Cece Barfield on Designing Joyfully

For Cece Barfield, perfection is not the goal. Her designs combine vintage with modern, mixing in personal elements and pieces that bring joy and unique sophistication to a space. The designer learned early on from her mother that creating a space to gather, enjoy life and make memories in was more important than any single object in a home. “Design is second nature to me! I grew up in a very creative environment – my mother is a handbag designer, my grandmother was a children’s clothing designer, and all the women in my family love to entertain. Their influence is undeniable. These women not only taught me about design, but also about the art of creating a beautiful life at home. Good design is synonymous with living well! They go hand-in-hand.”

Perhaps this attitude of casual joie de vie helped inform her style as a designer – one which blends beauty and elegance with cheerful functionality. In her own words: “Houses should reflect their inhabitants: Furnishings should reference your specific tastes, experiences, and interests.”

A love of history and design drew her to study Interior Architecture as well as Historic Preservation. First working at Vogue and then going on to work as a senior designer for the iconic Bunny Williams, she honed her ability to enrich a client’s personal style with a fashionable and yet timeless quality. “After school, I was lucky to land a dream job with Bunny Williams who is my mentor to this day. She has perfect taste and a keen business sense.”

In 2006 she launched her own firm and has gone on to create welcoming and personal spaces for her clients as well as for herself and her family. Her enthusiasm for the process is undeniable: “On every project, an existing collection or personality provides the starting point. I then complement that with pieces found through the auction market and my network of artisans and dealers. From this diverse set of inputs emerges a harmonious composition with depth and personality. The process is simultaneously laborious and enjoyable. It is my favorite part of the job!”

Here, she shares some of the design concepts that help make a house into a (very stylish and functional) home. Get inspired and shop her curated selection on The Local Vault!

“My best advice is to make a plan for your house – a to do list with dimensions if you will. This list allows you to buy antiques as you find them because you’ll know if they fit.

Be sure to balance antiques with comfortable upholstery. For example, an antique “brown” table next to a modern sofa creates a livable mix and a nice juxtaposition. The modern upholstery will give the antique table a breath of fresh air, while the antique table will give the sofa a sense of importance.“

As a mother of two young children who lives in Manhattan, she has worked to make the most of the space that she has, often repurposing pieces as her needs change. As a young designer, her first big splurge purchase was an antique 1950s bombe chest. When she first brought it home, it was used in the bedroom to store clothes and has since gone on to be an entry hall table and is now (a very sophisticated) place to store toys.

“If you love something (and it fits!), it will find its place. The most beautiful houses are reflections of their owners. If you feel comfortable at home, so will your friends and family.”

In the designer’s living room, a view of the antique bombe with a rich history.


An antique chest may not be the first place one thinks of to store children’s items, but it is very much in keeping with Cece’s philosophy on designing with children in mind. The idea being to keep the furnishings elevated and classic so that they can grow with the young person and allowing the toys on display and pops of color in the accessories to keep the space feeling age appropriate and playful. Her tips for keeping a child’s room practical include Scotchgarding the carpeting and using outdoor upholstery as fabric for increased durability.

The designer’s own child’s bedroom seen here featuring framed wall paper panels from her mother’s dining room.


Another view of the designer’s own children’s sophisticated and playful bedroom.


For her own room, she used one of her go-to color combinations of white and cream to give the space a peaceful feel. When designing in tonal shades, she suggests adding texture and pattern to bring depth and keep it from feeling boring.

Other areas of her own home, as well as the homes she designs for clients, make beautiful use of color to add an element of joy to the sophistication of the antique and modern mix that defines her design aesthetic.

So committed is she to finding just the right piece for every occasion, that she has created a collection of her own. “My home collections draw on a love of entertaining and a lifetime of exploring (I have so many photos and scrapbooks). It has been such fun to bring a taste of the work I do for private clients to a larger audience. My new “Virginia Collection” (launching next month) was inspired by my family’s time in Virginia during the pandemic. We spent many meals at a table in my mother-in-law’s garden, which was the inspiration for my designs.”

As anyone who works as hard as her knows, unwinding and finding a way to recharge is a must. For this designer, her favorite way to unplug involves a glass of wine and a book, nevertheless, her mind is never far from homes and design. “Period fiction is my favorite genre. My favorite authors are  Joris-Karl Huysmans, Edith Wharton, and Louis Auchincloss. Their intricate depictions of life in different times and places are always captivating. You can learn so much about interiors by reading about how people live.”

Click here to shop CeCe’s personal collection on TLV!

All images courtesy of Cece Barfield / Text by Liana Hayles Newton



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