Secondhand Masterclass

Secondhand Masterclass: Pattern Mixing with Bari J. Ackerman

Bari J. Ackerman is an artist, author, designer, home decor expert and founder of the brightly colored, floral-filled Bari J. lifestyle brand.

As the “mother of modern maximalism,” her popular product collections feature her celebrated signature floral prints, and are available on rugs, fabric, wallpapers, bedding and more. Most recently, she launched a stunning collaboration with Joybird, fulfilling a dream of creating upholstery for furniture.

Bari was in the middle of relocating from Phoenix, Arizona to Charlotte, North Carolina, and was still gracious enough to sit down and offer a masterclass session on mixing patterns, prints and colors. 

For the full interview and this premier episode of Secondhand Masterclass, you can watch it on my IGTV series.

All images provided courtesy of Bari J. Ackerman.

Tell us how you got your start in the world of interiors. You mentioned having a background as a theatre kid…

I started college as a theatre major until I realized I prefer eating to not eating. I didn’t want to struggle, so of course I went into art which makes no sense at all. I was a stay at home mom and bored, and made things like collages and jewelry from found objects. Then I found sewing. 

I was decorating my house, and I started making things for our home. I started making handbags and then selling them. At some point, I wanted to have my own fabric for the handbag collection. Instead, I ended up licensing the art for fabric and stopped doing the handbags.

Once I was licensing art for fabric, I decided to license for home decor items: anything from tech cases to rugs to wallpaper to stationery. In the meantime, all of the interior stuff came naturally because that is what I loved doing most.

Of course I was using the fabric (which is with Art Gallery Fabrics), and then came the wallpaper and the rugs and then finally this furniture launch with Joybird.

You’ve branded yourself as the modern maximalist even before maximalism has become trendy again. 

I realized I was a maximalist back in 2012 when I started with Art Gallery Fabrics. I had fabric collections starting in 2009 and at that time in the quilting world where a lot of my fabric is sold, the whole thing was about minimalism.

They used this term called “low volume” fabrics for anything that was white or cream. My early collections were called “Full Bloom” and “Paris Apartment.” They were very, very colorful and mostly colorful and not “quiet.” I was offended by the term “low volume,” because it made anything else seem loud and that’s not how I wanted to be represented.

I did a booth at Quilt Market for a line called Splendor 1920 that had a Downton Abbey feel. I literally dragged a full-sized bed with a full-sized air mattress. I did a big ruffle quilt, every corner of the booth was decorated in a different pattern, and I looked around me and everything was minimalist. So I said, “I’m not a minimalist, I’m a MAXIMALIST.”  

I’ve never heard anybody say that before, but I was so over the minimalism and I thought, “I’m not that, and I’m never gonna be that so I’m gonna be what I wanna be.” I also realized that maximalism had a connotation of hoarding behind it, so I started calling it curated maximalism.

Maximalism isn’t about collecting things or the amount of stuff, it’s about layering color and pattern with intention. 

As a maximalist, is there a design rule that you swear by?

Contrast plus through line equals pattern mixing success. Vary the scale and vary the pattern type, then have a through line like a color that goes through everything. 

For example, start with a big floral then add a stripe with a similar color going through it, or do a geometric pattern with it or a ditsy floral (which is a little, tight floral). If you have a floral that is spaced, then combine it with a packed floral.

It’s all about that contrast and then making it fit together with the colors that go through all of it.

So the through line is like using the same color to integrate throughout the whole design space.

Exactly. Pick one color, pick three, but use it throughout the whole space. And don’t be afraid to use something that’s not in the space, like hot pink. Just because there’s no hot pink in the space doesn’t mean you can’t throw in a contrast somewhere. 

Also, animal prints go with everything. 

Leopard is a neutral! 

It is, it is, it goes with everything! I have leopard prints, tiger prints, and I think zebra goes with everything. So just pour it all in.

How are you integrating secondhand finds into your design scheme?

