I appreciate the nature here so much.

MP: You've worked on some pretty famous pieces, such as Malibu Moderne. You also did some work on Cher's Malibu home. Do you approach doing larger, more recognizable projects differently than you approach doing a smaller project?

BL: The main difference between designing a larger residence versus a single room is of course, time. Larger homes require a lot more time due to the fact that there is that much more space. I approach all of my projects with dignity and humility as I am after all designing someone’s home and I want my clients to feel very much at home.

MP: Do you believe designing is an innate ability or something that you can learn? In other words, is it more about vision or education? And don't tell me education doesn't matter. You went to Harvard.

BL: I do believe in innate ability as I am blessed with having it and have seen other great designers that obviously posses it. However, having education to back it up is very helpful and I feel a must. I remember being in class and studying history of furniture and textiles and literally diving in to the books, loving every second of the design experience. Also, I do all my design drawings by hand as I am of the generation when CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) had just come out. Being able to draw furniture, plans and elevations to scale and at this point, free hand, is my secret weapon to making sure a room feels comfortable and furniture sits well and feels good.