Barrie Spang Channels Kit Kemp In This Whimsical Library Design

The Junior League of Detroit—veterans of almost five decades of showhouses—hosted its biennial event in September 2020, bringing together 27 design teams to reimagine the city’s historic Bingley Fales House. Migrating for the first time to Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood, the 2020 Designers’ Showhouse transformed the first two floors of a more than 100-year-old Georgian mansion into a dynamic mix of decorating styles. “The home has a very interesting history, and it has all its original features,” says charity chair Liana Dabir of the 16,000-square-foot estate set on over an acre of meticulously manicured land.

In our recently released aspire design and home Showhouse Issue, we sat down with designer Barrie Spang to learn more about their creative process in designing the library for this project.

aspire design and home: How much time did you have to complete this room, start to finish?
Barrie Spang: A few months in total as the process sort of started and stopped due to the Pandemic.

aspire: What was your biggest challenge? Did you have a Eureka moment during the process?
Barrie: The biggest challenge to the space was a large built-in bookcase that was not original to the room, so it felt more modern than the rest of the decorative details in the space. My breakthrough moment design-wise was when I decided to wallpaper the back of the shelves and style it with all white books & accessories. It made it feel fresh and unexpected in such a classic space.

aspire: What did you and your team accomplish that you thought would not happen in time?
Barrie: The paperhanger was overwhelmed with work at the house and was not able to hang the wallpaper in the bookshelves, so my assistants and I figured out how to cut, trim, and hang the paper by ourselves. I was really concerned we wouldn’t finish in time, but I am proud of how it turned out.

aspire: What was your inspiration for this room?
Barrie: I was inspired by the many boutique hotels I have visited in London over the years. I just love how colorful & layered they feel. They are always eclectic and feel as if the pieces have been acquired over time.

aspire: Did you step out of your comfort zone for this project, and if so, why?
Barrie: Not really as I wanted the space to reflect who I am as a designer. I love to mix colors and patterns and break some design rules along the way. I don’t always get that opportunity when working with clients, so it is fun to push the boundaries in a Showhouse.

aspire: Despite the fact that there were so many designers involved, there is an inherent cohesiveness to the home. Did you all converse/collaborate? Or was this a completely individual process?
Barrie: This was a pretty individual process for me as I am based in Cleveland and only saw the space once prior to install day. The designer for the Foyer, which was the space directly off of my room, and I chatted briefly at the Designer Brunch about our color palettes, but nothing was set in stone at that time design-wise. I was pleased the spaces flowed so well when completed.

aspire: Is your preference for a showhouse a small space or a large space? Does one or the other provide a better opportunity to stretch your creativity?
Barrie: I think there is opportunity in any space. I look for a room that has character or something unusual to it. My favorite part of doing showhouses is that I mentally design most of the spaces and then when I get to finally tour the completed home it is so exciting for me to see what the other designers have come up with for their space.

aspire: Describe Detroit in one sentence.
Barrie: Detroit is a beautiful mixture of culture, history, and advancement.

This or that:

aspire: Paint or wallpaper?
Barrie: Wallpaper
aspire: Hardwood or rug?
Barrie: Rug
aspire: Beach or Mountains?
Barrie: Beach
aspire: Saturated Color or Black and White?
Barrie: Saturated Color
aspire: Brunch or Dinner?
Barrie: Brunch
aspire: Midcentury or 18th Century?
Barrie: 18th Century
aspire: Draperies, shades, or nothing?
Barrie: Draperies
aspire: 2001: A Space Odyssey or The English Patient?
Barrie: The English Patient
aspire: Week at the spa or Week of Broadway shows?
Barrie: Both, but if forced to pick – Spa

Photography by Jeff Garland.

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