Welcome to Design Your Second Half, the podcast conversation about getting the lifestyle you truly want in your second half of life ~ one that fills you up with meaning and purpose, joy and connection.
On the last podcast I spoke with travel experts Eve and Thomas Chauvel. They described how they help people select the perfect vacation.
Today, I’d like to continue on that theme. Barbara Bell of Barbara Bell Interiors will be joining me to talk about her recent travel and how it’s changed her perspective on how to live.
We all know that traveling can be an immersive experience. It can open your eyes to a new way of life that you just never considered because it’s not the custom or heritage you were born into. Some of it’s so good, we wonder why we don’t live that way ourselves.
It’s so rewarding to travel, especially in your second half of life, that most of us make it a high priority but sometimes anxiety slows us down from taking a trip. We listen to the news and hear things that make us afraid to travel. We think about all the choices on where to stay from hotels to airbnb’s to home exchanges and trying to figure out the best one feels overwhelming.
There’s a lot to coordinate when you leave town from finding someone to watch your pets to figuring out which credit card to use and which mobile phone plan or app to use for communicating while you’re gone.
We have to figure out how we’ll pay for the trips and some people become anxious thinking about all the money being spent and the impact of not saving more when you can.
The thing is, there’s so much to be gained by setting a course and following through. When we travel to new places, it’s like we are gifted with the eyes of a child. Everything we look at is new to us. The tastes of the local cuisine are new to us. The sounds are new to us. We get to experience things for the first time which doesn’t happen very much in our second half. This exploration is exhilarating. We’re going to talk about some of this with Barbara Bell.
Let me tell you a little about her and her design firm Barbara Bell Interiors. Her signature brand of interior design emphasizes comfort, functionality, and beauty in equal measures. She helps her clients achieve their dream home so that it’s a unique expression of their lifestyle and needs.
Barbara has designed many penthouse properties in iconic New York City buildings such as the Mondrian and Trump Palace. She’s adept at combining contemporary interiors with antique elements and collected art.
Barbara has served as an adjunct professor of Interior Design at Pace University and she’s designed several public libraries in New York and New Jersey with an emphasis on Children’s Rooms. She’s participated in major show houses and is well recognized in the competitive world of design in the New York Metropolitan Area.
Without any more delay, let’s get to her.
N: Barbara, it's so wonderful to talk with you. I am excited to learn all about your travels and talk about traveling in our second half today and design and all other things that come up in the conversation. Thank you for being here with me.
B: You're welcome. I'm looking forward to it.
N: You just came back from Paris from a pretty big deal in the design world, a show. Tell us about that experience.
B: Yes, it was absolutely fantastic. In Paris, twice a year, they put on a show called Maison et Objet. It is a show that is so huge, we had no idea until we got there, as to how huge this show is. It's held in 12 buildings outside of Paris, and each building hosts a different theme. One is cooking, one is children, one is fashion, then there are several buildings for interior design.
This particular show attracts people from all over the world. As far away as Russia, Morocco, and it was an opportunity to see things that we otherwise never would have been exposed to. The level of creativity was simply mindboggling. It was just a marvelous experience. Even having lunch and sharing tables with people from all over the world. A really eye-opening and exciting design experience and personal experience.
N: Sounds fantastic. What did you take away? What can you bring back to your design work in New York?
B: Well, what was interesting for me in terms of the design was the fact that I realized in a way that I don't think I ever did before, how much design there is out there that we in America don't get to see. That there are so many creative vendors who are really selling to other markets but are not selling in the United States for whatever reason, and that offer a certain level of merchandise that you really don't get to see in New York or in this country at all. They don't have distribution, but they do distribute to European, Asian and African markets.
So there was a lot more handmade, handcrafted ... When I say handmade and handcrafted though, I don't want to suggest that it's like what you see at a craft show. I'm talking at a very high level. Things that are made in a way that have texture and they have kind of ethnic design and wovens, and things that are just very tactical and very different, and much less of a machine oriented type of design than you would see in America. Many, many, many more things of color. Lots and lots of saturated color. Very unique designs. Things that are hard to get here like a upholster cheap.
N: How fun.
B: Peacocks, just incredible baskets. That was one very big takeaway because they were literally two buildings of that. Then also there were a lot of things that were also historical in the sense that they were made by factories that are 300 and 400 years old and are still in operation. So it was really a mind-expanding and merchandise-expanding experience. I'm looking forward to possibly working with some of these vendors overseas to bring these things into my designs.
