For an interior designer lauded for his take on classic American style, Barry Dixon had a surprisingly globe-trotting childhood. His father’s career as a mineral expert took the family around the world, and Dixon lived everywhere from South Africa to India to New Caledonia. All that travel at a young age gave him a sense of perspective and respect for the endless variety of human endeavor (useful as a designer navigating the political landscape of Washington, D.C.). It was also an education in style.
“[Traveling so much], you learned so much about the world and the tribes of humankind,” Dixon tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of the Business of Home podcast. “I would see these similarities between what different indigenous peoples put together—I can see a relationship between something Maori and something pre-Colombian. They’re continents away, but they’re only thoughts apart.”
Of course, a lot happened between a childhood on the go and Dixon’s present-day occupation as a highly respected designer. In this wide-ranging conversation, he tells the story of how he got to where he is, his unique philosophy on product licensing, what it’s like to work in a highly charged political climate, and what impact COVID has had (and will continue to have) on his business.
Listen to the episode and check out some takeaways below. If you like what you hear, subscribe to the podcast here. This episode was sponsored by Rebecca Atwood Designs.
Face to face
Minutes before hopping on the recording session for the podcast, Dixon was supervising a drapery installation—through video chat. Such COVID-era adaptations are tricks he’s planning to continue using after the pandemic has passed. Overall, he sees less travel in his future. However, his plan is to jump on a plane when it comes to in-depth meetings with the client. “I like to be meeting with clients face to face—I want to see their expressions, their countenance,” he says. “I want to see when something really makes them smile, or if there’s a furrowed brow, I need to know that.”
Diplomacy in design
Dixon is based in Virginia, and he does a good deal of work in Washington, D.C. That means working for politicians, often on opposite sides of the aisle. (One year he was working for the Democratic National Committee chair and Republican National Committee chair simultaneously.) Dixon himself is currently a registered Democrat, but he used to be a Republican, and tries to take a tactful approach to politics—no easy feat in a particularly charged climate. “I think my background with moving so much and being in schools abroad, I learned a certain diplomatic approach, and I saw my parents do it, too. It got me by, and you hone those skills,” he says. “Washington has always been a political place; I’ve always been very careful to be cordial and appropriately mannered. Sometimes it is harder than other times.”
Licensing as an education
An acomplished designer of product as well as interiors, Dixon has collections with Arteriors, Fortuny, Vervain and others. Of course, it’s nice to get a royalty check in the mail. But Dixon says that one of the primary benefits of designing product is that it has made him a better designer of homes. “I know more about how to select a fabric of quality than I did before I was designing fabrics. Understanding what comes out of the mills in France versus Italy versus Spain versus India versus China. What are the fiber mixes I like for durability, for hand?” he says. “Now I look at a label and I know, OK, that’s going to last 20 years with kids, that’s going to do well in the sun. Not only am I learning it for myself, [but] I’m more valuable to my client. … In some cases, that’s more rewarding than the [royalty] money.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Barry Dixon Interiors