She paints with patterns and prioritizes texture. Her creations can enliven spaces, or simply soften them. Whether the goal is to add luxury, encourage comfort, lend formality or some combination in between, she is always mindful of fabric design’s endless creative possibilities.
‘What feels right’
Bess Walker is an interior decorator who specializes in textiles. Her showroom, Walker Interiors, in Middletown, Rhode Island, is home to an extensive library of fabrics, carpets, wallpapers, and trims. “I’ve decorated every room of a Vanderbilt mansion and I’ve also completed one-room makeovers. I’ve worked on a mixture of styles, from really contemporary to truly historic,” she says of her range. And although she frequently works on Rhode Island’s historic gems, she isn’t a slave to period detail. “My aim is to discover what feels right in a given space—my designs are generally traditional but with updated color or styling,” she explains.
Irving would feel at home
Walker’s talent for reinventing classics is apparent in one of her most recent projects, a new-old home located in downtown Newport. It was built in homage to Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s preserved home in Tarrytown, New York. The owner is a descendent of Irving and wanted to instill his surroundings with elements of his famous ancestor’s riverside retreat, built in the mid-19th century. Having worked with Walker previously, he knew that she was the perfect choice to handle all of the window treatments and upholstery.
“The concept was to mix existing antiques and furniture with new pieces and fabrics. It should be hard to tell what has been reupholstered or dressed up and what is original,” explains Walker. “He had collected ideas and we talked and modified some of them to fit the rooms and their styles. We did a lot of mixing of ideas, cutting and pasting until they fit perfectly.”
Fine fabrics finish a room
In the living room, where bold yellow walls are tempered by paintings, many by Hudson River School artists, Walker reupholstered a pair of 19th-century French bergère chairs. She chose a silk lampas fabric by Scalamandré with olive, red, and beige tones and designed elaborate drapes for its French doors that harmonize with the room’s grandeur. The silk swag and jabot overlay with ruffled edging prefaces silk taffeta in a bold orange shade. For the dining room—an equally bold space with deep-red walls—Walker chose a maroon-and-Canadian gold damask silk for its swag and jabot window treatments.
A hidden retreat
The owner’s study presented Walker with a slightly unusual treat: designing cushions and draperies for a built-in daybed. The cushion was upholstered in a plaid wool fabric with twisted cord and the draperies are crafted from another plaid, a cotton and wool blend. “The two plaids work well together,” says the designer. “We pair a lot of different fabrics—I’m really comfortable with that.” For an especially luxurious and unique touch, she repurposed an old mink fur coat of the owner’s into throw pillows.
The Walker workroom
The benefit of having her own workroom is that Walker can creatively repurpose fabrics with ease. “It’s definitely an advantage that sets us apart,” she explains. “I don’t have to send things off and hope that they come out the way I want. I can be hands-on and guide the finished piece.” An additional perk of her shop’s extensive library is that she can complete nearly all of her product shopping in-house.
Her team remade another of the owner’s sentimental favorites, a cotton floral fabric, into a cushion and drapes for the master bedroom. “That cotton is more than 50 years old and was from a family home,” she describes. “It’s a really well-made timeless fabric that we were able to preserve and reuse in a different way.”
With a degree in weaving and textile design and demonstrated workroom skills of her own, Walker is equally comfortable with designing and fabricating. “I am really strong with color, pattern, and scale,” she explains. “My goal is always to listen closely in order to personalize a space. I want it to be special and satisfying, to make its owner feel happy every day.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Chris Vaccaro
Interior Design: Bess Walker of Walker Interiors
**As seen in Southern New England Home magazine’s 2012-2013 print edition.