N: Wonderful. So in other words, even though they don't have distribution in the United States, you could still access it by going to that show.
B: Yes, you can.
N: Okay, fantastic. Well, what beyond the show ... This was a big travel experience, tell us about that.
B: Well, there were a lot of other things about this that was very interesting because when I've gone to Paris in the past, I've gone mainly as a tourist. But this time, another designer and I actually shared someone's apartment. So we
were actually living in Paris in a regular Parisian neighborhood, accessing local shops and shopping for food, going to cafes in local areas that were really neighborhoods and that was incredible fun. Just a whole different type of experience than what I've had there before.
B: We also went to several other things besides the show at Maison et Objet that were hosted by various vendors and professional organizations. One of them was a brunch that was held at the Paris Flea Market. Now, I've always heard of
the Paris Flea Market, but I never realized that the Paris Flea Market is seven miles of vendors. All in various shops. And every conceivable kind of merchandise you could possibly imagine, from Art Deco, to historical, to handcrafted things. It was just a mind-boggling experience to see that.
There is also a design district where several ... Many. I shouldn't say several. Many showrooms exist, some of which are showrooms from the United States, others are from other countries and of all different types. Handmade and hand
block wallpapers, fabrics. They held a marvelous three-day party in which they hosted all sorts of events, but took all their unusual textiles and turned them into lampshades and hung them on the street as lanterns to demarcate where
these showrooms were. It was just a magical ... It was just magical to see all these lampshades floating above you in all these different colors.
I mean, we had quite an unusual experience. And living among the Parisian, as a Parisian, in an apartment building and going to the local for breakfast, and going down to the local bistro for lunch or dinner. It was really immersing yourself in the Parisian experience in a very different way.
N: So let's just take that, then you come home. I always think the coming home is interesting.
N: Your immediate reaction.
B: I think when you come home, you're processing a lot of what you saw. When you come home, I think the first thing is jet lag. It takes a day or two to recover.
But overall, I think what really stayed with me was just the idea that we have to really open our minds and our hearts to the world at large. That's really what I came away with. Is that, people say, you're going to Paris. There's riots, there's
this, they don't like you, blah, blah, blah. We didn't have any of that. The people were wonderful, they were welcoming, We were safe. I think sometimes you set up barriers in your mind about things you can or cannot do. That's a mistake.
N: Yeah, and you get afraid.
B: Yeah, you get afraid. It robs you of some of the great experiences you would have.
The other thing too, I think that I found about this was I did something very different. I've never gone to Paris without staying in a hotel or an inn. I think that the idea of immersing myself a little bit in the life of the city had big benefits in terms of enjoying the experience. So aside from what I saw professionally, I felt that personally, it was an expanding experience. The show itself was an expanding experience because you're meeting people from all over
You're talking to people from Amsterdam, from Belgium, from Russia. We had lunch with some girl from Russia who sat at our table. It's just kind of emphasize for me that you can have great experiences as long as you're willing to take a chance and push yourself a little outside your normal boundaries of what you think you can do.
N: It's so important is to change it up and not do every trip the same way.
N: Just staying in a different ... Not staying in a hotel is a big change up. And obviously, going to this very immersive, creative design experience. I mean, that's a whole different way of traveling the world. You tied in your travel with something for your work. A lot of us have the opportunity to do that and we don't always do it.
B: Yes, I agree. I really enjoyed it very, very much. I think I'll go back because it wasn't really long enough.
N: I can imagine. When you came back, did you feel like there were some aspects of what you saw that you want to incorporate into your life now here back in the United States?
B: I would say that the biggest thing I would like to incorporate that I really thought about is to declutter and simplify. One of the things I find very interesting, in general, when I go to Europe is that they seem to create a lot more experience with a lot less stuff. Everything that they do have seems to matter, but they don't clutter and fill it up with lots of meaningless stuff. That was something that when I came home, I just felt I really want to do. The things are beautiful, they're well chosen, they make for comfort, but they don't overdo.
N: It's not a consumption.
B: It's not a consumption idea. It definitely is not. That was something that I also really did appreciate. That doesn't mean they don't have certain things they buy because they love them. But that's the point, they buy them because they love them. They don't just buy something to have something. The place that we stayed was in an 1840s townhouse with beautiful wood floors. The bathrooms were not huge, but they were beautifully done. And they make great use of
space, very tall ceilings and extremely comfortable.
N: Barbara, talk to me about how this notion of less clutter might impact the way you're living in your home and the way you're designing for clients.
