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While spending last summer at her family’s home in Virginia, CeCe Barfield Thompson was struck by her mother-in-law’s ever-blossoming garden and collection of antique linens. That, and time spent together, inspired the interior designer—who is known for creating an intimate atmosphere that mixes contemporary design with vintage finds—to create her latest CeCe Barfield Home Collection, the “Virginia Collection.”
Drawing on craftsmanship from around the world, it includes hand-painted porcelain filled with budding fora, hand-embroidered linen with cut edges reminiscent of Victorian lace, and hand-carved silver-plated cups that look as if they’ve been lovingly passed down through the centuries—which was entirely intentional for Barfield Thompson. She wanted to create heirloom pieces for future generations to enjoy, an idea she describes as both romantic and sustainable.
Whitewall caught up with Barfield Thompson over the summer to learn more about her inspiration, her tabletop essentials, and designing with an eye toward her clients’ art collections.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for the “Virginia Collection”?
CECE BARFIELD THOMPSON: The “Virginia Collection” was inspired by my family’s time in Bath County, Virginia, during the pandemic. We enjoyed many meals in my mother-in-law’s garden, where I loved watching the surroundings bloom throughout the summer. Just when it seemed like the last flower had fallen, another blossom would appear. This pattern of resurgence was a reminder of the seasons of life, and the beauty that comes with growth and change.
WW: How did that inspire the materials you chose for this collection?
CBT: My mother-in-law has the most beautiful collection of antique linens at her Virginia home that have been passed down by her mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother. Not only were these linens beautiful, they have a history afforded to them by their quality, which inspired me to create a collection of future heirlooms. The collection celebrates extraordinary craftsmanship, with incredible attention to detail. Each piece is handmade by artisans around the world, and designed to be passed down through generations. The highest quality Belgian linen is hand-embroidered at our New York atelier; fine Limoges porcelain plates are hand-painted in Paris; and silver-plated cups and serving pieces are hand-carved by master craftsmen in Istanbul.
WW: As you said, you imagined this collection as future heirloom pieces. Why was that important for you, and how did that influence the design?
CBT: I am a firm believer in quality over quantity and really like to make good use out of my pieces, especially when it comes to entertaining. So many of the things in my mother-in-law’s home are a testament to quality and a celebration of things that last a lifetime (and beyond). When designing this collection, I selected the finest materials that will stand the test of time. Not only is it romantic to think of future generations entertaining with the “Virginia Collection,” it is also sustainable. The collection’s durability also allows the pieces to be used often free from worry that they’ll be ruined.
WW: This collection came out in the U.S. just as we’re able to gather safely again. How does this special moment in time impact your vision for the collection?
CBT: As we are able to gather safely again, I am so excited to get to entertaining. This collection will bring beauty, joy, and a bit of nostalgia to my summer table. For me, the “Virginia Collection” is a reminder of the silver linings of quarantine—time to create something new, a space full of inspiration and many hours spent at the table with my family.
WW: What are some table setting essentials, in your opinion?
CBT: When I am entertaining in Texas or Virginia, the backyard is my cutting garden, and I love to cut tree branches and fresh flowers for my summer table. I like to use low flowers that allow people to see each other, coupled with candlelight to create a warm glow, and thoughtful details to surprise guests—like little silver insects, dishes of candy, paper crowns, or wooden fans. When I am in New York, I love to visit the Chelsea flower district to buy fresh blooms the morning of the event. It always puts me in the best mood for entertaining! My favorite flowers for the table are ranunculus, tulips, and anemones. I never use scented flowers because scent disrupts your sense of taste.
WW: Since this collection has such a personal inspiration, is there a piece that’s of personal significance to you especially?
CBT: The “Heirloom” pieces are my absolute favorite. The cut edges are reminiscent of Victorian lace. The details remind me of old world children’s gowns—the kind that are passed down through generations. These linens are made in New York’s garment district in a factory that produces clothes for Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. Each napkin takes five hours to produce, which is a testament to their quality and to my dedication to craftsmanship.
WW: In your interior design work, you’re often designing with an eye toward a client’s art collection. How do you see your work in conversation with art?
CBT: Art is deeply personal, and my relationship toward collections varies from job to job. Often, if a client is a big collector, we will design quieter spaces that let their collections sing. By using a restrained palette, the art becomes the star of the show.