Celebrity in­te­rior de­signer comes home from LA

SA man who has worked on homes of Jane Sey­mour and Ozzy Os­bourne is back. By ZARA NI­CHOL­SON

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

LIFE in South Africa un­der apartheid forced many peo­ple to leave the coun­try and seek their for­tunes else­where. For some peo­ple life be­came a fur­ther strug­gle, but for oth­ers it was a chance to reach great heights. One such per­son is Jonathan Bar­nett, who left 33 years ago and went on to de­sign the in­te­ri­ors of homes for movie stars and top mu­si­cians in Los An­ge­les.

Bar­nett, now in his early fifties, grew up in Jo­han­nes­burg, then spent a year in Lon­don, a year in New York and 31 years in Los An­ge­les, be­fore re­turn­ing to South Africa to set up shop in Cape Town

He stud­ied drama in Lon­don and helped out at a small in­te­rior de­sign store, moved to New York and then to Los An­ge­les where he was soon con­tacted by top names to de­sign the in­side of their homes.

Bar­nett has worked on the homes of among oth­ers, Sally Field, Rob Lowe, Ozzy Os­bourne, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Jane Sey­mour, Dr Dre and bil­lion­aire real es­tate in­vestor Tom Bar­rack.

At the Pezula in­te­rior de­sign stu­dio in the city cen­tre ear­lier this week, a stylish-looking Bar­nett met the Week­end Ar­gus team.

De­spite spending years over­seas, he still has his South African ac­cent and a cool, laid-back way about him.

Bar­nett did his com­pul­sory stint in the army in Walvis Bay in thenSouth West Africa, when he was just 16. Later in the 1970s, when life in South Africa be­came un­bear­able for the lib­eral artist, he went to live with an aunt in Lon­don.

“Grow­ing up in apartheid was never a happy place and I trav­elled to the United King­dom from a young age. See­ing the other side of the world gave me a real de­sire to leave.

“I went to study in Lon­don and used to dab­ble in in­te­rior de­sign stu­dios over week­ends.

“The army ex­pe­ri­ence was scary but I was ex­posed to med­i­ta­tion since the age of 14 and that helped me sur­vive. I just took the whole sit­u­a­tion as if it were a movie and I was play­ing a role and that it would end.

“Af­ter that I was not sure what I wanted to do till a friend, Robert White­head (Barker Haines from Isidingo), sug­gested I study drama in Lon­don. While I was there I was ex­posed to a lot of dif­fer­ent and in­ter­est­ing in­te­rior de­sign­ers.”

Af­ter a year at the Drama Stu­dio in Lon­don, Bar­nett moved to New York af­ter mak­ing friends with some Amer­i­cans at drama school.

In 1978 it was a “fun, sleazy” time to be in New York when disco spot Stu­dio 54 was the place to be seen. Bar­nett spent a year par­ty­ing with singers like Liza Min­nelli and Grace Jones and pop art leg­end Andy Warhol.

“It was wild. We just had money to party and buy new out­fits.

“It was hard find­ing work but later friends of mine from South Africa who were liv­ing in LA sug­gested I move there. I re­alised that I needed to set­tle be­cause in New York, noth­ing ever closes.”

In 1979 he started work­ing at a small in­te­rior de­sign shop in LA.

One of the shop’s clients was Nora Kaye – a bal­le­rina from the late 40s and 50s, fa­mous for work in movies like Turn­ing Point and Funny Lady and var­i­ous Broad­way pro­duc­tions. She took no­tice of Bar­nett.

“She just took a fancy to me and I worked on her homes and she re­ferred me to Sally Field. The style in those days was very con­tem­po­rary, but Nora ex­posed me to coun­try French and coun­try English. It was the trend at that time.”

Af­ter do­ing work for Sally Field, Bar­nett went to work on var­i­ous other homes, in­clud­ing Jane Sey­mour’s homes in LA and Santa Bar­bara.

“Jane’s house was the first house where I was pub­lished in the Ar­chi­tec­tural Di­gest, in 1986. It was good be­cause back then there weren’t many de­sign mag­a­zines and that was seen as the Bi­ble of the in­dus­try.

“Both her houses were big ren­o­va­tions. I re­ally got in­volved in the ar­chi­tec­ture. I’m not a dec­o­ra­tor, I de­sign the fur­ni­ture, have it made, do the lay­out, lighting, au­dio and vi­su­als.”

Bar­nett said that while movie stars got a lot of things free they were less ex­trav­a­gant than peo­ple in the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“The guys from the mu­sic in­dus­try don’t get things for noth­ing but they spend more.”

An­other ex­cit­ing project he worked on was the home of Ozzy Os­bourne. It was the house where the MTV se­ries The Os­bournes was shot.

Bar­nett de­signed parts of the house as well as Ozzy’s home record­ing stu­dio.

Asked whether the fam­ily is as wild as seen in the show, he said: “It’s crazy, al­ways lots of bull­dogs run­ning around. It’s al­ways pan­de­mo­nium but Ozzy him­self can be very fo­cused if you just pull him aside, and he’s very sweet.”

Bar­nett said his ca­reer de­sign­ing the stars’ homes was suc­cess­ful be­cause of “word of mouth”.

“I had a lot of re­fer­rals, I never had to go looking for work. When the time was right, the job would come.”

While work­ing on celebri­ties’ homes was good mar­ket­ing for his work, Bar­nett prefers work­ing for big com­pa­nies.

“It’s nice work­ing with cor­po­rates be­cause you do a bud­get and a sto­ry­board and you never see them again un­til the job is done.

“It’s a turn-key job so when they walk in, ev­ery­thing is done, like walk­ing into a ho­tel suite. I do ev­ery­thing down to the cut­lery, crock­ery, the bar and even the mu­sic.”

Bar­nett never stud­ied de­sign for­mally and learnt the ins and outs of the in­dus­try as he went along.

While he was liv­ing over­seas he vis­ited South Africa reg­u­larly to see his par­ents who have now de­ceased, but he de­cided to stay for good af­ter a trip home in Fe­bru­ary last year.

Bar­nett is still de­cid­ing on where to set­tle in Cape Town but is looking for an old Cape-style home.

He has been back since Novem­ber and is work­ing on two big homes in Fres­naye and Camps Bay.

“Peo­ple have been re­ally won­der­ful to me. Much of my gen­er­a­tion spent their lives run­ning away from the coun­try.

“Com­ing back was al­most like con­fronting my fears, I al­ways felt con­nected to South Africa but never wanted to stay.

“LA is not a friendly place to grow old and now friends and fam­ily are more im­por­tant to me.

“Even with the ex­tremes in your face ev­ery day, you still see the light in peo­ple’s eyes over here.”

SINGER: Ozzy Os­bourne

AC­TOR: Rob Lowe

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