By Marcia Jaffe
Joan Brown is a big fan of cousin Lisa Bradley’s oils. Also in the background is a glass menorah by Elizabeth Mears. (All Photos by Duane Stork unless otherwise noted.)
We are a community of elegant nesters. Our homes envelope our travels, our family heirlooms and our “pieces” — usually with the help of a designer who enables us to be true to ourselves.
Our spirit soars in art. We wake up to a mask from Madagascar, look in a mirror from Venice, sleep on things Egyptian. Our kitchen counters are from South Africa, we walk on silk carpets from what used to be Persia, and sometimes we score a Paul Evans table on eBay or a chandelier on Craigslist. An original Matisse along the way is nice too.
Beginning with this issue, the Atlanta Jewish Times is launching a feature in which we take private tours of fabulous local interiors and interview the homes’ collector/owners. You will see a local artist’s midcentury modern four-level home with wallpaper she painted and peek into some designers’ own spaces. Experience the whimsical, the elaborate, the downscaled and the upsized, the glass, the Judaica, and the Masters like never before.
For our first tour, enter the home of Joan and Donald Brown.
Seventeen years ago, they downsized to a single-family home in Buckhead where their décor blends family heirlooms with their love of discovery and collecting. It’s the right amount of vibrancy and drama with relaxed sophistication.
Entering, we see the contrast of a red glass vertical sculpture by Kenny Pieper set against a print by Harvey Littleton, for which glass was used as the printing plate. As the scarlet sculpture is illuminated, Joan says with a laugh, “In December the neighbors think it’s a Christmas tree.”
The open living room gives way to several areas of interest. Throughout the house artist Ferdinand Rosa dominates with three large, colorful oils: over the master tub, the dining room credenza and the great room fireplace.
Near the fireplace is Aunt Etta’s marquetry table with a century-old lamp that lights at top and bottom, juxtaposed with a three-piece Michael Sherrill sculpture group. On the opposite end of the fireplace sits another antique secretary with a painting by the later Atlanta artist Paul Chelko.
Outside the front door is a 10-foot-tall metal sculpture by Alex Henderson from showroom Blood, Sweat and Steel. (Photo by Marcia Jaffe)
Don says, “That Chelko hung in my father’s Peachtree Art Theatre, which served as Chelko’s first gallery.”
The hallway features another Chelko atop a wood pedestal by John Clark, a North Carolina wood sculptor, with an oversized, wood, flamed hummingbird perfume bottle by Shane Fero. A delicate red basket by Billie Ruth Suddath — “a national treasure,” Joan says — peeks through.
Joan’s favorites are a pair of monochromatic paintings by her cousin Lisa Bradley, who shows at Taggart Gallery in Manhattan. “We could pass for sisters,” says Joan, who greatly admires her work because “I find it very calming. I see something different each time I look at them.”
The glass menorah from Penland is by Elizabeth Mears and is surrounded by Gary Beecham’s turquoise bowl and a Black Arts Festival piece by Jamaican Dudley Vaccianna. Most important is a recently commissioned custom glass etched bowl by Jan Ritter, in which the Browns’ four silhouetted grandchildren dance within the delicate layers.
The dining room is the crowning jewel, as well it should be, with a chandelier that was converted from gas to electric from an old house in Savannah (Donald’s Blumenthal grandparents). The Blumenthals also brought the Russian samovar that sits atop a charming, eclectic antique credenza. Joan says, “I got the credenza as a gift when our daughter was born.”
The chandelier works with the steel base of the dining table, which was commissioned to mirror the graceful arches of its branches. The sparkling lilac bowl in the table’s center is by Mark Pieser.
The corners of the dining room display prints by famous Bauhaus Yale art professor Joseph Albers. Albers was known as “the European refugee instructor,” and his legacy was the meaning of form and the well-regarded book “The Interaction of Color.”
The kitchen has a whimsical edge with family photos backdropped by a red woven piece (Jose Fumero) with naked women, motorcycles and Budweiser beer images peeking through. Donald says, “You have to look real closely to see the naked ladies.”
In front stands an important bowl, Pieper’s “Autumn Primavera.”
The outdoor front entrance welcomes with a 10-foot-tall, three-tier, emerald elliptical metal sculpture by Alex Henderson from showroom Blood, Sweat and Steel. The front yard’s iron twisted sculpture is by Philadelphia artist Paul Lichtenstein.
More From Joan on Décor
Jaffe: What advice would you give to young folks starting to collect?
Brown: Buy what you like, but nothing fake. Start small with what you can afford and go from there.
Jaffe: What piece would you like to wake up and find newly added in your home?
Brown: I always see things that spark my interest. Right now it is a metal-wood-and-glass cocktail table. Maybe a Richard Jolly glass or a piece of the late Harvey Littleton, who really got the glass movement going.
Jaffe: What about glass especially appeals to you?
Brown: Being surrounded by glass reminds us of the fragility of life. Doesn’t it?
Jaffe: So how would you describe your style?
Brown: The bottom line is that we wanted a home that incorporated the old and the new, the comfortable, the colorful, and, above all, interesting and stimulating things. And many of our artists happen to be Jewish.