Modern and traditional in her signature interiors and leadership in business, Charlotte-based Barrie Benson, one of the most recognizable names in interior design with an impeccable career spanning years and locales, empowers with her fearless feminist-inspired philosophy. With a genesis in the hotel industry, Benson quickly realized the culture of working 80-hour weeks with heavy travel was no sanctified way to wade a family into the world. Tyrannically torn with the trifecta juggle between working-entrepreneur-mother, she arrived at a crossroads most do at some point – family or career. She undoubtedly chose both.
interview / nicole camack — photography / chris edwards for thesogood.com
Opposed to the insular nature of corporations and big businesses that encourage separation of family and work, Benson empowered the inclusion of external inspirational elements in her work, and in her team. “You can’t get us on weekends or after certain times,” she says. The environment created one explained to clients at first blush, professional, efficient and creative, with an added flair to perspective. “Family should not be seen as a weakness. It makes for function and understanding,” she says. “80% of my clients are families. It can be creative, but also functional design because I’ve been there. We are mothers working for other mothers.”
Benson has no superwoman complex, balancing both sides of the working mother coin, with lucid recognition into her reality. “Let friends help you,” she advises. “As soon as you are able, hire out what you don’t do well. Very few creatives have the entire package, but first you must pay your dues and learn to do it all. I have spent my entire career wanting to be a creative director to my business. I am getting close.”
Consistently channeling creativity while doing it all remains a concept most entrepreneurs can testify to, and turn around and baptize themselves in their own sweat and tears. “Some of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing is to talk to people who are in entirely different professions. Removing yourself from your regular routine; cross-pollination is so important for ideas,” she says. And this queen bee will not compromise.
With her nonexistent daily ritual abounding with unpredictability amid family, design, and business, one constant reigns: “I’m very inconsistent and it is different every day, but definitely coffee in the morning and red wine at night.” And then there’s Chautauqua. “My yearly ritual is going to New York for seven weeks to reset. Each week has a theme. I pledge to myself and to my family that I will not do any work,” she says.
But sabbaticals and creative breaks don’t only come in esoteric locales and extended time away. “Have a Sunday or a couple of hours in the week or in the day to make sacred,” Benson says. “Have time off where you focus on something else. Relax and absorb something else. That’s enough to put the weeks that are hard into perspective.”
And of course, travel as the ultimate escape and inspiration. “Travel is everything. You should carve it into your life – that’s a hard thing to do when you have kids,” Benson admits. She has a cure for the wanderlusters who simply cannot get away: shamelessly stalk those Pinterest and Instagram accounts that allow you to vicariously abscond with the creativity you crave – “a little window into new things, new experiences,” she says.
Both New York and Charlotte keep Benson grounded. “New York is a great source of creativity and inspiration for me, and Charlotte is a perfect home base – easy to grocery shop, educate children, and fly in and out of,” she says. When Benson’s schedule subsides, she designs a unique anchor around family. “My favorite room is the kitchen. It’s where I like to be when I’m home. I like to cook while everyone bustles around. Cooking a meal grounds me. It’s the first thing I do when I return home from a trip.”
This is a journey that multitudes of women creatives in the throes of motherhood and creative pursuits pleasurably plague themselves with – the balance and the bliss, and in the belief that they shall persist and prevail in the success and adventure of it all. And Benson remains right at the front of that trail.
What’s the one thing that made you say, this is my path? Italy. I took an interior design class at University of Georgia’s Studies Abroad program and never looked back. I was a History major at Furman. I earned my B.A. in History and convinced my parents that I had to go back to school for Interior Design.
Favorite artists: Willem De Kooning; Elizabeth Peyton; Selena Beaudry; Florence Leif; Franz Kline.
Drink of choice: It depends on the season: Italian wine during the winter months, Dark and Stormys throughout the summer, along with rose.
Watering hole: Wherever my husband resides — he is the best bartender anywhere.
Go-to place for dinner: In Charlotte, it’s Barrington’s or Good Food, both Bruce Moffet restaurants. In New York, I rely on about three trusted friends to point me where to go. The Modern is consistently good.
This interview was conducted fall 2014.