BY REBECCA CHRISTIAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW BENSON
PRODUCED BY JEANNE BLACKBURN
"Whenever I get a case of 'designer's block,' " says interior designer Barry Dixon-shown above in a 1957 Chevy Nomad that was a gift from his late partner, Michael Schmidt-"I can coax Ellie, my wire-haired fox terrier, into a walk over hill and vale to the barn. By the time I'm back at my desk with a handful of thistle or a fruit-laden bow, the creative juices are flowing freely."
Dixon, known for his style of sophisticated Southern design with global influences, has lived since 1999 on 270 rolling acres in the horse country near Warrenton, Virginia. On the grounds of his 1907 Edwardian home, Elway Hall, three magnificent copper beeches that provide shade for picnics stand sentinel. Perhaps surprising to those who may have met the designer in more urbane settings, here he raises goats, llamas, and hens, keeps horses and bees, and tends an orchard as well as vegetable and flower gardens.
It's those who have been most dear to him that he credits with fostering his appreciation-his late partner Michael Schmidt, whose joy in nature and animals was infectious, laid out the vegetable and cutting gardens. "He, more than any other, influenced me to look to nature for inspiration," Barry says. The gardens also feature heirloom plants that remind Barry of his late grandmother, Nettie Darr. "She had two green thumbs," he reminisces. (His striking fabric for Vervain, "Cacao Vine," is taken from the design of a beautiful 19th-
century cocoa tin that belonged to her.)
Because his stone-and-wood home has the strong, bold lines of an English gentleman's hunting retreat, says Barry, he didn't "poodle it up" with fussy landscaping. Veggies grow near the barn, and his half-acre cutting garden with 50 varieties of flowers sits well away from the house, providing luscious color in every season with foxglove, delphinium, hollyhocks, lilies, daffodils, and gorgeous dahlias with blooms the size of dinner plates. "So I can cut away without affecting the landscaping around the house," Barry says.
Once when he was on his knees cutting a dahlia, a peridot hummingbird with a ruby throat "worked a big flower like a miniature fan in front of my face," Barry says. "It was so magical. Peridot and ruby became the color scheme for a project I was working on."
He positioned his pool, the scene of summer fetes, to blend with the landscape. "Its design was inspired by one my parents kept in South Africa in the seventies, which had a similar pool with a low stone wall surrounding it," says Barry, whose globe-trotting childhood also influences his design.
Autumn is a glorious time at Barry's home, celebrated with an exuberant Halloween bash for kids of all ages in and around the barn. "Last year, an owl perched above us, straight from central casting," he recalls. For him, home is not a place to shut the world out but to welcome it in.
All fabric shown on following pages is by Vervain.