A Conversation with Designer Beth Webb
On Virtual Designing, the Importance of Comfort, and Cooking Everyday
Texture, tension and light are the three tenets that distinguish Beth Webb’s design sensibility. The Atlanta based interior designer is known for her sophisticated interiors that marry elegance with ease and simplicity–the result is a breadth of work that conveys a sense of well being–a combination of beauty and comfort. Her ability to layer and contrast textures and light creates an inviting warmth in the rooms she designs. Webb is recognised internationally for her interiors, and has been featured in magazines including Veranda, Elle Décor, House Beautiful, Milieu, and Luxe. She serves as a board member of the prestigious interior design and architecture organization, the Design Leadership Network (DLN).
In 2017, her book An Eye for Beauty (Rizzoli 2017) was published and that year she spoke on the ‘Mix Masters’ panel at the Fall Show Lecture Series, which focused on combining different styles, finishes and periods to create a room with multiple personalities. She has found the Fall Show to be invaluable in her search for pieces for clients, both while she is there and afterwards. When she buys online, she says, she buys from dealers she has met in person. “I’ve developed relationships with dealers at shows,” she explained. “when you are buying online, it’s good to know the dealer; dealers I have met usually follow up with me. If you are buying from a dealer you know and have a history with, have a conversation with the dealer first.”
Beth Webb (second from left) on the Mix Masters Panel at the 2017 Fall Show,
along with designers Ellie Cullman, David Phoenix and Suzanne Tucker.
I spoke by phone with Webb about work and life in an increasingly virtual world. Although her business is based in Atlanta, she has spent most of 2020 (and lockdown) in the weekend home on Brays Island in South Carolina that she shares with her husband. “It’s a sporting collective,” she shared “my husband built the house in 2006 in the Lowcountry, inland on the river. We were set up to go remote 3 weeks before the lockdown. My staff has been stellar, I have a principal who is in Atlanta and everyone is staggered coming in and out of the office,” she said. “At first it felt like slogging through quicksand, but we’ve really pivoted in a miraculous way. I’m finding our clients are doing well with Zoom. We’ve done installations remotely—hired local stylists, and I was on Facetime the whole time—we’ve had 2 or 3 installations during lockdown. As we’ve gotten further into it, we’ve learned safer ways to do things. We have stringent PPE rules and always call ahead to make sure everyone is safe and well”.
View from kitchen door on Brays Island, Photograph by Beth Webb
With so much of design being textures and colors, at some point people need to see and touch things first-hand. Webb has that covered, “when we have a virtual presentation, we send a box of “goodies”; physical assets to the clients in advance so they can feel everything. They are very much a part of it. We send renderings of the rooms, physical boards, a tactile presentation. It’s more thoughtful design,” she explained. “(Pre-pandemic) we were on planes 3-4 days a week. We had industry events constantly. We loved doing all those things but it takes time, and all of a sudden I have that time back, and I’m able to do more design work than I have in years. I have become much more circumspect and I’m more engaged with my clients and staff.”
Living Room in Brays Island Home, Photograph courtesy of Beth Webb
Once the events of 2020 are a thing of the past, there has been much speculation about the lasting effects—what habits will remain? Webb hopes this new concept of time is one, “I hope it lasts,” she confesses. “I’ve been reminded of my early days in the business where I had one job and I had time to work on it. I’d stay up all hours of the night scheming and dreaming. I think we have found that we don’t need to travel so much; there was a lot of thinking that you couldn’t do without it, but you can! I am excited to be able to be on a job site again and do the work. On the other hand, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be there for five days–I can hire a stylist–we’re learning new tricks; that’s the silver lining. We’ve always had a lot of remote work–we’re all used to working all over the place, remote has always been in the equation–but we’ve gotten even more adept.”
A Tale of Two Homes
Webb’s two homes couldn’t be more different. “Atlanta is the more intimate, formal space,” she says, while Brays Island is ‘not decorated’. “My husband built the house-it’s a super modern glass house; when I met him, he had two sofas and a lamp!” she joked. “For the past five years we’ve been focusing on the yard.”
Atlanta House Dining Room, Photo courtesy of Beth Webb
Choosing a favorite piece in her homes was easy. “I do love art,” she admitted. “I was on the board of the Florence Academy of Art. If I have to pick one piece, it would be a drawing by Charles Weed, a head study-a portrait in the dining room in Atlanta. I love to collect. We buy antiques when we travel,” she shared. I shop a lot in London. I love Pimlico Road. We are always shopping the globe.”
Charles Weed drawing in the Atlanta dining room, Photo courtesy of Beth Webb
The one thing the two homes have in common is comfort. “I’m such a comfort person,” Webb admits. “Your house can be beautiful but if it’s not comfortable, no one wants to be there. You need to infuse your home with soul, create intimacy; the ergonomics of design are important to me,” she shares. Webb also focuses on the usability of rooms, “I like every room in a house to be used,” she said, “I don’t want a useless living room. If you engineer those rooms correctly, they will have all the parts and pieces that make it work–tuck a TV into a bookshelf in the dining room, for example, get custom cabinetry and comfortable upholstery,-relax the room, humanize it and make it less intimidating,” she advises. “I’m in the study all day long, then at night we’re in the main living area. The table is set for dinner every night and we have club chairs in the bedroom and go in there in the evening to have a cocktail.”
Living Room in Brays Island
Design Perspectives in a Time of Isolation
Webb has noticed an increase in the discussion around how the months of isolation have changed people’s perspectives on their homes and design. She typically gets two types of calls as a prospective designer for a client: “first, Zen,” she says, meaning a peaceful, relaxed design. The second is “traditional—comfort and familiarity. People are gravitating toward warmth,” she explains. “Hard edged metal surfaces, super modern, cold—that’s a hard sell. I’m always going to make it warm in some way whether it’s contemporary or not. I’m not a trendy designer; I listen to my clients and do what they want. You can make anything interesting–it’s tactile–you want to feel cocooned. Now more than ever, our home is our haven.”
Webb does miss travel though, “I love to travel,” she admits. “We were so lucky. Just before all this happened, we went to London, Paris, St. Barts. Back in the day, you used to get dressed up to get on a plane, one of the civilities that use to be a part of travel. I do hope that comes back—the thoughtfulness of travel.”
Japanese bronze Lobster from Cliff Leonard in Atlanta Living Room
Cooking is Like Design
With no travel, and no social engagements, Webb has never been busier. “we had a collection launched with Arteriors in March-accessories, furniture, and lighting. I am the guest designer for spring of 2020 and I’ll have a presence at Highpoint in October. And I’ve been busy thinking about my next book…” she shared.
The Beth Webb Collection for Arteriors
But there is time for relaxing and fun. “My husband has lost 15 pounds and I’ve lost 10! We walk more-we’re in a place where we can, and we ride bikes. We have a 5-acre community garden, and we had a glorious spring; we go to the garden every day and get fresh vegetables: squash, okra, melons. I love to cook, I cook everyday and my husband has learned to cook.” she shared.
Produce from the Brays Island Garden
“Cooking is like design: you have to plan for it. We also order food online—we’ve found all these great places that ship-pizzas from Italy, homemade chicken pot pie…” Sounds delightful.
By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat
Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director at Large, living in London with her family. Follow Ariane on her blog, Sojournest, where she focuses on all things home and travel.