The rolling countryside surrounding his Virginia home inspires Barry Dixon's designs
"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 .
Photography: Matthew Benson
Produced by Jeanne Blackburn
The view of bales of hay from Barry's tower bedroom inspired his fabric "Crop Art Circles."
Barry's textured chenille fabric "Cantaloupe Hide" was inspired by the heirloom cantaloupes he grows in his large garden.
With sweeping views and classical appointments, Barry's loggia is ideal for entertaining.
A noble stag stands guard.
Rubbings taken from the bark of towering old trees led to Barry's creation of the fabric "Oakbark."
A motif on china recalls the rolling hills of Fauquier County; it inspired "Warrenton Toile," in yellow.
The exterior of Barry's rural Virginia home, Elway Hall, built in the Edwardian style in 1907.
Barry's fabric "Pepper Pods" was suggested by a favorite engraving.
The wheels of old-time farm equipment led to Barry's creation of the fabric "Chariot Wheels."
"Cacao Vine" was taken from a 19th-century cocoa tin that belonged to Barry's beloved grandmother, his mentor in the garden.
The lamb-like coats of newborn angora kids inspired the plush silk velvet "Persian Cloud," shown bottom in river pearl. (Barry's late partner's mother, Ruth Schmidt, uses yarn from the goats, organically dyed, for her loom.)
Flowers create a quilt of color against a pastoral backdrop.
Barry's dog, Ellie, a wirehaired fox terrier, perches by the pool.
The barn has been converted into a dramatic space for gatherings.
The low stone wall surrounding the property inspired Barry's fabric "Stonewaves."
The table on the loggia is set for lunch with a tablecloth made of Barry's fabric, "Warrenton Toile."
A closer look at the table setting.
The ruby and gold of heirloom tomatoes grown on Barry's farm.
The cutting garden, neatly framed in the rearview mirror of Barry's bright-orange classic Chevy Nomad truck.
An orchard is also part of the grounds of this gentleman's estate.
A detail of classic rustic outdoor furniture.
Majestic old-growth trees provide deep shade for a picnic.
Brilliant dahlias with blooms the size of dinner plates are among Barry's favorite flowers.
Equipment in his tack barn led to Barry's creation of leather trims.
Furnished in warm harvest hues, the barn is set for entertaining.
The delicate colors of eggs laid by Barry's hens help him envision palettes.
This kitten posing for a closeup is one of many animals on Barry's farm.
Brightly colored blooms inspired Barry's fabric "Chrysanthemum."