Words by Flora Tsapovsky
There’s that saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Well, when it comes to interior design, you also don’t need to throw out the entire bathroom. “Just because someone wants to make changes to their home doesn’t mean a full renovation needs to happen,” says Amanda Barnes, founder of Amanda Barnes Interiors. “Often there are features of a home that are so charming, I want to design around what is already in place.”
This approach has served Amanda well through her design career. Based in Hillsborough, Amanda, who grew up in Southern California, moved to the Bay Area in 2008. After working for 13 years in biotech, she pivoted to interior design in 2016, and has made a name for herself helping families reimagine their forever homes. Drawing her inspiration from design stalwarts like former J. Crew visionary Jenna Lyons and interior designer Jake Arnold, but also from being in nature, Amanda gravitates toward earth tones and a thoughtful design philosophy. “Whether it is a solid floor plan, beautiful old cabinetry or millwork throughout the house, a few refurbishments can transform a home,” she reflects.
Previously, the hood was the most dated element in the kitchen. Given the scale of the room, we made the hood bigger and carried it all the way up to the ceiling. We also designed it to run down to the countertop but left plenty of space to prep and cook. When the scales are off, a room can actually feel smaller than it is.
A recent project in Hillsborough exemplifies Amanda’s view on interior design perfectly. A relatively new build, the original design didn’t exactly speak to its new owners’ aesthetic sensibilities. Focusing on the dining and kitchen areas as well as the office, Amanda aimed to deliver an overall makeover without renovating the entire home. “You can really do a lot without having to open the walls,” she says. “Sometimes people underestimate how much edits can do to a space.”
In the kitchen, the clients wanted a complete facelift with minimal construction so Amanda swapped the lighting, countertops, backsplash and hardware, then updated the hood. Paint did the rest. A fresh coat on the walls and two tones of green for the kitchen cabinets delivered a refreshed, modern result.
For this project in Hillsborough, our client’s existing bar cart was quite a bit more modern than the rest of the home. It was a charming piece we wanted to include, so throwing in a vintage vase and fluted glasses, with some contemporary cocktail accessories, helped blend the aesthetics to balance out the old and new around the room.
Cohesiveness—another principle Amanda cherishes—came into play in the small details. The curves in the stone backsplash around the windows now mimic the curves on the hood and lighting. Such nuances, Amanda says, “are all subtle but impactful. Now everything relates to each other and feels effortless, like it was always there.”
The office is another example of an easy, attainable fix that makes a big difference. “When this home was purchased the study felt dated and stodgy,” Amanda says. “My client was unsure when I first told him I wanted to paint everything in here. Yet, with a mix of paint finishes, the room looks bigger, masculine and very sexy, with the new lighting and decor we swapped in.” Heavy materials like marble and wood as well as dark, moody art objects throughout set the atmosphere.
I often find beautiful coasters tucked away in clients’ homes, so pulling them out is a great way to add character to a space without purchasing anything. Mixing metals or swapping in a bartending book for a tray are also great ways to elevate a space.
Regardless of what is driving the limits, be it budget or preference, Amanda says that highlighting what clients love most about their homes can be done without a full renovation. She is adamant that interior design is more accessible than one might imagine—and a worthy expense at that. “You can just start with one room!” Amanda encourages. “While it is a luxury service, it is really something that affects your everyday living and quality of life, so considering how often you use the space, it’s a great investment.”
Photography: Courtesy of Andrew Lafrance
It’s no wonder that busy families—which gravitate towards Amanda’s brand of time-saving, effortless impact—make for her core client base. Amanda herself has two children. “I met my husband on my first day living in the City,” she reflects. “It was magical to go from single, to engaged, then married, and with kids over the next few years.” Her clients, she says, care about their homes, but care just as much about allowing their kids to let loose. By picking durable materials, for example, clients can get a beautiful look that will stand the test of sticky little hands and fast, tiny feet. “A home can feel beautiful and not be terrifying,” Amanda says. “I don’t want anything to ever feel too precious—the house should elevate living for everyday life, but also be a workhorse for the family.”