A Q&A With Interior Designer Barry Dixon

How antiques can complement a modern décor


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To Barry Dixon, the element of surprise is crucial to good design. In modern or traditional rooms, that can mean adding an antique or two. Bridging the past and present is fundamental to Dixon’s design philosophy.

A renowned interior designer, Dixon also has his own furniture and rug lines, and recently introduced a new fabric collection, available at the Marie-Howard Showroom inside the Michigan Design Center. His work has been featured in national shelter magazines and he has served as a judge for the Detroit Home Design Awards. His book, Barry Dixon Interiors, was published in 2008.

Dixon was born in Memphis, Tenn., but spent his formative years in a peripatetic existence that stemmed from his metallurgist father’s job.

The family lived in such far-flung places as India, French Polynesia, and South Africa. He returned to this country in the late ’70s to attend college at Ole Miss and today lives in a 1907 Edwardian estate in Warrenton, Va. His global travels have failed to extinguish a soft Southern drawl.

Dixon was in town recently to deliver lectures at Michigan Design Center (MDC) in Troy and the Christ Church Antiques Show in Grosse Pointe Farms. We sat down with him over coffee one June morning at MDC to discuss decorating with antiques.

How did you get interested in antiques; did your parents collect them?

My parents were big collectors, and they enjoyed the process of finding things and mixing them. They peppered their traditional antique collection with exotic things they found around the world. That got me interested as a kid in combining and mixing things and finding similarities between seemingly dissimilar elements and putting them together.

Some people might be loath to add an antique to their modern décor because they fear it will clash.

If everything in a room is completely modern, it camouflages into itself and disappears. You put one well-chosen, curvilinear-formed Queen Anne highboy in a very angular collection of other [modern] pieces, and they stand to attention because they’re diametrically opposed. So you see them in a way you never saw them before. You really understand their geometry because of their proximity to this other element that’s the polar opposite.

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