B: For both, I think the thing that impressed me was quality over quantity. That they are much more about having a few fine things, having well-designed things, having things that are meaningful, but not necessarily tons of stuff. Design was
more spare in the apartment we were staying in, but also I think just the show itself. Even in the areas where that were the luxury areas, there were just more beautiful things, but not lots of thing. A couple of large sofas, one or two
And the way that they do things is just much more about quality and appreciation of things than just acquiring stuff or having lots of stuff. I think that I'm going to be looking at that in terms of how I might want to do client's homes.
Also, there was a difference in the scale, the scale was larger so that fewer things were required to make an impact. I found that very interesting. Also, the use of color, a lot more color and a lot more using color on a specific wall to
accent things to create a certain sense of dimension in the room. All of those things, I think I'm going to try to see how that works into my new design aesthetic.
Nancy Del Santo: It's interesting because I think when we in America hear the word clutter, we tend to think of all the little tchotchkes that people collect or accumulate. But you're really talking about furniture as opposed to all those little clutter.
N: Accessories. That's very interesting.
B: It's not just about accessories, it's really about the scale of the furniture, how it's arranged and how many pieces they use.
N: Very interesting.
B: Very interesting difference in the scale, no question about it.
N: Were there certain colors?
B: A lot of color. That was one thing that really struck me, was the total difference in terms of how much color they introduce into their design. Not always necessarily in the big pieces, although they do that as well, but just using one
accent wall of color or introducing it in a piece of furniture as a kind of focal point. There was just a lot of difference in the way that the rooms felt. They felt much more organic, for want of a better word. I think it wasn't so much that
there were big colors as there were the chroma of the color.
In other words, it was very saturated. I would say blues, greens and reds were very big. But there were also very chromatic yellows. In other words, the colors were more like primaries, they weren't pastels. They weren't colors that have been shaded down like sage. The colors were pure, and I think that was the thing that really struck me. So I would say most of the colors were primary colors or green. But yellows, reds, blues, and greens were all very prominent.
N: I think it's always so fascinating when we travel, it's almost like we become children again because everything so new and different to us. We see things with the eyes almost of a child because it is so new and different, and then that changes our experience with ourselves. And the way that we look at the world, the way we think about things. When we come home and bring that into our environment at home. I often find the way we eat during our travels, particularly when we're in new and unique places, and then we come home and we kind of want to eat that way again. Of course, it's hard.
B: Yeah, it's hard. But it's true. I think the thing that always fascinates me about France is that they eat everything. They don't worry about butter. They don't worry about gluten, they don't worry about being fat, and yet nobody's fat. I mean, nobody's overweight.
N: A lot of walking.
B: Well, I think they walk more, definitely. They use the metro. There's much less driving. Now, of course, this is in the city. I couldn't say how it is in the suburbs, but certainly there's a lot more walking. But I think it's mainly that they ... In the same way I'm saying that they edit their surroundings, it's almost like they edit the food. What I mean by that is, they'll have a little bit of a lot of things they enjoy. They don't eat huge portions, so they can allow themselves to have a
meal that is rich, but the overall meal is still manageable in terms of the calories.
I think again, it's more about savoring and enjoying and paying attention to being present in terms of what they're eating. Meals are considered important and not just from the perspective of not being hungry. They're supposed to be
an experience. And you see a lot of that there. Dining is an experience. Whether it's a small bistro or even some little cafe. It's an experience. I had breakfast on my last day there and they squeeze the juice freshly. The bread is freshly baked and everything on the plate and on the tray is arranged in a certain way.
B: Even the way they give you the butter, the butter is extraordinary. It's wrapped almost like a Tootsie Roll. It was just ... I'm looking at that breakfast and I'm thinking, what a wonderful breakfast this is. Everything fresh, everything aesthetically pleasing. I think that's a big part of why they don't really treat food the way we do in America, and it makes a difference.
N: It makes me want to go right now.
B: Well, I think what I'm saying is that when you travel, whether it's to Paris, or whether it's to South Africa or anywhere else, you just get to see different ways of living. Different cultures, different attitudes, different ideas. I think that if
you're open, then that opens you up to incorporating some of that into your life into, into your thought processes, into your attitudes and it's enriching. It's also enriching to meet people from other countries because it expands you as a
person and makes you more, what can I say, a citizen of the world.
N: It makes you realize that we're really more like them or different.
B: 100%. That's really the big lesson.
N: Now, you went to the show with someone else and now you are back traveling again with friends. Tell us about your new travels and what you're doing.
