To say that Susan Barrett knows a thing or two about art would be an understatement. As president of Barrett Barrera Projects, she and her team operate three gallery spaces: projects+gallery, projects+exhibitions and its headquarters. They also channeled their creative energy into the company’s guest house, an innovative and playful space for artists to stay when they visit the StL. Here, Barrett provides a peek at its whimsical design paired with impactful uses of contemporary art.
When did you create the guest house?
We opened it in October of 2019. The idea was to create a space for artists and other visitors who often have to stay in town for an extended period because they are putting up shows or collaborating with others. The house also is a place to celebrate, and we host dinners for openings and other events there. We used it extensively until COVID hit last spring. It doesn’t feel like it’s quite been broken in yet.
What are the benefits of having it in the CWE?
It’s a great way for guests to be close to the galleries, and the CWE has always been a historic area for art, especially McPherson Avenue. I’ve always loved the neighborhood. It’s a wonderful place for finding new ideas, art and innovation.
What do you know about the property’s history?
It was built around 1910, and originally, it was constructed to be both a house and storefront, which was very common at the time. The business was on the bottom, and the residence was on the top floors. The property already was divided into a public and a private space, so it was perfect for what we wanted to use it for. We wanted a more communal area to host lectures and dinners after gallery openings, but we also wanted to have a private place for our artists to stay uninterrupted.
Did you have to make any renovations?
The previous owners left the house in amazing shape, so we didn’t have to do anything major. It had been beautifully rebuilt. We did repaint or add new de Gournay wall coverings to almost every surface. It gave the house a much more playful energy.
How did you approach the design?
We actually had very little time between closing on the property and when we were planning for our first guest. Ann Ray was coming from Paris for her exhibit “Rendez-Vous” at the projects+exhibitions space, and we really wanted to be able to host her, have dinner and celebrate here. We had six weeks to complete everything, so I called my friend James Jamieson, who is an amazing interior designer. The idea was to have something joyful. We wanted the space to make guests feel invigorated. We mixed antique furniture with contemporary art and played with a lot of color.
What about placing the art?
It was a great opportunity to show how art can be lived with. Having a piece as part of a home is so different from seeing it in a blank, white gallery. It gave us permission to be irreverent with art and how it’s placed. You should live with it as you do everything else you love. Art doesn’t require a special design; it can fit in and look beautiful in many different contexts.
Are there any standout pieces on display?
When you walk in, there’s a big wow factor. The space is large with multiple chandeliers, very beautiful wall coverings, and more antique or period pieces. We’ve juxtaposed that with contemporary art. We have a very large painting by Kehinde Wiley, which was actually part of his exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum. We thought it was important to include something that featured St. Louisans and was made specially for the city.
Do you have a favorite space?
There are a few. When we designed the space, we tried to figure out how to accommodate as many people as possible in case artists brought their families or entourages. We never know how many people we’ll be hosting, and more importantly, we want our guests to feel comfortable and taken care of. There’s a bedroom with three beds. It’s cozy and makes you feel like you’re on an old-fashioned train. Whenever I bring friends to the guest house, the first question they ask is when we’re going to have a sleepover. I also like the bar. With the gold barstools and glistening copper and how the lit display cabinets show off the liquor bottles, you feel like you’re in a bejeweled room. It’s a fun, speakeasy-type space.