Barclay Butera has designed projects big and small all over California. From the biggest cities to the most refined beachfront villages, to golf course-adjacent vacation houses in the high desert, to high country ski resorts, Butera has explored the many topographies. Each of these varied cultural and geographic landscapes make California a place of contradictions and possibilities. He has perfected a design philosophy and aesthetic that embraces all that California is, and it travels well to other places that aspire to a piece of the California dream.
Barclay Butera grew up in Palo Alto and currently lives in Newport Beach. He is the author of four books on interior decoration and design; the latest is Barclay Butera: Past, Present, Inspired (Gibbs Smith, 2015). It is an intimate look inside the homes he designed on the seashore, in the mountains, in the city and in the desert for himself and his life partner over a period of 20 years.
“I am often asked to bring a ‘California vibe’ to projects around the world,” says Butera. “I think most people want to be comfortable in their homes. They raise their children, they entertain there, but having a beautiful environment is important too. California style merges both of these requirements seamlessly.”
His ability to create spaces that are both beautiful and comfortable has made Butera a designer in demand, with projects in Hawaii, New York City and Park City, Utah, and as a lifestyle brand, creating textiles, home accessories, candles and pillows under his own label.
“We create floor-to-ceiling,” he explains. “My firm always includes a finish package with every project. The last thing you want to see is bad ‘knickknacks’ come in at the end! We do it all: art, styling, tabletop accessories and décor. It just works, and our clients are grateful that we are able to frost that cake. I design products in all categories, and I do use my own designs. But I also have a great appreciation for vintage finds, and I shop from many other resources. It’s the mix that really makes the magic.”
“The magic” is Butera’s artful mix of voluptuous, custom-designed furniture covered in breezy cottons and linens; contemporary art on the walls; antique oriental rugs or rough-hewn sisal on the floors; witty animal prints; and blue and white porcelain accessories. Some of his spaces are inspired by the 1940s glamour of Hollywood Regency style; others have a sprawling, rustic elegance, filled with rugged wood and burnished leathers that recall California’s ranchero history. These various looks and moods have translated surprisingly well into a Greenwich Village penthouse, a ski chalet in Utah and a Miami Beach villa.
“I’m often asked to create a coastal environment in a place nowhere near the water!” Butera laughs. “I think it’s how the ocean or a gorgeous lake makes you feel. The blue water and sky, the gorgeous sound of birds and crashing waves. Don’t we all relax more at the beach than anywhere else? I had a client once say that she wanted to feel like she was on vacation every day. I liked that.”
Travel and fashion are Butera’s greatest sources of inspiration. “As hectic as life on the road might be, it really frees your mind to get out of your daily routine,” he observes. “And if it happens to involve a fashion show in Paris or New York, even better!”
Butera may be a dedicated follower of fashion recreationally, but professionally he shuns the trendy in favor of the timeless. Certain classic elements find their way into his designs that keep them from seeming too much “of the moment,” which immediately translates as fleeting. Even projects he did several years ago still look fresh, chic and inviting.
“I go through stages with colors, and honestly the seasons do have a tendency to affect my color choices,” says the designer. “Right now, I am craving deep indigo. I have a bedding collection called just that, and I continue to use it over and over in projects. It just works. But I am never influenced by trends or the ‘color of the year.’ I’m definitely not a trends kind of guy.”
Many of Butera’s clients are frequent fliers. They return to his firm after a few years to freshen and update the original project or to commission a whole new project. He is always gratified when clients come back. It is the ultimate affirmation of his success.
“Most of our clients are what I like to call ‘clients for life,’” he says proudly. “We do their second, third, fourth (and sometimes, seventh!) homes, and that tells me that they are very happy with my work. What could be more rewarding?”
Butera was once fortunate enough to own Twin Palms, the Palm Springs estate designed by architect E. Stewart Williams in the 1940s for Frank Sinatra. A classic example of mid-century modern design, Twin Palms featured stone and steel and walls of glass that welcomed the clear, pure desert light—and a world-famous piano-shaped pool.
Aware of the home’s glamorous history (it had been the site of many a raucous Rat Pack cocktail party), Butera restored it to its former glory with original art and period pieces, placing them alongside furniture of his own design that was inspired by the Hollywood Regency period. The result was a chic, sleek desert hideaway that would have met with Frank’s (and Sammy’s and Dino’s) complete approval.
In addition to the many private homes he has designed, Butera has also brought his discerning eye and instinct for comfortable luxury to the hospitality industry, creating interiors for upscale hotels and luxury resorts—including a spectacular home on the golf course at Terranea. “The lovely Terri Haack at Terranea knew my work and recommended me,” Butera explains. “I love this kind of work. Once you get the basic direction down with the planning committee, you have a lot of freedom.”
Barclay Butera is always looking for new challenges … for bigger, grander more significant projects. He has his eye on the biggest interior design project of all. “The White House, of course!”
Written by Lynn Morgan