Betsy Berry is an interior designer. But she also is an artist who trades in the tools of function, form and flow. She is a creator who finds inspiration in the smallest of items. And she is a tightrope walker, constantly navigating the delicate balance of natural decor and expressive design. She has held these traits since a young age.
"My earliest memories are details of my friends’ houses and houses that I’ve loved,” Berry says. "But I just took that interest as what it was; not something that I could do for a living.”
Originally a fashion design major in college, Berry traces her interest in interior design to two “epiphanies.” The first came after discovering that her original pursuit, fashion design, was too cut-throat. “The pace and the people were too much — I wanted something more lasting,” she says.
During a fashion internship in Florence, Italy, Berry was enthralled by the architecture and her mind shifted to a new kind of artistic expression. "I wanted to get to know people and know how they live and deliver them an environment that includes the feel and memories of that room,” she says. “I wanted to create something they love coming home to."
Enter her second epiphany: moving to New York City to attend the New York School of Interior Design. In New York, working with high-end residential clients, she built the foundation of her design abilities. She learned how to work on the smallest of details, from woodworking to furniture finishes. Her interior design skills were built from the ground up, and under tight deadlines, too. Instead of wrangling over the minutia, she learned to walk away, take a breath, and be happy with a completed project.
Now, Berry draws from a deep well of inspiration and has an adaptive process for each design. Building on her foundation she garners inspiration from books, magazines and prints. Getting to know her clients and what they like — learning to “read people in other ways” — is just part of her multistep process.
"I think about the entire area around me and conjure the feeling that I want and the feeling the client wants, too,” she says. "Usually through the process I find one thing, a major part of each project that kicks it off."
Chances are, if you’ve seen Berry’s interiors — local restaurants Pancito and Lefty and Lewis Barbecue, or at 86 Cannon, a boutique Charleston hotel — you may not identify a signature style immediately. But peering deeper, you can see Berry’s small but attentive touches and her profound respect for the spaces she designs. They don't stand out in obvious ways or vie for your attention but instead direct your mind to focus on the “function of the space.” That’s one of Berry’s highest priorities.
"If it doesn’t function well, who cares what is on the walls?” she laughs. "Of course, you want it to be beautiful and want people to feel a certain way, but honing in on function and flow is what makes (the space) stand out.”
Berry, after all, isn’t working to make her designs the star of the show; for restaurants, the focus is on the food and the dining experience, not her decor. And that adds up to a large part of Berry’s design process: balancing and editing.
“There’s a quote that the greatest form of design is editing. And I really believe that. I always try to take it back and keep it clean. I don’t want to come into a space and be slammed in the face with a theme,” she laughs.
If you haven’t seen Berry’s work, don’t worry; you will see more of her very soon. She has several spaces coming in 2017, including Workshop, the now-open fancy food hall on King Street that features rotating kitchens with quality chefs and different cuisines, and Hampden Clothing, a women’s clothing shop featuring high-end designer clothing. In addition to working with residential clients, Berry also is working on a large brewery concept space in Charleston.
And yet, with an impressive portfolio and an intense work ethic, Berry sums up her work rather simply. “At the end of the day,” she says, “you’re providing an experience for other people. That’s what I want to do.”
There may not be a more personal form of art than that.
Betsy Berry’s website is bberryinteriors.com.
Reach Scott Elingburg at firstname.lastname@example.org.