Artist and designer Bari J. Ackerman can’t stop creating.
by Cathy Martin | photographs by Megan Easterday
Bari Ackerman traces her love for florals back to her childhood, from her mom’s Rose Chintz china and Desert Rose everyday dishes to the tiny rose-print wallpaper in her bedroom growing up in Chicago.
“My mom’s an artist. She hasn’t painted in many, many years, but I grew up watching her paint and do needlepoint,” says Ackerman, who moved to Charlotte from Scottsdale, Ariz., with her husband Kevin in 2021. “I always said my mom can make anything.”
Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Since she started making digital art in 2007, the artist behind the Bari J. lifestyle brand has created more than 20 fabric collections, along with art for wallpaper, rugs and other home-décor items. Ackerman’s designs are found on rugs at Anthropologie.com, shower curtains at Target — even sofas from Joybird, upholstered in Bari J. fabric.
Ackerman’s art career didn’t begin to blossom until she was in her early 30s. She learned graphic design while working in the advertising department of a real estate company. When her two daughters were young, she started a business sewing handbags. To differentiate her products from others, she decided to design her own fabric. “And that was the foray into all the different product designs,” says Ackerman, sitting in her light-filled studio at Dilworth Artisan Station in South End..
After a few years and some success growing her business, she decided to try painting. “I think the reason I didn’t [previously] try putting anything on canvas and paper was because then it was permanent. I could just drop and drag to the trash if I was on the computer,” Ackerman says.
“And when I started painting, even though there were tangible things to mix and do, it felt like I’d been doing it for years. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I was supposed to be doing.’ It’s so much more of a visceral experience.”
Product sales picked up, too, after she shifted from digital design to painting. “I think there was an expression that wasn’t captured necessarily in the digital art that was captured in the paint,” she says. An instructor in an entrepreneurship class had once told her, People buy your joy.
“And I just think that is so true. People buy things that they feel were created in joy, and I was just so filled with joy painting. I think that it translated, and it translates, to the products.”
Fabric is by far her bestseller, she says. Since 2012, Ackerman has licensed her designs to Art Gallery Fabrics, a Florida company that markets to DIY-ers and modern-day quilters. She teamed with Loloi Rugs on the Bari J. Wild Bloom collection that’s sold at Anthropologie, Grandin Road and other online retailers. Pillows, bedding, wallpaper and more can also be purchased on her website, barijdesigns.com.
Ackerman calls her look curated maximalism. “I really feel like with maximalism, there’s this connotation that it’s all about collecting and filling the space. My feeling about maximalism is that it’s about layers of color and pattern put there intentionally and to create the vibe … For me, it’s not about collections or stuff, because I’m very tchotchke-averse.”
Florals are her jam, though she’s recently branched out into other subjects, such as food and pets. “Flowers are woven into our lives because they truly inspire positive emotions,” she writes in her book, Bloom Wild, published in 2020 by Abrams. The book is filled with tips for decorating with florals, from choosing complementary patterns to creating tablescapes to picking fabrics that work together with art. “For me, flowers and blooms are natural healers,” she writes.
While her art career keeps her plenty busy, Ackerman is equally enthusiastic about home design. “I didn’t want [our house] to look like a page from a home décor catalog,” she writes in her book.
And in just one year in Charlotte, she’s already transformed the main living areas of her Myers Park home, which she documents on her Instagram account @barij. Next, she plans to turn her attention to a powder room and the outdoor living spaces.
Ackerman dabbled in interior design during the decade she lived in Arizona, creating mood boards and helping clients select finishes for interior projects. She’s looking to ramp up her design career now that she’s settled in Charlotte.
Despite her own success building a brand using social media, in her book Ackerman suggests drawing inspiration from real-life experiences — botanical gardens, museums, bookstores — versus sites like Pinterest and Google, where algorithms create a relatively homogenous search experience. “You’ll see the same images over and over. I find this disables my creativity.”
That’s difficult to imagine, given all she’s accomplished so far. As she writes in her book, “Nothing is safe from my paintbrush.” SP