A Word With

Davina Barber: Norfolk By Design

For Davina Barber, life in Norfolk has come full circle. As the daughter of a Norfolk landowner, she spent much of her youth on the county's famous beaches and climbing the many trees that line the rural countryside. At the age of thirteen she went to school in Oxfordshire where she found her love for the arts through her History of Art teacher, who inspired her passion to study the subject at Bristol University.

Eager to shed her country wings, Davina finished her degree and headed to London, where she lived for nearly ten years, working for various art dealers. It was here that she decided to go it alone and launch her own company, Source, as a purveyor of fine arts.

It wasn't until Davina and her husband Thomas started a family that they decided to move back to the county where he spent his childhood holidays, the place she calls 'good for the soul'.

“We had a wonderful outdoors existence, that’s why I’m back here now, giving my children the same opportunity.”

After a brief hiatus, Davina reinvigorated Source from her home office in Norfolk. Rather than staying solely within the arts and paintings sector, Davina wanted to find a point of difference from all the other dealers out there. While decorating her own Norfolk home with classic Georgian pieces and restored Gustavian chairs, Davina quickly discovered that the furniture business was one within grasp.

With so many provincial antique dealers and places to acquire furniture on her doorstep in Norfolk and East Anglia, Source began to thrive. Davina now spends her days searching out rare and wonderful pieces for private clients, whether it's a specific type of globe for a collector, or a made-to-measure lantern. She has painstakingly searched for the best in the business building up an extensive database of over 400 dealers, most of whom are based in the provinces.

"That is one of Source's USPs. I try and bring pieces from provincial places, outside of London and outside of the expensive antiques or contemporary ware shops in the city."

Davina knows the importance of local sourcing, with many British designers choosing quality materials made in England over imported goods. Carefully selecting locally produced pieces has become a real focus for her, as well as a requirement for many of her clients.

“I spent a lot of time last year finding local artisans, whether they were upholsterers, furniture makers or ironmongers; people who could produce bespoke pieces. Norfolk is full of that sort of person and that is something I really want to support.”

It's not hard to see why so many creative people have chosen to settle in Norfolk, and not just because the rent is lower. Its flat landscapes are the perfect canvas for any painter, the endless empty barns provide workshops for sculptors and furniture makers alike, not to mention its iconic sunsets, likened by Davina to those seen on the exotic plains of Africa.

Norfolk is of growing interest to a younger set of artists and craftsman, who have chosen the serenity of green fields to the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

"You've got the sea here, the light and the space. It's its own little place, not just on the way to somewhere and I think that appeals to creative people."

With this growing artistic community in mind Davina, along with friend and interiors design Emma Deterding, of Kelling Designs, decided to create Norfolk by Design, a collective of artisans from the local area.

On Thursday 24th September in The Barn at West Lexham Manor, they are hosting a public show including range of local works, from ceramics and textiles to photography and sculpture.

"It's going to be really eclectic and the setting is rustic. It's not like a normal exhibition where you go in and the walls are all white and everything's hung beautifully. I think that's going to be part of its charm, and how it's going to stand out from any old exhibition."

Among the flint and brickwork of the old barn, visitors can peruse the works of artists such as Maria Pavledis who creates dream-like smoke art, or the 'Sgraffito' ceramics of Laura Huston. A few of Norfolk's renowned artists will also be showing at Norfolk By Design's viewing, including photographer Garlinda Birkbeck, painter Mary MacCarthy and garden designer George Carter, whose support for the event Davina said was 'crucial'.

“It’s not so much a selling exhibition, it’s more like, ‘look what’s here, look what is in Norfolk’. It’s about getting these people out there and showing that there is such a range of creativity up here. It’s more than just water colourists.” She said with a grin.

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