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It’s all about Linda

At Home magazine got up close and personal with the nation’s favourite interior designer act to find out what makes her tick

How did you meet your partner Chris?

We met at art college many moons ago. I was a teenager on an art foundation course and Chris was the student union president. I’ve known him since I was 19 years old. However, we met years later, when I was 27 and the rest, as they say, is history. I guess it was just the right time and the right place for me at that stage of my life.

What does he think of your celebrity status?

Chris is managing director of my mail order business, Really Linda Barker, so I’m sure he doesn’t consider me a ‘celebrity’. He’s not fazed by people in the public eye.

He used to work at Endemol (the company responsible for bringing us Big Brother) so is very used to working with people on TV. Once I started getting busy with the mail order business, Chris stepped in to manage it. It’s great to have my family helping me to drive the new business. As far as my public persona goes, both Chris and I accept that I am public property to a certain extent and this kind of life is short-lived so my attitude is to enjoy it while it lasts! What’s more, this celebrity status means I am able to do so much more with my life ‘ including my charity work. So it all pays off in the end.
Do you find it tough juggling a career as well as being a mother to Jessica?

It has been hard at times. Essentially I am freelance so I try and ensure that I am always free during Jessica’s school holidays. If you’re master of your own destiny then you can say ‘No’ to work at times. I’m lucky having Chris around ‘ parenting is 50/50 in our household and that helps. He’s a very modern man and I’m fortunate to have his full support. We can’t believe our little girl is 13 years old though. I’ve loved every stage of her childhood so far!
Describe your ideal family day out?

When we get away we often go to our house in Yorkshire. It’s very relaxing and, of course, we feel very at home there. I usually walk the dog and enjoy some quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of London life. Having said that, we do enjoy days out in London, too.

We’ll go to the markets and museums ‘ although Jessica struggles with museums now! But as she’s getting older, she can experience new things ‘ like the theatre. London is great for a teenager ‘ under supervision, of course!
Has Jessica got a creative mind similar to you?

Yes, she has. But she’s less practical than I am. She’s very imaginative and writes really great stories. I suppose creativity runs in the family. Jessica’s been making lots of clothes recently ‘ especially tops. I always have loads of glitter and beads around the house so I guess it’s a natural progression for her to make things out of them.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an interior designer?

I imagine I might have a job in fashion ‘ making clothes for women. Or I can see myself doing something with architecture. No matter what, I would have definitely stayed in the design and creative arts arena.
How did you get into the interior design industry?

I never really thought about it in too much detail when I was younger. It wasn’t on the school curriculum and wasn’t something I had in my sight. I just knew I that I wanted to do something with art, and apart from being an artist or teaching art at a college, there were very few opportunities open to me.

At one point, I did try and and paint but I soon realised that I needed money to buy pots of paint and a car to transport it. So early on in my career, I ended up doing various miscellaneous jobs but after a few years, I wanted to get back to my art ‘ that’s what always made me happy.

I started experimenting by doing up my own property. This was back in the 80s when there was a whole colour explosion going on. It meant I could create amazing murials and really go to town with decorative ideas. Lots of my friends asked me to do their houses and it snowballed from there. I was asked to do magazine features and I just loved the variety of work. Soon, I was being asked to design pieces of furniture too ‘ and my interior design life just evolved organically

Around the same time, TV producers were looking for people to audition for BBC’s Changing Rooms and I got a call after they saw some of the books I’d written earlier. It was as simple as that. Of course, I was terrified but excited too. I couldn’t have asked for a better TV debut than Changing Rooms ‘ it was a life-changing experience and to be on there for an incredible nine years was just fantastic.

What do you most like about your job?

The variety ‘ without a doubt. And now it’s really enjoyable because I have my mail order catalogue business to throw myself into. I have been able to build on what people know me for ‘ affordable design. It’s an exciting time as a designer. No two days are the same. I can have a day in the office, another day raising funds and awareness for the charity work I’m involved in and on the third day, I might be invited to give an after-dinner speech. Life’s far from dull as a designer!
What do you least enjoy about your job?

Well, on the whole, I feel pretty lucky about all of it. But if you pushed me to pick one thing, then it’s probably the public speaking part of my job ‘ it can be nerve-wracking. On the other hand, I like the challenges I’m given ‘ even though they can be scary to overcome.
How would you sum up your design style?

