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News + Insights

Rockwell Group’s Barry Richards on the Importance of Giving Back, Design Innovation, and the Power of Light

Curiosity, play, and possibility. Perhaps no design firm is more adept at combining these elements than the esteemed Rockwell Group—which for more than four decades has elevated projects spanning hospitality, education, residential, and beyond with its distinctive touch.

Helping move Rockwell Group’s innovative approach forward is Barry Richards, the firm’s Principal and Studio Leader. Richards has applied his unique skill set to projects ranging from the Center for Civil Human Rights in Atlanta, to set design for the 2009 and 2010 Academy Awards, to product design for a bevy of high end collections with Knoll, Stellar Works, and Maya Romanoff, and many more—collecting an impressive trove of awards along the way. 

I got to speak with Barry about partnering with Ketra for his enchanting tablescape design for this year’s DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) Dining by Design event—and the trends he’s seeing in hospitality and beyond.


1.  Congratulations on the amazing booth that you created for DIFFA’s Dining by Design. How did the event go?

Thank you! DIFFA is a tremendously important organization to David Rockwell and Rockwell Group—David was even president of the board at one point. We’ve been proud to participate in the Dining by Design event for the last 20 years. It’s an important chance for us to give back.

The event is also a great opportunity to test out some of the innovative concepts we’re exploring in our design laboratory. This year we wanted to create a space where people looked good, enjoyed themselves, and felt special–and I think we did that.

Ketra's Natural Light over Rockwell Group's unique tablescape for Dining by Design


2.  Where did your inspiration come from this year for your design?

One particular inspiration for this year’s tablescape was The Peacock Room by James McNeill Whistler, which the painter Darren Waterston did a take on as well with an installation called “Filthy Lucre” at MASS MoCA.

Barry Richards' inspiration - The Peacock Room by James Whistler

Photo Credit: Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries - The Peacock Room - CC BY-SA 2.0 - Via Wikimedia Commons

Lighting is incredibly important—even the best design won’t sing without the right light."
Barry Richards
Principal and Studio Leader, Rockwell Group


3.  What do you think about the power of light in creating a mood or environment?

Lighting is incredibly important—even the best design won’t sing without the right light. And since lighting was key for our tablescape this year, Ketra was a perfect partner for the project.

We wanted to create something special with color, and Ketra helped us take that idea a step further. At their showroom, we tested out the various lighting colors against the design, and were able to highlight different colors of the peacock feathers on the piece, showcasing the blues, greens, and golds, to create drama and multiple looks.  

Ketra's colorful light over Rockwell Group's unique tablescape for Dining by Design


To create a focal point of the design, Rockwell Group created a signature lamp at the center of the piece that was emblematic of James Whistler’s original design. This came together as a peacock-feathered, gold leaf paper-covered lamp.

One-of-a-kind lantern with Ketra light inside 

4.  What trends are you seeing in the design world?

People in hospitality and theater have always understood the importance of creating immersive, dynamic spaces. But now I’m seeing that appreciation spread to workplaces, healthcare, and retail settings too.

More and more, people are discovering that good design and lighting can change the way that people feel and interact with a space. A lobby can be more of an entryway—it can function as usable work space for collaboration during the day—and transform into a nightclub vibe to create an entertainment space in the evening. All through the power of design and light.

I’m also seeing softer materials get incorporated into modern and reclaimed spaces that have lots of hard surfaces, like concrete and brick walls. Contrasting these elements with softer materials like fringe or velvet makes spaces feels warmer, more accessible, and more inviting.


5.  Any recommendations or favorite projects that I should check out the next time I’m in NYC?  

Hudson Yards is beginning to open up which includes many spaces Rockwell Group has designed, incredible interiors for 15 Hudson Yards and the Equinox Hotel opening soon.  It is fun to see this neighborhood come alive with people and activities tying into the energy of the HighLine and the West Side.

The Shed at Hudson Yards

 Photo credit: Scott Frances for Related/Oxford

Working with Barry Richards was a true pleasure—great design for a good cause—and we’re looking forward to the next collaboration.