Taking Her Time: Claire Barry And Her Bungalow

Claire Barry, chief conservator of Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum of Art, decorated her bungalow the way she collects art: slowly, and with a lot of heart.

DINING ROOM: The chandelier from Karla Katz and mirror from Lucullus Antiques, both in New Orleans, help create an atmosphere of a French Quarter interior. Biedermeyer-style chairs from the 1830s, lined with silk dynasty striped cotton through David Sutherland, surround a late 20th century Regency style dining table on a natural seagrass rug. To the left of the 1960 Dunbar rosewood buffet table are pieces by Annabel Daou, above, and Dan Rizzie. “We like the juxtaposition of one modern piece with antique pieces,” James McInroe says.

Taking Her Time
Claire Barry, chief conservator of Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum of Art, decorated her bungalow the way she collects art: slowly, and with a lot of heart.


Claire Barry first met decorator James McInroe in the late 1980s. He’d opened an antiques store in Fort Worth, and she had moved there from New York, where she’d been doing postgraduate training at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “James was known in the arts community as a decorator who was still within reach of our budgets, and friends suggested I call him,” Barry says. At first, decorating her small apartment amounted to rearranging furniture. “I had so little at the time, but it’s amazing what James could do with a low voltage light, an orchid plant, and a Saarinen table,” she says.

LIBRARY: McInroe calls the Lit en Bateau (“Boat Bed”) from the Empire Period “the most important piece in the room, possibly the house.” The bedding is made from blue and white mattress ticking. The purple pillow was made from ecclesiastical textile silk found in Mexico. French exhibition posters and the 1940s mahogany coffee table is from Carter Bowden Antiques in Fort Worth.

The first few years they worked together, McInroe helped guide her to a more sophisticated environment that she felt comfortable entertaining in. “I took what she had that was good and added to it, slowly,” McInroe says. At the time, Barry’s style leaned toward mid-century modern. When Barry moved back to New York after a few years, the two kept in touch via phone.

GALLERY: McInroe’s Corgi, Lyle, a frequent visitor, sits on a Ward Bennett mohair velvet sofa, a favorite spot of Barry’s, too. The cigarette table is by Cedric Hartman; the candles were a gift from from Laure Japy in Paris; the lamp is by Isaac Mizrahi for Target.

By the time she returned to Texas in 1992 as chief conservator of painting for the Kimbell Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum, she’d amassed a number of good neoclassic pieces many from McInroe’s shop and was building a collection of contemporary Texas art. “I didn’t set out to form a collection,” Barry says. “I just bought the things I liked, one at a time.”

No matter where her work takes her, Barry’s collection of art and furniture fits right in. “Claire is one of those clients who knows the value of falling in love with a piece, adding it to her collection, and knowing it will work simply because she likes it,” McInroe says. Chairs and sofas were upholstered in fabrics and colors appropriate for the pieces, not based on a room’s color scheme. “It’s not decorating as much as it is curating,” he says.

Claire Barry’s Favorite Places to Shop for Antiques

James McInroe Inc.
4301 Vandelia St., Dallas

Carter Bowden Antiques
4704 Bryce Ave., Fort Worth

Lucullus Antiques: Culinary Antiques and Art
610 Chartres St., 3932 Magazine St., New Orleans

Flea market, Clignancourt
Paris, France

Christopher Fallon Design at Fabrica La Aurora
San Miguel de Allende

Insh ala Imports
(Carol Romano)

Aldama 30,
San Miguel de Allende

Sollano No. 32,
San Miguel de Allende

When Barry moved out of an apartment and into her first home several years ago, she already had almost everything she needed. Her only purchase was a dining room table (she sold the Saarinen table upon moving back to Fort Worth). “I did things backward,” she says. “I had the furniture before the house.” The 90s-era courtyard-style house had been painted a rich persimmon inside, which Barry kept, along with the persimmon-colored floral draperies in the living room. It happened to be a color McInroe was fond of and one that he’d used in his shop during the 1990s. Barry’s furniture, especially the upholstered pieces, pop against the vibrant color.

The house is filled with antiques, but the placement of furniture and the colors make it modern, says McInroe, who deftly mixed Barry’s collection of Biedermeier, 1960s contemporary, William IV, Charles X, and neoclassic furniture. Sea grass rugs, rather than more traditional Aubusson or Oriental rugs, provide crispness.

When decorating evolves over time as it did in this case, the contents of a house become autobiographical. Barry says: “People who know me well can look at my collections like a diary. A home should be a reflection of its owner. Isn’t that what good decorating is all about?”

LIVING ROOM: Red walls provide a warm backdrop for a room that Barry says is perfect for entertaining. “The furniture arrangement facilitates conversation,” she says. The King Charles X style sofa in mahogany and covered in stried silk satin fabric. Billy Hanes style chair, bottom left, is covered in Decorators Walk fabric called Greek. “I love the lines in the chair. It’s like a ’50s interpretation of a Klismos chair. I’ve always been in love with the fabric, and I’ve used it for many years,” McInroe says. McInroe-designed coffee table and cigarette tables with matte black steel and granite tops.
BEDROOM: The bed is draped in cotton organdy with mattress ticking bed spread and sheeting from Frette Hotel Services. A Murano vase sits atop a 1950s Italian blonde-cherry night table. The rug and benches are white cowhide.
Collect, Don’t Decorate

Build a room around one great piece or a pair of beautiful period chairs. “Work to the chairs, rather than some preconceived notion of what the room will look like,” McInroe says. “It’ll make a more interesting room.” This concept only works if you have the soul of a collector, McInroe says. “If you see furniture as objects, it won’t work. Collecting is driven by the eye,” he says.

Shop a lot, and read a lot about the things you are interested in, McInroe says. Obtain a modicum of education, he says, before you begin buying.

Once you get a collection of furniture going, mix it up. “It’s about juxtaposition, “McInroe says. “Shine with dullness. Modernity with tradition. Damask next to raffia.”

Shapes are important. An elaborate sofa needs clean-lined tea or coffee tables.

Don’t worry about collecting different periods or styles. If you love them, they will work. In Claire Barry’s home, a box-shaped Biedermeier sofa is flanked by a pair of 50s-era lamps that belonged to her mother.”Each is expressing something different that becomes harmonious,” McInroe says.

Collecting art and furniture comes from the same impulse, McInroe says. “I don’t like to see people buying things because they will make money or because they go with things. I like to see a level of passion in the purchase,” he says.

Buying for investment is great if you want to stockpile, but if you want an expressive collection, put some of your soul into the acquisition.


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