Since it’s 1960s inception, the bohemian style has continued to grace the world of fashion, culture, design, and decor. I mean, it’s pretty hard to resist the carefree, layered, often eclectic aesthetic that begs you to kick back and find your zen. Despite its popularity, achieving that boho-chic appeal is not as simple as it seems, and can get really corny really quickly. But provided you know a thing or two about great design—like this week’s contestants, Barrie Livingstone and Sunshine Tutt—executing a bohemian look is a walk in the park (or meadow). “Bohemian doesn’t mean sloppy, and it’s actually very ‘done.’ It feels so relaxed that you don’t know anyone did it," says host and judge Genevieve Gorder.
You may remember designer Kathryn M. Ireland's bohemian dream home from ELLE Decor’s February 2018 print issue, but if not, we’re revisiting it as the inspiration house this week. The design maven’s Santa Monica micro-compound is an exuberant “mishmash” of English and French antiques, signature textiles, and an eclectic assortment of decor, where the outdoor spaces blend seamlessly with the interiors. It is global and layered, yet cohesive and collected. And who better to judge the rooms than Ireland herself? After welcoming Barrie and Sunshine into her home, she joined ELLE Decor Editor-in-Chief Whitney Robinson and Genevieve Gorder to judge the final products. Aside from her intoxicatingly bohemian spirit and thoughtful interiors to match, the English-born designer has been making her mark on the world of design—with clients that span from Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Steve Martin—for almost three decades. This week's winner, Barrie Livingstone, attributes his decades-long practice of design to his win, explaining that to be a great designer you must never attach yourself to one specific style. "I’ve only done this every day of my life since 1987, I live breathe and sleep it, so I understand how to authentically execute a wide range of aesthetics," Barrie says.
ELLE DECOR: How would you describe your own design style, and how did that help you craft a bohemian room?
BARRIE LIVINGSTONE: My style is very clean. I believe that less is almost always more. Even when I’m working with an antique style, or country French, or Art Deco, I always approach my design with a cleaner version of the style, using a few meaningful accessories. Luckily, Hila and Matt [the homeowners] preferred a more contemporary version of the bohemian style, and requested minimal accessories and knickknacks that could be broken by their seven and nine-year-old children.
ED: You mentioned your style isn’t at all bohemian, so what do you believe is the trick to designing a room with an aesthetic that opposes your own?
BL: First and foremost, I think that as a designer you can never be selfish. You can’t design based on your own personal style or what you would like in a room. To be a good designer, you should be comfortable working with a wide variety of styles, and always put the client’s opinions first. Being a good designer is being a good actor—you have to get into the character of your clients and get to know them before starting any project.
ED: Hila had some hesitation toward certain aspects of the inspiration home. How did you take reference from the home despite your couples’ desire for something more contemporary?
BL: There were many areas of the inspiration house—including the living room and kitchen—that had a more contemporary vibe, with shades of light gray and minimal ornamentation, that we pulled from to inspire the new room. Hila and Matt fell in love with a rich gray bookcase in the inspiration home, so I purchased a hutch from Craigslist and painted it that exact same shade. Hila also had a gorgeous area rug that her father bought her in Israel, and I decided to arrange as a wall hanging, similar to that of the inspiration home. That is the exact definition of boho chic: an assortment of meaningful pieces that create a collected feel.
ED: A big part of your plan involved changing the architecture, so you used a pretty big chunk of the budget on construction—something that has really helped past designers. Why do you think that the bones of the space are as important as the furniture and decor?
BL: One of my guiding principles is that a room should be beautiful without furniture. You have to give a space an architectural face before adding in other design elements. In Matt and Hila’s home, which was a basic builder home, I had no option but to address the architecture first. By making the room feel more architecturally significant, you not only increase the value of the home, you also make the space feel more cohesive as a whole. The staircase and the window were two eye sores, so I took the time to sand, stain, and whitewash the staircase, and add additional seating under the window. It creates visual interest, while uniting the indoor and outdoor spaces.
ED: What do you believe was your biggest success?
BL: My biggest success was space planning. In design school, 40% of your grade was space planning, so I’ve always made that my number one priority. In Matt and Hila’s home, I understood the flow of the room, which was like a really narrow bowling alley. I thought about how the family would move through the space, and decided on three goals: to make it a place to sit comfortably and enjoy a drink, host a dinner party for up to eight people, and walk through to the kitchen without feeling crammed. I think I hit all the marks.
Take a look below for the before & after shots of both contestants' rooms:
As it turns out, 30-plus years in the business and a chameleon-like approach to design makes all the difference. Barrie's bohemian dream space—marked by a contemporary elegance and architectural richness—sealed the deal on his winning room. For Barrie, the bones of any space are as important as the body, and understanding the client's needs is the number one priority. A comfortable palette of grays and blues punctuated by blush tones, greenery, and texture, texture, texture, resulted in a refined boho hangout spot with a cozy and layered appeal. "Bohemian is a vibe, but it doesn’t mean your room has to look like a Bali crafts bazaar," Whitney Robinson says. "Barrie delivered on the theme in spades, and wisely spent his money on an amazing staircase redo to boot.”
As for Barrie, "I’m absolutely elated and delighted! I was given the chance to be judged by three people who I have been so inspired by, and it’s nice to have a sense of reassurance from my peers. To know that my (many) years of experience have actually taught me something is priceless."