Sunday, November 14, 2010


Betsy Burnham Design's work is the epitome of the interiors coming out of LA right now -- casual, new traditional and fun. Her fearless and free layering of bold color and festive prints have sunny California verve. The results are livable rooms that are not for the faint of heart. Coming from a fashion background, the transition into home design was a natural one. Fourteen years ago, she had a party in her home that caught the eye of a guest. They soon hired her, and from there she was off and running.

Photo by Patrick Cline
Betsy's office mixes trad plaid, hints of black, bamboo chandeliers, and a giant Parson's table where she spreads out her samples and gets to work.

Photo by Patrick Cline
A room scheme comes together on a board in her office. It sits beside a standing lamp with a Burnham Design signature element, a Union Jack shade.

Photo by Grey Crawford
A home office Betsy did in Benedict Canyon mixes a Quadrille chocolate brown and white print on the desk chair with a ruby red De Gourney wallpaper. The unexpected zebra rug and blue and white urn take this room into the territory of beyond fabulous.

Photo by Matthew Millman for Western Interiors
Using a classic set up of a screen behind a headboard, Betsy pulled the celadon and pink colors from the Chinese screen together through the lampshade and bedding choices. Clean lines of a Parson's style nightstand keep the traditional aspects in the room fresh.

Who did you work for and where did you study to learn the trade?

I’m basically self-taught. I mean, I have a creative background: I studied fine art undergrad at Dartmouth, and after graduating, I worked in the fashion industry for about 6 years. when I moved out here, I studied for a year in the interior design program at UCLA extension, which gave me some fundamental drafting and space planning skills. but I did most of my learning (and I’m still learning) on the job, and in collaboration with contractors, architects and colleagues.

When did you know this was your calling in life?

Late-ish. As I said, I’ve always been creative and been interested in and good with color and fabric, but I honestly thought that fashion was where I’d end up. I always had fun with my own homes, and it was a guest of mine who first suggested interior design-she became my first client about 14 years ago.

Do you have a signature look and how would you define it?

Thrift and couture. A mix of patterns, layering of styles, a love of color.

Your work is full of color and fashion forward. What do you think is next regarding trends in color, material, style, influence, historical period and locale?

I definitely had a year of teal, then a summer of grassy greens. but it isn’t always bright color: on our table right now is a neutral room in the works: oatmeal, taupe, cocoa brown mixed with black wood finishes. it looks very fresh to me. also, lately I’m attracted to skirted sofas and am putting them in the same rooms as mid century painting and sculpture. I guess for me, it’s always classic with a twist.

Do you have a favorite fabric pattern or print?

I have so many, but one is “Natchez” by Kravet. It’s a cotton ikat, that comes in several really usable colors and is super reasonably priced. Regardless of trend, ethnic prints remain classic and timeless.

What other designer do you most admire?

Many designers here in LA who I consider my professional peers inspire me: Joe Nye, Peter Dunham, and Suzan Fellman to name a few.

What books do you own old and new that you constantly refer to?

Elle D├ęcor's So Chic, Time Saving Standards for interior design and space planning, Time at Home and A Home For all Seasons.

If you could design your own product collections what would they be and in what style?

That’s easy. I’d love to do fabric and I’d love to design a few rugs. they’d be colorful, and there would have to be some offbeat plaids, some bright paisleys, some sort of variation on camouflage, and of course an animal print or two.

Who would you like most to collaborate with on a project?

The Rug Company (Chris and Suzanne, take note!)

What material do you love?

Cottons and linens. There’s nothing wrong with a soft leather or a good faux snake.

Where do you go to get inspired?

Vintage stores in other cities. My daughter and I found some great ones in Florence this past summer and spent hours poking through clothing and furniture despite some serious heat and humidity.

What stores do you shop in the most?

Weego Home, Lawson Fenning, JF Chen, Hollywood at Home, Barneys, and Ebay. Oh! And 1st dibs. What did we do before that?

What is your favorite project?

I designed a 15,000 square foot house on a private island in northern Michigan on Lake Huron. The clients (3 siblings) are probably my favorites ever: young, cool, wonderfully eccentric and lovers of all things vintage. The entire house is filled with finds from Ebay, vintage stores and auction houses and has a distinctly nautical theme. The results are below.

A nautical navy and white living room with hints of yellow.

The view is the star, so comfortable seating areas with ethnic fabrics complement the scenic aspects.

A wall of French doors in the dining room provide easy access to the outside. For relaxed dinners, comfortable upholstered royal blue high back chairs sit around a dark wood table. Nautical art is hung around the perimeter of the room.


kayce hughes said...

what a great interview and beautiful interiors!

Francine Gardner said...

It so interesting to read other designers point of view and how they actually got into the design industry.
really enjoyed the post.

Hamptontoes said...

Thanks for the introduction to another great designer!

Tara Dillard said...

This is garden design too.

"The view is the star..." THE SIBLINGS hired the right designer.

It looks like they had fun creating their home. Not hard to imagine the joy it will bring them (& their friends) thru the years.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

quintessence said...

I absolutely adore her work. I think it crosses the line in so many categories and that's why it has such huge appeal. Have never seen that last image before - the chairs are FABULOUS. And I love her instant space site - so clever!!

Alicia B. Designs said...

What a great interview! Very inspirational especially for us late-bloomers.

Alicia B.

Leslie W. said...


Kelly Green said...

What a dream job and the interiors looks fantastic!! KG