Barbara Bradlee: Expression and Expertise

BarbaraTo design the perfect space Barbara Bradlee listens to her clients, scouts their space, and focuses on creating a comfortable and colorful space.

Thanks for joining us, Barbara. Tell us a little bit about how you got your start in interior design and about your time as President of the New England ASID.

I tell my clients that I have two degrees, one in psychology from Harvard University and the other in interior design from Endicott College, and both degrees are very useful in my current profession.  After graduating from Harvard, I went to work for big business, IBM and AT&T. I soon realized that although I loved the world of business and project management, I needed a job where I could express my creativity.  I wanted something tangible to show for my work, I wanted results that would make life better for people, not just numbers on an annual report.  I was always fascinated by art and architecture and I decided to go in that direction.  I went back to school and earned a degree in interior design.  I love the world of interior design; to me it is functional art.  I know that when the built environment is both attractive and well suited to its purpose, it has a profound, positive impact on the people who live and work in it, and that is very rewarding to me.

I took my new profession seriously.  I passed the national accreditation examination for interior designers as soon as I was qualified to take it and I joined ASID (the American Society of Interior Designers).  I had the honor of serving as the New England Chapter President from 2010-2011.  I have met so many wonderful colleagues, trade and industry partners, magazine editors, and of course clients through my involvement in ASID.

You live and work in New England. What are some New England themes you carry into your design. Is there a prevalent nautical influence in area designs? Which elements do you use?

Design in New England is wrought with history, and for many years, interior design style was primarily traditional.  I see a trend in the last few years of New England’s design aesthetic expanding.  Transitional, contemporary, and modern urban design are much more popular now.   I believe that attention to architectural details and interior finishes are what my clients are looking for in whatever style we are working.

I never assert my personal design style on my client, it is my job to listen and determine the style that most fits my client’s taste.  Whether the client’s home is a beach house on the Cape or a stately colonial in Chestnut Hill, it is my goal to make the end result personal and feel like home.  As a client once said to me when we completed her project, “my house looks like a designer has been here, but my family can live here.”

All spaces are unique, but in New England you must find that there are design features every client wants. Which are most popular? Any type of furniture or finishing you find dependable in pleasing your client? 

I always start first with the bones of the space.  How is the flow, does the space function?  I then develop a design concept which includes the furnishings, carpet, color palette, art and accessories.  If architectural details such as moldings or hard wood floors are needed, we add them first.  Then the soft elements follow.  Color is a trademark of my work.  I love color and all my spaces reflect a deep appreciation for the use of color.

What are you first priorities when meeting a new client in a new space? How much are you matching their needs to your design experiences and current forms of inspiration?

When I first meet a new client, I ask them to tour me through the space and tell me what they like or don’t like about it.  How they use the room will dictate how we will arrange the space and what the pieces and fabrics we will select to furnish it.  I must marry the two elements of a client’s personal taste and current design trends.  I pull from many sources of inspiration when I develop a design plan: nature, art, travel, and trade media.  I use a number of sources to illustrate my concepts to my clients, the world of social media and design websites has actually made my job easier to communicate and present ideas and specific products to my clients.  In the end, I tell my clients that it is my job to propose and explain what I believe to be the best design solution, but it is their house and ultimately they get to decide whether to take my advice or not.

New England has plenty of homes from the 19th and 18th century and with that comes nice hardwood floors, and eventually area rugs. Tell us how you use area rugs in your designs.

I use area rugs in almost all of my projects.  In New England, we find great value in beautiful hardwood floors.  Many of my projects start by refinishing existing floors or adding new wood floors where they don’t exist.  Area rugs define the use of space.   The size and placement can determine intimate groupings or can unite a large space.  The color, pattern, or texture of the carpet is part of every design concept; the carpet may be quiet and serene or may be that pop with colors that unite all the other elements.

Do you have a type of area rugs that you lean on most? Or is it a case-by-case basis?

I like to use many types of area rugs in my work.  Traditional oriental carpets are often found in New England homes because of our history of the East India trade dating back to colonial times.  These carpets withstand the test of time and use and many are handed down from generation to generation.  A more modern variation of these carpets are Tibetan rugs.  Wool area rugs in textured or subtle colors or graphic patterns are lovely and I use them often, especially in bedrooms.  I have also had custom carpets designed for my clients to truly personalize their space and complement the design elements used throughout the room.

Is there a price limit on what you’ll spend on the area rug? 

In my experience, a good quality wool area rug will run from $2000 to $10,000.  I work within my client’s budget to determine what will work best for them and the space.

Any words of design advice for the wannabe’s out there?!

I have been a mentor to design students and emerging professionals for many years.  I encourage new designers to realize it is a profession, not a hobby.  Get a design degree and learn where your interest lies; commercial, residential, or hospitality design.  Go work for someone for a while, there is so much to know you will be more successful and more confident if you learn while working for a professional.  But go for it, express yourself and make the world beautiful.

Where can readers see your work, or make an appointment for consultation?

I invite readers to visit my website to see examples of my work.  I post my design ideas and works in progress on my blog at and on my Facebook page called Bradlee Design.  Please call with inquiries or for a consultation at 781.942.0844.

Thanks for your time

My pleasure!

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