Back Story: Neely Barnwell Dykshorn, All About Style

Back Story, a web-only feature, profiles some of these quirky and hard-working folks who tell the stories you read in the magazine. Some of them have more to say about their subjects than can fit into the finished feature. Some have humorous tales to tell about what it takes to report and write a Virginia Living story. And some just have amazing life experiences we think you might like to know about. So that’s what you’ll find here—the story behind the story.

Virginia Living contributing editor and style columnist, Neely Barnwell Dykshorn has styled everything for the magazine from high-concept fashion shoots to a rustic feast on a lamb farm in Patrick County. We talked to this native North Carolinian, former editor at Elle Decor and recently named contributing editor for Architectural Digest about her love of the decorative arts.

VL: How did you become interested in the decorative arts?

NBD: I was studying art history at UNC Chapel Hill, but slowly the decorative arts were what I was gravitating toward. I found I would be looking closely at the décor or the tableware, or the textile in the corner of the Rembrandt. After I finished my degree and was looking for a grad school program, I said, ‘No, this is what I’m interested in!’ After an internship with UNESCO in Paris and some traveling, I went to the Parsons School of Design and studied French 18th century furniture, porcelain and ceramics.

VL: You have mentioned you also have an interest in costume and fashion design. How did those fields figure into your graduate studies?

NBD: I was attracted to the costume element of 18th-century dress. Decorative arts kind of excluded costume, so I had to sort of create a field of study that would overlap fashion design and decorative arts.

VL: Any memorable moments from your years at Parsons?

NBD: I remember digging through closets in the fashion design department one day with Tim Gunn who was then Associate Dean, and Frank Rizzo who was then head of fashion design. We were there all day and ordered pizza while we watched old films of Norman Norell fashion shows from the ’60s and ’70s. It was really fun.

VL: What was your path to Elle Decor?

NBD: When I finished my master’s most of the people in the program with me were going on to curatorial work and museum work. I had done that, but I really wanted to go into publishing. Elle Decor had a tiny staff then and were looking for somebody who could do a little of everything—and know that a Majolica picnic basket was wrong! (That was a question on the copy test I had to pass when I was hired.)

VL: What kind of work did you do there?

NBD: I was an assistant editor working for the features and design editors. I produced Truth in Decorating – a department they had done for years. I also worked for Margaret Russell who is now editor of Architectural Digest. It was great, really great.

VL: What brought you to Virginia Living?

NBD: I came to Virginia in 1999 though I remained a contributing editor for Elle Decor. I also worked on 64 magazine with Garland Pollard and Tyler Darden who later became Virginia Living’s first editor and art director when the magazine was launched in 2002. The first shoots I worked on for VL were in fashion and home.

VL: What have you enjoyed about working in Virginia?

NBD: In New York there are so many shelter magazines that are all fighting over covering the same houses. Then you get to Virginia and there are so many houses that nobody has done before – these are houses so rich in history. I love the fact that we have shot all three Virginia residential projects designed by John Evans Johnson [the 19th century architect who designed Berry Hill, Staunton Hill and Tarover] and that we’ve documented his complete Virginia oeuvre. I love the fact that we have the ability to tell stories that don’t get told.

VL: Any favorites among the houses you’ve covered?

NBD: I got to go to Mirador [January 2004 issue], Nancy Astor’s childhood home in Albemarle. That’s what I love about the Property category of the magazine—we got to cover the estate editorially and had entrée to a whole level of house you wouldn’t get into normally unless it was on the market. I remember seeing peacocks in the snow in the front yard.

VL: Any other projects you’re involved in?

NBD: I am working on a project with my husband and others in North Carolina. We’re moving the drying barns from my grandfather’s tobacco farm off the property (which is no longer a working farm and is being sold) to another piece of property, in Haw River—we wanted to save the buildings from being bulldozed. It’s like Lincoln logs—we have to move them stick-by-stick. There is also one big packing barn. We’re making it a campsite—there was a wedding party held there once.

VL: Tell me about the exhibit you’re creating, “Big Hair,” opening in November 2012 at the Richmond Public Library and the Quirk Gallery.

NBD: The exhibit began back in NYC. I kept coming across the work of Alexandre de Paris—I love his work. He was super-high style and he did the “Brioche” Jackie Kennedy wore when she went to Paris, and Elizabeth Taylor, and also Tippi Hedren in Marnie. I’d been researching him forever, then it grew into a bigger topic—20th century high-style hair. I’ve been working on it for 10 years—I kept asking myself is it a book, is it an article? I finally said no, it’s an exhibit. Hair exhibits don’t really happen in Richmond, but I figured I had to make it happen.

See more of Neely Barnwell Dykshorn’s styling work on the pages of Virginia Living in every issue.

June 11, 2022

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Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

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August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum