For interior designer Lana Barth of Lana Barth Design, the art of the room comes from a different place and perspective than one might imagine. A former registered nurse, Barth grew up in a southern town so small there were no art courses or lessons available to anyone—even promising, passionate young students as she was.
“I always loved art but was never really encouraged,” Barth said of a dream so innate she may not even remember how it all began. “I grew up in a time when parents wanted kids to be practical. In college I wanted to go into nursing because it was quick—I could just get out and support myself.”
With her passion for all things art systematically exploding—much like a suppressed beach ball rocketing up from beneath the waves—in time Barth got another degree in fine arts and interior design. Conceding the exam for her design license was so challenging, it eclipsed her nursing boards, Barth said there are others like her out there who now defibrillate bland abodes instead of blocked arteries – though in some ways the feeling can be the same. “I know an anesthesiologist who is an artist now,” Barth said of a special community of health professionals who bring their healing skills to design.
For the designer, now firmly embracing her life’s true calling, turning rooms into art-filled statements has become an art in itself. Scouring crafts shows, augmenting furniture and recycling or repurposing objects such as bolts, copper tubing and PVC pipe into artful components has become a kind of niche passion, so to speak.
Of pachyderms and pyramids
Back in Barth’s family room, an old breakfast table was disassembled, its legs replaced by orange and blue circles and diamond shapes. “We couldn’t figure out how to make the circles,” Barth said, revealing that she and a “talented friend” eventually purchased lighting globes, painting them a dark blue like the chairs in the room. They were then glued and bolted to the underside of the top of the table, becoming a part of the base and resembling bowling balls.
In her dining room, Barth placed a seated mannequin affectionately named Gretchen in a corner of the space. Obtained from a Richmond, Va. store that once sold fixtures and items from defunct retail establishments, Barth said Gretchen sports clothing from the 1960s or ‘70s that belonged to the designer herself. The chair supporting Gretchen, created by Takoma Park, Md. artist Bodil Meleny, is itself an objet d’art with carved elephants flanking the seat. A mate with donkeys sits across the room, and the dining room table pedestal is made of corrugated metal drain pipe.
Referencing the room’s bright mixed media monoprint of a nude by artist Robert A. Nelson, Barth explained there is fruit—something edible—in the painting, so she’d deemed it appropriate for her dining space. The piece underneath, a “boring old oak table,” formerly in a laundry room, that belonged to Barth’s mother-in-law, was invigorated by the addition of actual wooden toes, also by artist Bodil Meleny. The edges of the table are fluted and resemble the body part, so the designer had them fully realized in its wooden appendages
At left in the room, a recycled length of PVC pipe became a pedestal, replete with wooden pediment and capitol, for art. A pyramid sculpture by Alexandria, Va. artist Larry Morris boasts a tiny figure on top, with a bubble over its head containing an image of a chair. “He’s just tired of sitting on that sharp point,” Barth quipped.
The more eyes see you
At a condominium in Rockville, Md., Barth was tasked with revving up an average and congested corner where the homeowner used her laptop. Spying her client’s scattered collection of Piero Fornasetti plates, wherein the 20th Century artist had, among other things, created more than 350 with the facial features of 19th Century soprano Lina Cavalieri, Barth lifted and hung the pieces from walls, decluttering the space and helping to animate the room.
Working sometimes with husband George Rothman, president and CEO of D.C. nonprofit Manna, which according to its website helps low and moderate-income residents acquire quality housing, Barth plies her singular craft (and art) as often as she can.
“A lot of the new homeowners are single mothers, and it’s nice for them to have a place where they feel comfortable raising their kids,” the designer said of her efforts to revive their environments. “I find all of it fun and good.”
Revealing that had she remained in her original profession, she’d have branched into psychiatric nursing, Barth said the specialty allows you to really understand how people think.
“I think you do the same thing in residential interior design,” she added, narrowing the divide between healthcare and habitat. “You have to get to know people to help them figure out what they really like.”