If one could step into the imagination of interior designer Barry Williams, I imagine one would find a lavish, carefully curated place of amaranthine loveliness, as well as an endless inventory of ideas.
He brings a photographer’s eye, a perfectionist’s attention to detail, and a historian’s context to his work at Williams Design Inc., a firm he opened in the Dallas Design District in 1999.
Williams is one of the most exclusive designers in Dallas, creating exquisitely appointed interiors for a select register of clientele. His nickname is “the billionaire’s decorator” because he has worked for six. He has no website, because he’s not interested in making himself available to everyone, only those as serious about beautiful design as he is. For years, his business even had an unlisted telephone number.
“I love to get it right,” he said about his design philosophy. “I want to prepare for every meeting with every new client with a lot of energy and care and my desire is to be retained until the last detail clicks into place and the house looks finished and complete and feels good.”
And details are his specialty. For decades, Williams has carried a camera on him all day, every day, to capture and catalogue the elements around him. By his estimation, he has 54,000 photographs that aid his design work.
“I am hugely inquisitive and am always seeking and finding new patterns, colors, techniques, and details. I see new things everywhere all the time,” he said. “I have a nuclear-grade memory and can recall details from far and wide and bring them together in a new way.” Jump to read more!
Williams grew up in Wichita Falls, about 140 miles northwest of Dallas. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Plan II Bachelor of Arts degree and headed to North Texas to pursue his career in interior design.
“I have known all along—there is nothing else I would rather do,” he said. “My love of beautiful things is undeniable.”
History is Williams’ biggest influence, and he is inspired by several international designers whose work can be described as lush, detailed, and opulent.
“The European dynastic collections of families like the Rothschilds and Habsburgs are still dazzling to me,” he said. “I love the work of global superstar decorators Jacques Garcia, Alberto Pinto, and Howard Slatkin. David Easton and Charlotte Moss have also been inspirations.”
The hallmark of a Barry Williams design is that the spaces look effortless, an achievement that is easier said than done.
“It is often difficult to achieve, but the feeling of harmony is only possible when there is a pleasing relationship between all the things in the space,” he said. “Lots of people can individually pick out beautiful pieces. But it takes a real pro to choose beautiful things that are beautiful together—use of scale separates a pro from an amateur.”
Part of achieving that harmony is his eye for exceptional artistry and style.
“I love beautiful things: quality is the key whether it is in the design, integrity of the content, or the craftsmanship. I get to my very best work by asking the question, ‘What’s the best ____ (fill in the blank countless times with nouns like period, finish, species, material, color, texture, shape, etc.)?’ over and over again.”
His attention to detail allows him to include layers of elements that work together in a symbiotic, sensuous way.
“I’m crazy for beautiful fabrics and love Fortuny and printed velvet and beautiful wovens,” he said. “I continue to love antique furniture though it is a bit out of style at the moment. Great things will always be in style—truly great elements transcend time and trends.”
When asked about the current trend toward a sleeker aesthetic and multiuse spaces, Williams noted the new emphasis on comfort and accessibility in interior design.
“There’s been a sea change in the last ten years,” he said. “Even the Rothschilds hired Michael Smith to do a streamlined, spare, calm style for them. Theirs, of all people’s, was once a lavish, excessive, lushly detailed and decorated idiom.”
The changing styles keep Williams on his toes, and he believes constant exposure can’t help but provide more and better discernment.
“Gone are the days of a once-a-month living and dining rooms. Huge bathrooms and closets are new and here to stay, I believe—I can’t help but be influenced by those trends,” he said. “I continue to love style and detail, but I think the details themselves have changed. They have become less extravagant and more refined. Drapery trim is a good example.”
The Dallas market has been good to Williams, who arrived here because it was the closest big city to his hometown, and now he says he could be a Dallas ambassador.
“I am always crowing about how great Dallas is to anyone who will listen. It just keeps getting better, too,” he said. “The arts complex speaks for itself, but just as important are everyday places. I really can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
He pointed to the business opportunities in Dallas, as well.
“There are very few areas in the U.S. where your interior design business could flourish through the recent recession—our business was never slow,” he said. “A decorator works by connections, and now that mine are made, I am here to stay. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
In his 25-year career, Williams has worked with many “dream clients,” but the opportunity goes beyond the expected big house-big budget-great architect dynamic to encompass professional and personal connection.
“The true essence of creating magic is done in the trenches and being there with a person that you respect and enjoy makes the work a pleasure,” he said. “I love it when your taste aligns with your client’s and you share the same vision and goals. One thing that I have really appreciated is when a client brings an adequate infrastructure to the equation of working together—they understand the value of engaging a good contractor, hiring a great architect, and aren’t afraid to spend the money required to achieve great results.”
The coming year is full of promise for Williams, who is packing for a trip to Paris Déco Off at the end of January with his colleague, designer Zoe Powell. There, almost 100 prestigious design houses will open their doors to the public to see their showrooms and latest collections.
“I will get to see the unveiling of a series of period rooms at the Louvre and meet their decorator, one of my idols, Jacques Garcia,” said Williams. “He has restored a massive château and lives in it outside Paris—there is a floor in the château that I copied for my office, a complicated marble pattern that resonated with me.”
When he returns, Williams will begin his ninth engagement at The Ritz Carlton Dallas, a sexy bachelor’s apartment at The Austin W, and a couple of houses in Taos. His professional adventures take him back home, too.
“I regularly work in Wichita Falls and small Texas towns like Tyler and Abilene,” he said. “I love those projects because they treat you like a celebrity and are more trusting and accepting of your thoughts and concepts.”
This year will also likely see the opening of Grace Chapel in Wichita Falls, a multi-year project to which Williams has donated his fee. The new chapel will feature the work of artisans, who will be contributing the ornamental layer: railings, grilles, hanging fixtures, carpets, stained glass, and more. He also just completed a massive, four-year project at the corner of Park Lane and Inwood Road.
As for the future, Williams is relentlessly optimistic.
“Everyone’s taste improves over time. Mine is no exception, and one of my life goals is to always be growing,” he said. “Business is strong and the future looks bright.”