I was an eBay member since 2004. I collected little items to begin with, milk glass back when shabby chic was a thing. I will still integrate it here and there, I’m still holding on to it and limited myself to pink. 

I love buying picked over, nasty furniture – the ugly, the better, because when you add new upholstery to it, it’s like a miracle. My swivel chairs were a hideous, hideous 80s fabric. 

I have a collection of vintage fabrics, like vintage needlepoint that I put on pillows. I have five or six that I’ve been meaning to patch together to cover something big like a sofa, so I need to collect more needlepoint.

The British have always mixed and matched prints because it’s very cozy, there’s an element of livediness. You might have seen an uptick during the pandemic for cozy interiors using more printwork. Any thoughts around that?

The English have always been onto something with their chintz and their mixing and matching. I noticed back when I was in London in 2005 that they all wear black, but then you go into a home decor store and it’s all color. 

Back here in the States, everything was so minimal with the whites and creams, and I thought, “London is where I’m supposed to be.” I noticed early on that my major markets were Australia and the UK. Interestingly, that’s where I’ve always been drawn.

What is your advice for a design novice who wants to start incorporating prints and mixing patterns?

Start with pillows and blankets and bedding before you move onto furniture and wallpaper. Trial and error is huge. Your eyes will know if it’s a miss. 

A lot of people will tell me they won’t know. But if you try it a lot and you do it a lot, you will absolutely know. Just keep trying and practicing. Textiles are perfect to do this with.

If you don’t sew, then sew. When I was learning to mix and match, I was making patchwork belts. I gave myself the challenge to take one piece out at a time from a bag and improv all the way across, it didn’t matter what the next piece was. As I was doing it, I noticed which ones looked cool lined next to each other.

Go to fabric stores, take your fabric rolls and put them on the cutting table next to each other, ask for swatches. Some museums have textile rooms, go look at textile books. See how designers put fabric collections together. And don’t stick to just one fabric collection that was designed together, you can bring in other pieces. 

Reupholstery can be really expensive. For someone who’s on a budget and they see a secondhand piece that’s patterned, what can they do with it at home?

If it’s an open pattern with space in between, put a tightly packed patterned pillow on there. Hang a piece of art that would be a contrast to the pattern. Look around the room and make sure you’re varying your scale of the patterns. 

Some patterns look painted and some will look like a digital print. That’s a contrast, too. Look for those things to mix in as well.

Are there any bad contrasts?

Wait until they all mix together and if there’s NO contrast, that’s bad. As long as there’s contrast, it’s good.

Have you had any design oopsies where you mixed everything together and it didn’t work?

Yes! I thought the swivel chairs I recovered would work with a floral rug because they’re a tightly packed pattern. When I put them in the room, it was just too much. Some people might have thought it was fine, but for me, I thought, “That’s a little extra.”

The scale was not enough of a contrast. In the print, it didn’t have enough of a dark color that gave it any contrast with the rug. That’s where I went wrong, there wasn’t enough of a through line.

Are there some prints or patterns that work better with a vintage pattern?

I think mixing modern with vintage is so delicious. If you mix 14 different chintz patterns, it does look a little granny. But if you mix in something that was produced digitally like a geometric pattern that has a modern feel, maybe an ikat, it’s gonna give it more “oomph.”

Adding those modern elements is really what freshens up a “grandmillennial” aesthetic. 

Let’s wrap up with you telling us your favorite secondhand shop in Arizona.

My favorite way to secondhand shop is Facebook Marketplace. But I can’t forget to mention Modern Manor in Phoenix. It’s got the best stuff and now has a cool coffee shop in there. That’s where I got my yellow chaise and my burl credenza.

There used to be a fur locker in there when people in Phoenix had furs and needed to store them somewhere. They’re turning that into a speakeasy. That whole area on Seventh Avenue is just so fun. 

For more expert tips on mixing patterns, check out Bari’s gorgeous coffee table book, Bloom Wild.

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