B: Well, this is actually a different kind of travel. A few years ago, I was reunited with friends who I knew as a child in my old neighborhood through a very crazy newsletter called Back to the Bronx. Somehow or another, through that newsletter, we got reconnected after many many, many, many years where we had totally lost track of each other. So another girlfriend who's a close friend of hers as well and myself, we come up to Longmeadow, Massachusetts at least
once a year and we all have a girls weekend and it's the greatest. We just watch old movies and we cook and we shop, and when we can, when the weather permits, we take advantage of the cultural things that are available up here, which believe it or not, are many.
B: So we have gone to Harriet Beecher Stowe's House and we have gone to a museum showing of Katharine Hepburn's costumes for movies. We have North Hampton, which is 20 minutes away, which is an incredible college town. They have an art festival twice a year and we try to get to that. Porsche shows, Berkshires and Opera and we just do ... We plan to do different things and every year we have this reunion. We spend three or four days together and we just
have a great time and pursue fun.
N: Yes. You've left out that you probably talk a lot.
B: All day and all night. We go to Starbucks, we go shopping, we sit the house, we have coffee, and we talk and talk and talk and catch up on the year and share everything and it's incredible. There are no friends like old friends. What can I
say? It's a wonderful feeling to be together again after all those years. We all grew up within one street of each other and we had not seen each other for over 20 years.
So it's really a fantastic weekend and I always look forward to it. Massachusetts is beautiful. We had four inches of snow yesterday and the weather is beautiful today and sunny and it's a whole different experience.
N: Totally different kind of travel but equally intoxicating.
B: Correct. I've done a lot of traveling over the last few years because I just decided that I wanted to do a bucket list while I wasn't in a bucket, if you know what I'm saying. So I just decided I'm doing my bucket list while I'm still healthy
and able and can enjoy.
So I've done some very unusual things. I mean, I've traveled to South Africa, I did a safari, I went to Cape Town, I've traveled to Israel, went to the Adriatic coast of Italy, stayed in a convent in Rome, and just had some really great experiences. I've loved every single minute of it.
N: Well, traveling is one of the big hot buttons as we talk about designing your second half. I don't know if anyone who doesn't have travel on their list. I think it's a situation where we have more time to travel, we don't have things tugging
at us like children that are growing up and we don't necessarily want to leave for long periods of time, or the difficulty of traveling with children to certain places. All the sudden, now we have the opportunity and usually have a little more money to go travel. But there's so many different ways to do it.
B: Right. But I think the important thing is not to keep doing it the same way.
N: I couldn't agree more.
B: Try to do some things that are a little different. Now, obviously, as we get older, our physical capabilities may be a little less, and we have to plan a little more carefully. But I'm just saying, don't always take the usual route. If you know
what I'm saying. Like, do something that's a little off the grid once in a while. It's fun and you you meet lots of interesting people.
N: Yeah, I agree. And doing, that can mean different things for different people. Because somebody who always wants to go on a safari should try to do something totally different from that.
B: Yes. Exactly.
N: And somebody who's never been to a safari should should go ahead and book themselves on that.
B: That's right. Exactly. Like do something different and maybe a little out of your wheelhouse, something I wouldn't ordinarily do. I think that's what expands you.
N: It's a interesting. I have a neighbor who has gotten into home exchanges and literally exchanges their home with people from other countries for weeks and sometimes up to a month at a time. That allows them to go and really live and immerse themselves in a community that it's such a different kind of travel. And of course, they have the time to do it. So it's, it's terrific for them.
Barbara Bell: Right. I would love to do that. Would love it.
Nancy Del Santo: They even said that part of the intrigue is getting involved with these exchange communities and the people and it's so much fun. Like you said, sitting down at a table with people from different countries while in the process of trying to figure out the home exchange, there's a lot of interaction. It's a lot of fun for them.
B: Right. No, no, absolutely.
N: I think connection the joy of seeing new things as almost like a child is somewhat intoxicating for us as we are in our second halfs.
B: Right. You think back to when you were a young teenager or a college student, and you know you had a lot of freedom and then life takes over. So, you're raising children, you're building careers, you're doing things that are much more structured and much more responsible. I think part of the fun is the fact that when you get older, some of those constraints you're free from again. You can kind of go back to that sense of adventure that you had when you were young. I hope people do because I think sometimes we think we can't, but we can.
N: Absolutely. This is so much fun, Barbara. It's so much fun. And now it's got my ideas flowing. I am ready to plan another trip.
B: I highly recommend Maison et Objet.
Contact: Barbara Bell, Barbara Bell Interiors, LLC