Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

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Artist's downsizing sparks creativity

Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Suzanne Barnett, above, a resident at The Forum, turned a bedroom into a workshop and office. Barnett’s home, left, features eclectic furnishings, including a mannequin whose dress is made of eyeglass lenses, below left, and a see-through, hand-painted side table with bracelets for the legs, below. Her collection of “assemblage art” covers her unit at The Forum, bottom left, proving that downsizing did not stifle her creativity.

Artist and TV host Suzanne Barnett has produced 1,200 shows for KMVT over the years, but perhaps she should have a camera focused on the new home she created for herself at The Forum Retirement Community in Cupertino.

It’s whimsical, colorful, comfortable, flamboyant and inviting – simply Barnett, who is known for her jeweled, hand-painted tennis shoes. However, it was no easy trek from a 2,300-square-foot house in Los Altos Hills to a 1,050-square-foot apartment at The Forum.

Barnett had learned to live alone – she lost her husband, Superior Court Judge George Barnett, 15 years ago, but she wanted to make the move. She was no stranger to The Forum after visiting for eight years. but she had no idea it would be so difficult to leave the home she’d lived in for 57 years.

“I had to give away 80 percent of my jewelry, clothes and furniture,” she said, adding that even that wasn’t as challenging as having to get in touch with her own mortality. “It was the most traumatic time of my life.”

‘The Really Big Move’

Prior to her move, she engaged the services of Kate Brauner of Senior Moving Assistance in Cupertino, who was “the best thing that happened in my move. She helped with everything, especially the emotional part.”

And, being who she is, Barnett decided to capture her move on video. She filmed her three-month journey, “The Really Big Move,” which she hopes might help others. She takes a positive approach to life.

“Every negative thing which has happened to me has turned out to be a blessing,” she said.

Barnett emphasized that living at The Forum has been “fruitful” because it’s a “fertile field to find people to interview” for her “New Horizons” show on KMVT.

After jobs as a stockbroker, secretary and adult education teacher, Barnett taught art and exercise classes at Pilgrim Haven (now The Terraces at Los Altos), never dreaming that she would live in a retirement community someday. However, her first love was acting. She played the next-door neighbor in an episode of “The Donna Reed Show.”

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was the catalyst for her art pieces. Her Los Altos Hills home, designed by a student of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, took a major hit. She literally picked up the pieces of porcelain, mirrors and ceramics and decided to turn them into art objects.

Her “earthquake art” proved popular and led to her TV show, “Barnett’s Studio.” Next, she branched out to copper enamel jewelry, then mosaics, stained glass and, ultimately, painting shoes, clothes and furniture.

Assemblage art

Barnett brought “carefully selected favorite things” with her to The Forum. From a large collection of mannequins, for example, she chose one, which holds court in her atelier – a bedroom she transformed into a workshop and office. The mannequin’s dress is made of eyeglass lenses with a fringed hem of earrings. Her lighted halolike head has red glass lips (a repurposed ashtray). She obtained the used lenses from a Los Altos optometrist, not having any idea what she was going to do with them at the time.

A hand-painted side table has stacked bracelets for legs. And bracelets adorn the neck of a giraffe taller than she is. Barnett calls this “assemblage art.”

The furniture is special and surprising. A high-backed twig chair nearly brushing the ceiling boasts an eye-catching seat cushion (a dog bed). In front of a tapestry loveseat (from a consignment store) sits a glass-topped coffee table supported by the kneeling figure of a woman covered in mirror mosaic pieces.

The apartment appears spacious because of the wall of windows facing the hills – and Barnett’s choice of a see-through dining table and chairs, the work of famed Israeli artist Shiomi Haziza. The round table sports a glass top on a base of multicolored acrylic spikes. Cushions on the translucent acrylic chairs echo the colors in the base.

A modern acrylic sculpture by the same artist catches the light from the living-room windows. Adjacent to it is a 19th-century hand-painted glass picture bordered in stained glass.

“I like the juxtaposition of things,” Barnett said. “I don’t like things to match.”

Among the few pieces of furniture she brought with her are a pedestal table and her grandmother’s small tilt-top table, both of which she painted with simple, colorful designs. Indeed, color runs rampant, from a painting of a voluptuous red rose over the fireplace to the throw pillows on the bed. One of the pillows was created from the top of a chiffon dress, another from a jacket.

Barnett loves to shop – flea markets, garage sales, consignment stores – and she’s pleased with the atelier’s small sofa she purchased online. She also has a passion for lighting: a starburst chandelier with LED lights, a Tiffany floor lamp, a crystal chandelier on her terrace, a lighted electric fan and – the pièce de résistance – an illuminated unicorn and fairy with flapping wings.

“At night, it looks like a cheap nightclub,” she said.

Just be careful when you leave – there’s a 2-foot alligator mounted on the wall in the entry hall.

Artist Suzanne Barnett showcases creative home - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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