Charlotte-based interior designer Barrie Benson isn’t going for trend or trying to recreate a look of the moment. Instead, she’s digging for depth and dedicating her passion for design to the community she’s called home for the past two decades. Benson creates visually-stunning aesthetics that demand your full attention and give a respectful nod to Charlotte’s southern history.
In her 20-plus year career, Benson has become a fixture of Charlotte’s design scene and solidified her standing as a designer and businesswoman to watch. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Elle Décor, Southern Living, and InStyle among others.
When it comes to talking about her work, Benson is warm and well-versed, but she is also direct and categorical. It’s clear part of her success stems from an ability to be as precise herself as the designs she makes. Her attention-to-detail and tendency toward perfectionism give her the ability to balance vastly different types of projects, implementing everything from architectural work, to the floorplan of a grocery store, to installing the perfect door handles in a client’s home.
Benson is best known for her ability to seamlessly mix different eras, underlining timeless looks with touches of modernity. But perhaps even more importantly for Charlotteans is Benson’s dedication to infusing some history into the contemporary landscape that is the Queen City. In a place that once underwent a rapid removal of its original backdrop and since entered a period of widespread new development, Benson is acutely aware of preserving and honoring what defines this city and its people. She and her husband, Matt Benson, are both advocates for the preservation of Southern architecture. Matt, a former chair, still serves on the Historic Landmark Commission.
Barrie brings this same concern to her own projects: she mines through the heirlooms and objects her clients have boxed up or stuffed in an attic, looking to unearth pieces that will give context and charm to her clients new homes.
“I think that being able to show some of those things you grew up with is really important,” Benson explains. ”It’s a different way to look at pieces that are special to you, and walking into a house that doesn’t have any kind of reference to where you grew up or who you are is a bit soulless.”
In an age when everyone has access to everything just a click away, you want to have things that other people cant have because it says something about your personality and your family, she says. This is also part of Benson’s dedication to ensuring that, when looking at her projects, the outside viewer sees her client first and foremost. In fact, she refuses to define any one particular aesthetic in her projects as being her own. “Its all about concept. I want to figure out my client, whats important to them, how they live, what they love. I research what means something to them, and then I start with that.” To tap into the surrounding Southern vibe, Benson likes to use bright, bold patterns and encourage her clients to showcase collections your grandmother might have passed down old southern frames or a set of china. ”If its a Southern family, I want to make sure thats shining through.”
Benson threw herself in the deep end of the design world out of the gate. Upon graduating from Furman University, Benson attended UGA for interior design school, then took her first job with the largest hospitality design firm in the world, Hersh Bedner Associates, and spent her mid-twenties traveling the world with them. “It was the sort of life-changing, whirlwind experience most twenty-year-olds only dream of. It was also an intensive position that required a lot of hard work, a crash course in design on a grand scale. I got some great jobs and got pushed into some situations that were a little bit above my head so I learned a lot that way. When I wasn’t traveling, I was hand-drawing eight hours a day. I learned how to build everything from the entry desk of a hotel, to bathroom countertops, to pieces of furniture.” The experience gave Benson a unique perspective on design, exposing her to a myriad of elements and styles from far flung places. Its one that jives well with her clients today, who often bring ideas about home design from their own travels abroad.
Since starting her self-named interior design company in 2000, Benson has tackled both the residential and commercial market in Charlotte. Among her other projects, Benson spent the last two years completing the pictured Foxcroft estate. She executed a complete overhaul of the house, a top-to-bottom redesign with her husband doing the architectural work. Initially, she says “the home was very French, [so] we stripped the house and took it back to a very simple traditional base.” The look her clients were after was one that balanced glamour with an air of the casual. Benson mixed together neutrals and colors, paired simple linens with shiny golds and silvers, and made sure every room was livable and accessible.
The process of each design project Benson does starts with her research into the clients needs. Once she feels confident about the themes, colors, and ideas, her and the design team do the intensive work of coming up with physical plans for a presentation. From there, she makes further adjustments, big and small, until the client is fully comfortable with moving forward to the ordering and installation process.
Several of the pieces used in her Foxcroft design are from local companies like Hickory Chair Furniture, who build nearly all of their furniture right in North Carolina. In an effort to support the local economy, Benson integrates local furniture and upholstery whenever possible.
Another of the notable recent projects Benson is immersed in is the newest location of Reid’s, a specialty foods store in Charlotte that was started over 40 years ago. For Benson, it’s one of her favorite projects she’s ever done. Working with Tim O’Brien, architect for RBA, Benson assisted in the entire concept for the new store location, using a local lens and vintage aesthetic as a tribute to its backyard history.
The project has all of my favorite things – food, cooking, design and graphic design – all mixed together, Benson says.
It also represents one of the things that matters to Benson most. Its important to have places like Reid’s. You can get groceries at Harris Teeter and Publix, but what you cant get is history, that little bit of hometown and community.