Function Inspires Grace for Young Designer

Function Inspires Grace for Young Designer

A touch of vintage, Hollywood glam and designer pieces create transitional mix for Buckhead home.

Marcia Caller Jaffe

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Designer Beth Brown poses in front of feathered African juju hats and authentic tribal necklaces.
Designer Beth Brown poses in front of feathered African juju hats and authentic tribal necklaces.

Many of the houses featured in this column have been owned by baby boomers. Here is a breath of fresh air: a young designer with a black, white and gray space designed around the comfort and activity of children.

Designer Beth Brown and her physician husband, Gavin, put their own stamp on a new home with Nellie Poston Custom Builders. Nestled in an older Buckhead neighborhood, the house has calm, clean lines, dazzling Jerry Pair lighting, swiveling chairs, and Schumacher’s New York New York wallpaper for the little gentleman’s bathroom.

Beth pulls together a concave sunburst mirror from Oregon, an IKEA playroom, a batiked department store comforter and eclectic items from local boutiques with a Jackson Fine Art photography collection and glistening natural-stone geodes. The decor is not fussy, but it makes a statement.

Beth Brown designed the shelves in the living room with a grass-cloth background around a concave starburst mirror.

Jaffe: What inspired you to be a designer, and what is your training?

Brown: My mother (Lynne, Mrs. Jack Halpern) inspired me. She has impeccable taste and an incredible eye and could be an interior designer (she owns a jewelry store, Tassels). She taught me to appreciate beauty and incorporate it into my life and that living in a space you enjoy can enrich your life. Since I was a child, I read her design magazines — Veranda, Architectural Digest. She took me with her to select home items. It has just always been something I enjoyed and helped friends with. They were the ones who encouraged me to pursue interior design.

I trained with the Interior Design Institute and was privileged to work for Stewart Mohr Designs, a wonderful local firm.

Jaffe: How would you define your niche in Atlanta?

Brown: I work mostly with young families, many of whom are owning first homes in which they want to invest.

Jaffe: Since you work with younger families, what are the up-and-coming trends in their lifestyle and design requests?

Brown: People want to still have beautiful pieces, but they want durability and usability. Functionality and comfort matter a great deal. Further, many of the homes today don’t have the formal living rooms of old, reflecting the fact that people entertain more informally and don’t feel the need to have rooms that are just for show. I use a lot of Crypton or outdoor fabrics inside because they are forgiving and now have the same feel as other upholstery fabrics. I love swivel chairs that could face a TV or be turned for adults to chat, stools that can be tucked under a console and pulled out for when company comes and someone needs an extra seat. Just like parents today, furniture needs to multitask.

Beth Brown is known for using durable outdoor fabrics indoors. In the background in the great room is a framed Todd Murphy mixed-media dress made from straw.

Jaffe: Is it difficult being a designer and balancing your skill set with the client’s wishes? I once had a decorator who said she had to save me from myself.

Brown: It can be difficult at times, but part of the fun of my job is trying to help clients find a space that is beautiful, reflects their taste but functions with how they live. Functionality is most important, and people get caught up in a look without considering its use. I love many different design styles — from midcentury modern to French country — so I do my best to fulfill a client’s vision. That said, I try to educate clients and help them realize that you have to make choices and have a common thread throughout your house. You cannot do it all stylewise, or it will look too schizophrenic. Further, proportion matters.

Jaffe: How would you describe your own home? What atmosphere are you trying to create? … How do you balance form and function, having young children?

Brown: I would describe my home as a transitional mix — clean lines with a little Hollywood glam and global influences. I like a little drama, but everything is comfortable. Window treatments are out of the way and aren’t fussy. Lots of natural light. We have wipeable sitting areas — acrylic counter stools, leather dining chairs and Sunbrella fabric on my sofas. I try to have designated play areas that the kids can make their own and I can close the door. I try to be organized with toys and clutter. Things have their own bins, and we try to put them away daily (doesn’t always happen). But my kids have learned that there is a toy car bin, a Barbie bin, etc., and they are better about taking out the bins with which they want to play so stuff isn’t everywhere all of the time.

The young gentleman’s room has space to play on this Jonathan Adler faux zebra rug. The adjoining bathroom features Schumacher’s New York New York wallpaper

Jaffe: What do you collect?

Brown: Photography. I have pieces by Elliott Erwitt, Herman Leonard, Abelardo Morell, Todd Murphy, and local Atlanta photographers Dorothy O’Connor and Jan Lewin. I also collect geodes, vintage concert posters and Fornasetti plates.

A Kelly Wearstler chandelier highlights a set of geodes by Christopher Marley in the foyer. Beth Brown likes the sustainability of natural and geological materials.

Jaffe: If you could wake up tomorrow and have one new piece in your home, what would it be?

Brown: A console in my entry — something with metal to add a mix of materials.

Jaffe: Do you have any special Judaica or inherited family pieces?

Brown: The mirror in my daughter’s room was in mine as a child. My late uncle’s Lalique pieces. We have some unusual mezuzahs by Israeli designer Yossi Swede that we received as a wedding gift and one from our first trip to Israel together.

Jaffe: What are some of the most unusual things you have?

Brown: Abelardo Morell did a special camera obscura series of Atlanta while the High Museum of Art was having an exhibit of his work; we have one of those series. I also have a Todd Murphy mixed-media piece in the breakfast room that is a dress stuffed with straw if you look very closely. I took an old Steve Penley oil from my parents. The African juju hats and necklaces in the master sitting room.

Designer Beth Brown poses in front of feathered African juju hats and authentic tribal necklaces.

Jaffe: Yes, those are pretty wild.

Photos by Duane Stork

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