As a rule, I avoid trendy Manhattan restaurants at all costs. You have to understand I moved to the city in 1983, at the height of ‘Nouvelle Cusine’. Paying $40 for 3 ounces of poached salmon and 3 blanched snow peas at Richard Lavin’s joint on 39th Street revolted me. So when I was asked to join a Christmas celebration dinner at one of Chelsea’s hottest brassieres, I cringed. After some seemingly ceaseless prodding I buckled to the peer pressure and went. In the end, the food was good, the crowd (albeit far younger, far taller, and favoring obligatory black fashion) was pretty, and the conversation among my design-ista friends was great fun.
Oddly enough, this man I’d never met, named Timothy Brown, kept surfacing in conversation, and in a consistently favorable way. Phrases like ‘gloriously restrained’, ‘master at mixing finishes’, and ‘perfectly understated’ were the buzzwords of the evening. So, the following morning I called his offices, and invited him to coffee. Here’s what I learned in our charming and spirited interview.
Tell me about how you came to be an interior designer?
While growing up outside Nashville I spent a lot of time working with my father and grandfather building houses and furniture. It was a natural progression for me to go into the design world. While I was a student at the University of Tennessee I was fortunate to meet the people who inspired me to be the designer I am today.
Who have you worked for in the industry, and what are the important lessons you’ve learned from them?
I did my design internship with Victoria Hagan. While there, I was put in touch with Wayne Nathan and he offered me a job. After my time with Victoria and Wayne, I went on to work for Robert Stilin as well as Eric Hughes.
Through my experiences, I learned different design insights from each designer.
After working with Victoria, I find myself always asking WWVD…What Would Victoria Do? She has such a masterful curatorial eye, so I ponder, what would she like or dislike about the space?
From my experience with Wayne Nathan I learned to see the room as a canvas. Wayne taught me to work on a space, step away from it and then come back and really see the room: to question what does it need, what do I remove. He taught me to” loosen up” a room, taking more liberties to create an interesting room.
Robert Stilin is a great business man and decorator. He taught me the business side of the design world as well as how to approach the client, how to work, and how to really understand the service side of the business. Truly invaluable information.
And Eric Hughes taught me how to look at design projects with an editorial point of view.
Can you explain your design philosophy?
Always listen carefully to your clients. I’ve never been one for the ‘suite of furniture’ look. Growing up in the south, so many people would go to the local furniture store and buy the buffet table that matches the dining table that matches the dining chairs, etc. I personally don’t think things need to match – it limits creativity. I believe that a room should be a collection or grouping of objects and furniture from different decades. I certainly believe more is more and less is less and there is a fine space between.
Your rooms tend to be very tightly edited, it appears that for you, less-is-more. Is that an accurate assessment?
A fair assessment indeed. I like rooms that are Inviting and comfortable, without the frills. I love seeing family parties in spaces I’ve designed.
Who historically influences your work?
Who are your clients?, and why do you suppose they gravitate to your style?
The majority of my clients are people who have worked with decorators in the past so they understand what a designer brings to the table and how to work as a team. I also have clients who are upgrading to a larger apartment or bigger beach house. My clients are educated in the world of antiques, art, craftsmanship and the way designers work, therefore we partner to get their job done in a timely and efficient way. I would say that clients gravitate to me not just for my style but also for my high level of service. My goal is never let a client feel they want to go to anyone else. Recently I’ve started to get a younger clientele who are working with a designer for the first time. The good thing is that even though the designer experience is new to them, their parents have used a designer so they understand the process. I love when someone references their mom’s decorator.
The recession and the advent of the internet seem to have perpetuated great change in our industry. How have you adapted to meet the challenges of designing spaces in their wake?
I’ve noticed clients are more conscious of how and what they will spend money on, and most know that they can re-sell or would like to re-sell or re-use their existing items.
Who are the 10 ‘go-to’ vendors and products for you at Timothy Brown Studio?
1. R.E. Steele Antiques: for vintage finds (but also for his dogs and his advice.)
2. JED: for the obscure table with fringe to the floor.
3. Alt for Living: excellent resource for fabrics and carpets.
4. Sacco Carpet: for amazing custom carpets.
6. Robert Altman LLC: vintage Italian furniture.
9. Homenature: Square Lacquered Bedside Table.
10. Paula Rubenstein: for found objects.
In the end, I found Timothy to be a perfect Southern gentleman who’s possessing of a wealth of decorative arts knowledge, and a savvy business acumen that’s spot on for the zeitgeist we’re living in. It’s no surprise that his career trajectory is heading north. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future, and will do my best to report back on it here!