What Makes Colonial Williamsburg So Magical? Anthony Barrata Shows Us Around

November 11, 2019

The holiday calendar is in full swing and yet, if we’re being honest, we’d love nothing more than to ease off the throttle and escape to a cozy location. Where to? The cobblestone streets of Williamsburg, Virginia—one of the greatest living museums of American history, which dresses up this time of year with twinkling lights and fragrant garlands.

Our guide is Anthony Baratta, the iconic and well-loved decorator known for his bold and colorful spaces. He is the first Designer in Residence for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and he clearly loves it.

“We live in an age of trends, overnight TV decorators, and fast furniture. There’s hardly time to reflect on life’s enduring and beautiful details,” he says. “When I’m in my home in Williamsburg, I’ll wake to the sound of horses’ hooves clicking outside my window, stroll around town in the crisp morning air, smell hearth fires wafting from 18th-century chimneys, and see the most vivid, alluring American design, all in a 15-minute walk. The lessons are endless.”

Here, Anthony shares with us his favorite places around Colonial Williamsburg. You’ll want to bookmark this one!

Governor’s Palace

“This is where it all started for me. I visited the Governor’s Palace with my parents as a young boy, and it was life altering. The Palace is arrestingly beautiful. If you’re a young boy or girl, seeing this quality of design for the first time is pure fantasy. There’s a wealth and pageantry here not seen anywhere else. The grandeur of the ballroom and elegance of the upstairs fireplace were particularly magical to me when I was young. I remember them still.”

Apothecary Shop

Once used as a source for liniments, potions and pills, this recreated colonial store is awash in vivid green with over 50 Delft Blue and white jars (decorated in cobalt with cherubs, birds and baskets) lining the shelves. “It’s one of my favorite places ever,” Anthony says. “I could study the design, the colors and the layered elements for days. It’s without par one of the most beautiful rooms in America.”

Lightfoot House Fence

“This gorgeous Chinese Chippendale fence is just extraordinary,” he says. “The craftsmanship, the detail, the proportions are stunning. You must see it—it’s perfect. Good design like this is rarely seen these days.” Geometric patterns, often recreated from designs imported from China, were very much in vogue in the 18th century.

The Magazine

“This is a beautiful octagonal building that houses and displays all the guns from that time. There’s a circular staircase inside that is unexpected and completely unique. This building is rustic, so it’s different from the other, more formal buildings nearby. The juxtaposition is completely wonderful. The split-rail fences are also set close to what seems like miles of white picket fences. I love the contrast!”

Wythe House

Bedsteads, often made by specialized upholsterers, demanded more attention than any other piece of furniture in colonial days. These beds were created with yards of billowy fabric and included a carved cornice, as well as an outer and inner top valance. “I adore the color red, and this bedroom is one of my very favorites. It’s a red wool, moreen curtain, fully furnished bed. For a designer to see such detailing on an upholstered piece such as this is very unique in this day and age. Again, it’s a wonderful place to study design, and inspires me every time I see it.”


“The Grand Illumination party on December 8, 2019 is spectacular!” Barrata tells us. “It’s the most magical night I’ve ever seen. The Christmas celebration for Colonial Williamsburg kicks off with this event. You won’t believe the pageantry, the fireworks, the music and the fun. Everything is done as it would have been in the 18thcentury, including the unique decorations in the Historic District. It’s out of this world.”