Bohemian, modern, contemporary and quite quirky! The way I design is not too perfect, not too contrived, not precise. I like the ‘lived in’ look. Half the fun of what I do is putting the look together from scratch ‘ with no rigid rules or boundaries.
What’s been one of your worst design disasters?

Oh, that would have to have beena TV situation on Changing Rooms. The thing people don’t realise is that there are lots of contributors on those types of shows. It’s not like you have a client/designer relationship where you’d have a lot of say as a designer. It was stressful having the contributors simply say ‘I don’t like it’ simply because it wasn’t to their taste.

I remember my very first episode ‘ I was painting a huge script on a wall. It was very creative and colourful and exciting but the owner absolutely hated it. She was so cross with us all.

I still stand by what I did on that show ‘ especially with regards to some of my signature stuff. TV is often a very pressurised situation.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Travel is a big inspiration. I often find I work with pieces in rich, heavy colours I’ve spotted abroad. Buildings are also an inspiration. In fact anything can inspire or motivate me to try something new.
Are you influenced by a particular culture or period of time?

Not necessarily, I like to mix things up ‘ old and new, antique and modern. I’m breaking rules all the time. People tend to think that small rooms shouldn’t have big items in them ‘ but I often break this rule, too. Sometimes, a big dramatic piece is so unexpected that it’s just what the room needs.

What has been your proudest moment in your career?

Launching my own business with my own money. I look back now and wonder how I managed to do it all. It’s a very exciting and successful product. I love hearing people talk about seeing the catalogue. This autumn we’ll launch a concession in Jarrolds, in Norwich ‘ we have 250sq ft to kit out. I can’t wait.

Where do you shop when you decorate your own house?

It’s so difficult to choose just one place now that regular high street retailers sell home accessories. And let’s not forget the trade shows. It’s great ‘ we’re spoilt for choice. I’m glad that the current design climate is comfortable ‘ that minimalist look is going away and it feels much more healthy today.
Do you have a favourite room that you prefer designing?

Not really. Bedrooms are intimate places so they are great. Kitchens are a challenge since they’re almost just one-space living these days.
What are your aims and ambitions for the future?

Well, my mail order business is my main focus and concentration for the moment. I’m doing more product design, too. And of course, I’m always in talks about new ideas for TV. I think we could do with something new design-wise on TV.
What advice would you give to people who want to join theinterior design industry?

Be honest with yourself. If your passion is just to get on TV and you don’t really have an interest in design, then you just won’t enjoy it or get that real satisfaction. If, however, you have a thirst for design, keep reading up about it, get yourself on various courses and keep at it.
What’s your favourite item of clothing?

I have this most amazing summer dress ‘ gorgeously floaty and colourful. It was bought for me in Sardinia by a dear friend. I can dress it up or down. It’s so versatile.Where do you like to shop for clothes?

I can shop all over the place! I’ll get some key pieces in high street stores such as River Island or TopShop or I’ll treat myself to a quality pair of jeans from Selfridges. I’m not really a label-led person, although I have to admit they’re the clothes that tend to last.
What music do you enjoy?

I’m a real fan of chill out music. I can turn up the volume big time on trance music too! Right now, I’m listening to a bit of jack Johnson I love his voice.

Are you a good cook?

Yes! I adore cooking. And I love shopping for quality ingredients. One of my favourite things is cooking for friends, throwing dinner parties. There’s nothing better.
Where’s your favourite holiday destination?

I’d have to say Italy. I love the Italian style ‘ from the food to the fashion to the people. Nowhere else has style like Italy has. Sardinia and Roma are two of my fave places.
What was the last book you read?

The Tenth circle by Jodie Picoult. and Atonement by Ian McEwan. I hear it’s going to be a major film next year.
I tend to read a lot of books I should have read years ago!

You once worked with Tara Palmer Tompkinson on the show With a little help form my friends. What was she like?

Fantastic! Very hyper though. She’s really quite mad but I loved her uniqueness. She was exciting to be around. Totally unpredictable but very dynamic. And clever, too.
How on earth do you keep in shape and look so great?

Yoga, walking my dog and I’m at the gym four to five times a week, too. I work out with weights and do the cardio machines. I love keeping healthy. It’s not a chore for me. If I want to keep eating the way I do, then the gym is just a part of my everyday life.

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