Thursday, October 24, 2013

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Elliott Barnes

Through artist/designer Kathie Foley-Meyer, a friend in Los Angeles who follows the Entrée to Black Paris blog and Facebook page, I recently had the pleasure to learn about a long-time African-American resident of Paris, Elliott Barnes. Kathie introduced me to him at the Architectural Digest Intérieurs Métamorphose show in Paris in September.

Elliott is an architect who has embraced interior design and is enjoying great success in this field. We had a bit of time to chat at the show and based on our conversation, I knew immediately that I wanted to write a profile on him. Charming and full of grace, he later granted Entrée to Black Paris the interview that I present below.

Elliott Barnes at 2013 AD Intérieurs Métamorphose
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: What attracted you to the field of architecture?
EB: The simple fact that the craft requires knowledge and orchestration of diverse trades and professions. This corresponds to my interest in many different things and an innate sense of curiosity.

ETBP: You have forsaken designing buildings, bridges, and other structures and focus on interior design instead. Why?
EB: Because interiors participate on a more intimate level in the life experience.

ETBP: Is this a common path for architects working today?
EB: No, nothing is common today! There are architects who make interiors and vice versa.

ETBP: When did you move to France and why?
EB: I moved to France in 1987 to follow a dream, a desire.

ETBP: Tell us more about this desire. Was it simply to move to France? To work in France? Have you fulfilled it?
EB: The desire was to simply live in Paris. Of course, I needed to work, and the move corresponded to a change in my professional orientation from architect to interior designer. Have I fulfilled the desire? I don’t think that is possible!

ETBP: Your Web site indicates that you founded EBI to express your own pure and eclectic vision. What is that vision?
EB: Well my vision is that: Eclectic, with a purist esthetic.

ETBP: Please elaborate on what you consider to be eclectic and purist.
EB: To work without stylistic concerns or boundaries, and to express the work as simply and effortlessly as possible. A friend once described the work as textured minimalism.

ETBP: You work internationally, with projects in Europe and the Far East. Are you solicited for these projects or do you seek them out?
EB: All of my work arrives by word of mouth.

ETBP: Do you prefer corporate or private projects?
EB: I really have no preference. However, I only do projects that demand fresh ideas, where I can try different things. I hate repeating myself. It’s boring to take ideas from a built project and reuse them in another. If I can’t explore and experiment, it’s really not worth the effort;

ETBP: What is your favorite project to date?
EB: The Ritz Carlton Hotel, Wolfsburg, Germany

ETBP: You have not listed projects in the U.S. on your Web site. Are you not working there? If not, why not?
EB: I have not, as yet, done any projects in the US under my own name. However I am open and would love to do a project in the States.

ETBP: You’ve been selected twice by Architectural Digest France as “one of the most talented interior designers of his generation.” What about your work appeals to this publication?
EB: It’s not really for me to say or to imagine. I suppose the best would be to ask them.

ETBP: Tell us the story behind the exquisite family portraits that hung in the room that you designed for the recent AD Intérieur exposition in Paris.
EB: The portraits are the result of a project I commissioned from Kenturah Davis, the artist. I asked her to document all of the men in our family as a gift to my mother. Unfortunately she passed away two weeks before they were finished.

As Kenturah’s work is based upon words and images, I chose the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling, because this was a poem that my father had me learn, and I had my son learn; my brother learned it and he will have his son learn it as well. This is thus our family cultural and intellectual legacy, and the most important gift which was ever given to me besides, my son.

Room designed by Elliott Barnes for
AD Intérieurs Métamorphose 2013
© Discover Paris!

Portraits of the Barnes Family Men
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: As a successful designer, I imagine that you could establish a firm just about anywhere. What keeps you in Paris?
EB: I’m not so sure I’m successful because I don’t really know what that means. The work is never finished, and the fun is never over. The laurels of today are the thorns of tomorrow if they are not pushed and coaxed towards new horizons. I’m fortunate to have completed a few projects that have made me happy, and that have made other people happy. As for the rest it’s not really for me to say. I stay in Paris because I love Paris.

ETBP: You mentioned that you are a bass player and that you used to play professionally. Please elaborate on this.
EB: The double bass has always been a passion of mine. Its very essence and the role it plays with in a jazz structure inform how I organize my office. I played a few times professionally, but I kept my day job, if you know what I mean. So I consider myself a contrabass aficionado rather than a bass player.

ETBP: Might this interest in music be one of the reasons that you redesigned the Duc des Lombards?
EB: Yes, I think one of the reasons that I was chosen to redesign the Duc des Lombards was of course ma affinity for the Jazz genre.

Duc des Lombards Interior
© Didier Delmas

ETBP: Tell us about your teaching experience in the U.S. and in France.
EB: I was a visiting professor at the University of Virginia (UVA) in 1991, and then I taught two years at l’Ecole National Supérieur des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD) from 1993-1995. Since then, I have been a visiting juror at several interior design schools in Paris.

ETBP: Please explain what a “juror” is.
EB: A visiting juror is really a visiting critic on a design review jury.

ETBP: For those who are considering starting a career in architecture or interior design today, would you say that it is important for them to spend time studying or working in Paris? If so, why?
EB: Well Paris is my personal space. People should go where they like and search for what they want. So much is happening all over that there is no one place that gives a person an edge more than another place.

ETBP: You are raising a teenaged son in Paris. Is there anything that you are doing differently because he lives in France as opposed to the U.S.?
EB: I don’t know only because I’ve never raised anyone in the states. We have a good relationship; I try to give him as many opportunities as possible for him to find his way. I’m always available for help and guidance. Standard “Dad-ing” I think!

Portrait of Elliott’s Son
© Discover Paris!

ETBP: Los Angeles is your hometown. It may seem to many that L.A. and Paris are incomparable. Tell us what similarities you find between these cities.
EB: Well they are incomparable. The energy in each place is vastly different. I enjoy Paris because in terms of scale it is somewhere between LA and NYC. It is urban but not overwhelming sophisticated but at the same time a bit casual.

ETBP: What is your favorite place in Paris?
EB: Palais Royale

ETBP: What is your favorite thing to do?
EB: Have ideas and get them built.

ETBP: What advice would you give to someone wanting to move here today?
EB: Identify your passion. Get informed. Get organized. Get focused. Get a one way plane ticket. Have a plan B, and then set that on fire!

elliott barnes interiors
28, rue d'Aboukir
75002 PARIS - France
T + 33 (0) 1 45 08 16 96
F + 33 (0) 1 40 28 91 58


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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1 comment:

in-fact said...

Isn't amazing all of these fascinating people out there in the woodwork? Thanks for bringing so many forward, and I enjoyed looking at Elliot's website. Obviously not the easiest interview - bravo Monique for managing to pull so many teeth in spite of the resistance!