Manhattan-based designer Nannette Brown is no stranger to the word illustrious. Prior to joining the design game, Brown undertook stints as a NBC anchor and producer and founded an NYC stationery boutique beloved for its hand-engraved luxury paper goods. Which is all to say, Brown was saddled with a treasure trove of knowledge when she made a career-defying leap and opened her own design firm, Nannette Brown. Well-versed in the art of drama (no surprise given her pre-design career), Brown has embraced a monochromatic palette that speaks to both modernist and romantic sensibilities. Her eye for avant-garde sculpture tempered with classical design principles has further endeared her to well-heeled New York City clients, as well as shelter mags like Elle Décor and Town and Country. Hot off a string of high profile projects, Brown recently took time to share some of her design favorites to go along with her collection of DECASO favorites. Read on to discover the oft-forgotten rooms Brown’s alway keen to splurge on, the daring ways she loves to pair high and low, plus a half dozen white paints this self-professed monochromist deems a ten-out-of-ten.
Favorite way to work a bit of vintage into a room:
I start with vintage. My process always comes from an architectural reference point, so I tend to veer quickly toward vintage or antique salvage when starting a project. It can be an element like lighting, an old sink, or even casework I can integrate into a room. I’m inspired by objects that lend history to a space or help tell a story. Even for an ultra-modern project, it’s fun to find that one-off piece that sets it apart.
Favorite way to add drama to a room:
A strong visual point that stands proud – which for me, is the interior architecture and sometimes finishes. You can’t band-aid bad space, so drama to me is creating the right architectural punctuation. This elevates everything, including the decoration. Whether it’s a striking fireplace mantel, clean proportionate space, or beautiful millwork—all are imperative to good design. When I look at a room, I think what’s going to be
the Aha! moment here; Nine times out of ten, that moment is architectural.
Favorite way to mix high and low:
I don’t know how to do anything but! For me, it’s about the juxtaposition of objects and finding the balance. It’s not about the price, it’s about the interplay. There are these beautiful striated rocks I collected hiking Mount Blanc between Chamonix and the Italian Alps a few years back; they are just the most beautiful objects in the world to me. And I derive so much pleasure mixing in things like this. They sit proudly atop a verrrrry expensive table, and they were free!
Favorite place to splurge and favorite place to dial it back:
I mix it up. I often splurge on places you’d never think, like laundry rooms. They’re part of the engine of the house, just like the kitchen. I love to put service areas that are usually hidden, on show. Clients initially think “Whaaaat?!”But when we incorporate these areas into our larger design plans, there’s a 360 degree turn. I promise, clients never go back!
Another splurge? Soft furnishings. This is a category where I really don’t like to compromise. I like good high quality upholstery, and beautifully made window treatments. It makes a big difference.
Favorite decorating trick:
When it doubt, ebonize or strip something back to its natural wood finish. Some pretty dreadful things can look great by neutralizing them. For me, that’s changing whatever it is to a really dark color, or light tone.
Favorite design risk you’ve ever taken:
Wow, there are too many to say! I assume design risk in every project I undertake. It’s important to feel uncomfortable sometimes. I don’t think you’re innovating if you’re not doing something that feels slightly new or different. My clients allow me the freedom to stretch my creative muscles. It’s sometimes a little scary, but it’s also thrilling.
For example, I like to show the workings of things, so I have interconnected an entire group of rooms with glass to accomplish two feats: To intersect a pre-war apartment with a ton of light, and to create better defined spaces for flexibility of use. The kitchen, breakfast room, butler’s pantry, and laundry room are all on display—a modern spin on the service rooms of an old English manor or a chef’s table in a great restaurant!.
Favorite project in your portfolio (and why you love it):
My favorite project is always the most recent or current project I’m working on. I try to transcend each project by approaching the next with an entirely different point of view.
Favorite paint color:
White. It’s clean, it’s modern, it stands down or up to most anything. I have lots of favorites: Chalk, Super, Decorator’s, and Cloud Whites by Benjamin Moore, Wevet, Strong and All White(s) by Farrow & Ball, and Donald Kaufmann DKC White Out is also a good one.
Geometric grids, herringbone and chevrons. I like lots of different patterns, and I use them most often with tile and stone patterns.
Favorite color combo:
Black, brown and white. I love lots of colors, but my guess is that you’d never see me use a rainbow of mismatched colors in a room. I tend to use strong or bright color as a punch. Either the entire room is in one full-on monochromatic palette, or I make a bold statement with one color element that pops. Big punch. Little punch. It’s the relationship among colors that interests me most.
Favorite room in your house:
My kitchen, because I love to cook and I love my La Cornue range!
Favorite piece of art you own:
A mid-century painting of a faceless woman by Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani.
Most unusual piece you’ve ever sourced for a project?
Materials for private aircraft. It’s really challenging, as any pieces must meet strict criteria for combustibility and weight, among other things per FAA guidelines. Even sourcing the china was an unusual experience. We had to weigh each and every piece during the selection process.
Tell us more about your experience with DECASO!
My favorite thing about DECASO is that it’s visually arresting. It’s like stepping into the virtual Museum of Modern Art! Should we rename the site? Things immediately pop and more easily catch my eye. When you’re shopping for lots of things, you need great visuals. I also love communicating directly with the dealers, and the ability to preview items in-situ when using the DECASO app. It’s a great tool when working with clients.
Favorite item on DECASO right now:
The Vortex Dining/Center Table by Yann Dessauvages
Favorite travel destination:
Favorite hotel to check into:
The Almhof Schneider Hotel in Lech, Austria.
Favorite way to treat yourself:
By taking good care of myself. I’m much more intentional about my time these days, along with sleep, eating well and exercise. Sundays are what I call my study days. I like to be quiet, almost reflective and still; I read, watch or do anything that feels enriching. This is my most creative day, and I’m convinced it’s because I’m being good to my nature. In life and work, I go, go, go, so my treat is to just stop. If you’re going to live well, you have to be well.
Favorite entertaining essential:
White-ware dishes and scented candles. Whether its a seated dinner or buffet, I love simple white serving platters for food, and I always have great candles burning in my home.
Mark Rothko. See, I do like color!
Favorite thing to collect:
Rocks, unusual shells, twigs, agate, china, pottery, vintage jewelry, sunglasses, shoes and coats. This is true confession time!
YOUR CITY: MANHATTAN
Favorite local flea market/vintage hunting ground:
The Showplace Antique & Design Center.