Monday, July 10, 2017

Designer I Love: Pamela Babey

San Francisco interior designer Pamela Babey defines cosmopolitan style. With top clients in every super-charged capital of the globe, she boldly delineates highly original rooms and décor that linger in the mind and dance on the retina.

In Hong Kong, Doha, Chicago, New York, Santiago, Singapore, Paris, Lake Garda, Madrid, The Hague, Milan, Boston, Los Angeles and other star-studded capitals Pamela and her team at BAMO polish and perfect rooms that matter, interiors that resonate.

Come with me and meet Pamela Babey, the forceful and brilliant founder/partner in highly acclaimed San Francisco-based BAMO, and learn her secrets.

San Francisco designer Pamela Babey creates virtuoso décor for chic, imaginative and adventurous clients around the world. Her specialty is understated luxury.

“I am a rebel modernist,” said Pamela Babey, a co-founder in 1991 of the internationally successful San Francisco interior design firm, BAMO.

“I believe bigger is better, and that exuberance in design is a wonderful thing,” said Babey. Her renegade modernist apartment on Russian Hill is a luscious treasure chest of the finest Venetian glass, 18ttth -century etchings, shimmering Fortuny fabrics, rich velvets, and gilded detailing.

Babey, with a highly successful career spanning more than four decades, says she is definitely not a minimalist.

“Less is less exciting, and more is always a thrill,” said Babey recently, at the San Francisco headquarters of BAMO. “ I’m a modernist who loves collections, vivid color, the glint of gold, the gleam of silver, and I can create both subtle and dramatic detail in interiors. I love to delight the eye.”

Babey, with her signature fiery red hair, chic Chanel and Hermes ensembles, in-the-know conversation, and joyful creative energy, is a leader and a visionary in the world of luxury interiors. She was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Inspiration is fleeting and what inspires me at this particular moment may not have gotten a second thought last year. Inspiration stirs the senses and gladdens the heart. I keep my mind open for ideas and new concepts. I constantly seek new places, new books, new people, new art, museums, architecture and fashion to keep excited and inspired and fresh. Designers should know design history thoroughly—and it’s essential that they know what’s exciting now, and what new art show or film or music or styles reflect the zeitgeist.” — Pamela Babey, BAMO

Pamela Babey and Villa Feltrinelli

Pamela designed and re-imagined fabulous Villa Feltrinelli hotel on Lake Garda… that feels more like a grand private mansion than a 5-star hotel.

So successful is her décor that she has refreshed and redesigned it over the years.

In the 2016 update to the Salon, Pamela brought in blue and white Rubelli watercolor fabric, for the feeling of a summer house. The chartreuse and coral pillows accent the butterfly prints that encircle the room. Side chairs are slipcovered in crisp white linens, impeccably maintained by the Villa staff.

In 2016 Pamela updated the Pastore Suite with pale blue-gray colors on the walls and fabrics. She took the sweetness away with a black, white, and gray Fortuny accent. The rooms sparkle.

Lakeside verandas with red and white details frame world-renowned dining the Villa is known for, with views of the water. The terrace is furnished in an almost tent-like fashion with sconces and hanging lights, creating a rustic but convivial atmosphere. 

Babey has spent the last forty years travelling the world, designing luxurious hotels and residences. Selecting art, antiques, and rare decorative objects, she has also developed a community of artisans worldwide. Babey infuses each space with elegance, expression, and pure enjoyment.

“For some projects, my clients love bold color and heightened theatricality in their interiors,” she said. “For others, the effect is muted, pale, and understated.”

Heaven, for her, is in the detail.

Opening up a lavish portfolio of images of a grand hotel she designed overlooking Lake Garda in Northern Italy, she indicated her use of rich hues and artful embellishments. Villa Feltrinelli, a 21-room hotel, is a former family castle built in 1890 in the neo-Gothic style.

“It’s not a heavy-handed restoration. It’s understated luxury, but it’s real luxury,” she said.” This was a fantasy project. We designed everything from crystal to bed linens, to theatrical lighting.”

Working at BAMO with partners Gerry Jue, Michael Booth, Dorothy Greene, and Steve Henry, Babey oversees a portfolio that includes décor as varied as hotels in Uruguay and Bora Bora, Han Yue Lou Hotel in Nanjing, a private residence in Abu Dhabi, a residential compound in Beijing, and several residences and a luxury yacht in Hong Kong.

“Our plan in hotel design is to give a nod to yesterday but make the decor very cosmopolitan, very today,” said Babey. “We don’t do formula design. My designs for hotels feels fresh, a little eccentric, very personal and more like a residence than a hotel.”

Signatures of Babey and her team are clear “happy” colors, subtle textures, attention to detail, and a high degree of fine craftsmanship and planning.

“I am inspired by the exotic nature of D’Annunzio, the spit-and-glue of Tony Duquette, the peace ofa rose garden, the rich patina of well-worn objects. I find inspiration in the spunk of Elsie de Wolf, the rage of Clare Booth Luce, the luscious sensuality of Manolo Blahnik and the taste of a simple roasted chicken. When recalled in the right proportions, they provide the passion to create.” — Pamela Babey, BAMO

Design for Pamela Babey is about the joy of dreaming, creating, experimenting.

“My favorite part of design for clients and for myself is collecting and applying all the details of the decor--the art, the fabrics, the china, the cutlery, the antiques, the frames for the mirrors, the trims and carpets,” said Babey. “It’s so stimulating to do this, and it can give everyone so much delight and surprise. Success for each design project means taking each detail to the nth degree.”

One of her most exciting recent projects has been designing a superyacht, the Lady Candy, for a longtime Hong Kong client.

The yacht now features guest cabins with Fortuny ‘Tapa’ walls and headboards, and very pale wood veneers. Doors are leather with leather hardware, giving a silent feeling to the cabins. Other guest suites feature Rubelli silks. Large suites feature handpainted de Gournay wall coverings.

“I love the color red,” said the designer. ”I think everybody should have a red room. When you walk into the room, it gives a sudden burst of energy, like a shot of caffeine. I am lucky to have several clients and a partner who agree.”

Babey has been traveling to Venice for much of her life, and finds the array of colors, Gothic architecture, the theatrical interiors, her friends, and the reflective light endlessly inspiring.

“I often visit the studio and factory of Fortuny in Venice,” Babey noted. “ It is truly astounding what richness can be created simply by layering paint onto a piece of cotton fabric. Today I can say I will never tire of Fortuny; I cannot imagine life without it.” 

One reason for Babey’s success is that she is always working, and constantly curious and open to new ideas.

“It is impossible to create in a vacuum. My colleagues and clients, and fine artists and craftspeople inspire and energize me. Add to that the interaction from some of the world’s finest artisans and you have an amazing assortment of ideas and solutions, all beautifully crafted. Working on the Villa Feltrinelli, I was very pleased to find highly talented Italian artisans whose crafts were handed down from one generation to the next.” 

At Home with Pamela Babey

“Inspiration is a very personal thing,” added Babey, whose favorite ‘holidays’ includes visiting historic architecture in Portugal, Italy, France and Miami. “I try to surround myself with an environment and with activities and people that give me energy, and passion, to create. In the end, with all of my work and all design I ask myself “Is it pretty?” and the answer must be a very affirmative ‘yes’.”

In my own apartment I have mirrors hung on top of mirrors, and I love the layering of reflecting,” said Babey, who also layers sofas with pillows and table cloths of antique Fortuny fabrics in mysterious colors. She said she will never tire of Fortuny and cannot imagine life without it.

All photography her courtesy of Pamela Babey, BAMO, used here with express permission.


1000 Brannan Street
San Francisco

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