Podcast, Episode 109: designer Barbara Balongue

Designer Barbara Balongue


Designer Barbara Balongue specializes in hospitality design — restaurants, bars, and boutique hotels. We loved chatting with her about the intricacies of restaurant design, how it impacts our dining experience, and everything those goes into building out a gorgeous venue. She blew our minds with all of the details we’ve never even thought about!

What You’ll Hear on This Episode

  • The challenges with restaurant design
  • Why you can take a bigger risk in restaurant design than you might at home
  • Why booths are great and why they’re great to use in residential spaces as well
  • The science and psychology of restaurant design
  • We talk about restaurants that haven’t used designers and a client of Barbara’s who was blown away by how interior design changed his bottom line
  • New trends in restaurant design
  • How Barbara chooses color in her projects
  • Restaurant noise — how to combat it and why its an after thought
  • Why people covet the ‘hotel feel’ when they’re designing their own homes
  • Bathroom lighting and everything you need in your guest room


Decorating Dilemmas:

Hello Ladies –

Greetings from Washington State. I’ve become an avid listener of the podcast – it’s been so valuable in helping me see my spaces in a fresh way. My husband and I built our home about 10 years ago; a craftsman-inspired design that we enjoy every day. However, I still suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to making design decisions, especially in the part of our house we call the ‘big room’.

The ‘big room’ includes dining, a larger living space and a fireplace nook area. I love the potential of this room but we do not use it except for hosting large gatherings a few times a year. I’m overwhelmed to make decisions due to (what I now know from the podcast) is the scale of furniture and accessories required to fill this space. I’ve stuck with the little things, like buffet lamps, because they seem safe -but when I bring them home, they look like something that belongs in Barbie’s Dream house. I get frustrated and ignore the room for another few months.

Here’s the skinny:

    1. My goal is for us to use this space more frequently. It’s an inviting room -great windows and light, cozy reading not to mention a dining room – but because it doesn’t function well, we just avoid it.
    2. I am drawn to clean traditional lines and love my couches and wing chairs (although I want to change fabric); however, the room feels more formal than I would like.
    3. I do play the piano but it looks sad on that very large wall; it does not fit anywhere else and to protect it, I don’t want to put it in front of the windows; I am willing to relocate it to another room
    4. I’d like to create 3 spaces that are separate but yet work well together; I like furniture pieces like can play dual roles when possible

Questions…so many questions:

    1. Big wall: HELP! Artwork? built-ins? could I do a different furniture layout that would help minimize the size of this wall
    2. Dining room: I need new chairs – I like the clean lines of a parson style chair – need options that can hold their own in this room
    3. Creating an inviting room: What can I do?

I’ve learned from the podcast that I prefer a visually soothing palette with lots of texture / mixed materials and pops of color – drawn to colors of fall – saturated gold, reds, deep orange and even indigo blue.

Whew! it’s a lot I know. Thanks for any and all help you and your guest designer(s) can provide!


First, these views are beautiful! Barbara sees the challenge because the room is so voluminous and large, and she wants to bring the room down to scale. She would add some detail to the ceiling, like fake beams and cladding in between to bring the scale of the space down and give us some zones to add lighting. The more texture we can add in this room the better, it would highlight the beautiful view and make the space more inviting to lounge around.  Barbara would also add some area rugs and smaller pieces of furniture, grouped into zones that work with your sofa. We love the piano and Barbara has some ideas on making it even more prominent for entertaining. If you put a TV in here and it will make you use the room more, we give you full permission!!

Show Notes:

Please send in your questions so we can answer them on our next episode! And of course, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes so you never miss an episode. You can always check back here to see new episodes, but if you subscribe, it’ll automatically download to your phone.

Happy Decorating!

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.


  1. Reply


    October 9, 2020

    I love the look of baby grand pianos, but experts say the sound produced by a baby grand is far inferior to a good upright. Of course a regular grand is better still, if you have the room and money. See The Piano Book by Larry Fine, forward by concert pianist Kieth Jarrett. By the way, I love your podcast and recommend it to all my friends. So good!! And I love the three of you. You three have made southern style even more accessible and inclusive than great southern literature, gardens, architecture, design, etc. had before you started the podcast. Thank you for being so inclusive.