Friday, March 17, 2017

Timothy Brown

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

Designer Timothy Brown lives in a Kips Bay building that many may have dismissed as forbidding because it is one of the relatively few examples in New York of real Brutalist architecture. Not many will know that the two towers, which comprise the full building, were in fact, designed by I.M. Pei. Some four thousand residents perhaps keep quiet about one of the best-kept secrets in the city because the reasonably-priced apartments are full of light, quiet, spacious and have a distinct and authentic 1960s vibe without being dated. It is, however, a far cry from the farm in Tennessee where Timothy grew up. Like a lot of these interviews we immediately allowed ourselves to be sidetracked away from the subject of interiors to something more interesting: the difficulties of showing cows in the ring—there really can’t be many design columns that cover this kind of ground.

I really love these cool facts about you that I found, like you used to drive to high school in a 1976 Ford truck—it’s a very un-designer-y vehicle.

It wasn’t a 1976 Ford truck, it was a 1990 Ford truck … no wait … 1980 … something. I grew up on farm and it was just what my dad had.
Branches of flowering quince and colorful French tulips from the Flower District bring a bit of spring into Timothy's Kips Bay apartment.
Looking across the living room. On the far wall a large work by Ed Ruscha is actually a framed limited edition beach towel by the artist.
To its left is a wall sculpture made out of found items. "I like adding a random reused object into the mix," says Timothy. The tangerine velvet-covered bucket chairs are by Milo Baughman and the small turned-wood pedestal is by Chris Lehrecke.
To take advantage of the large windows and to give a feeling of greater height to the 8 foot 3 inch ceilings Timothy selected furniture with lower sight lines. A long john bench by Ed Wormley for Dunbar holds the stereo and flat screen TV.
Actually quite a lot of designers we interview grew up on farms. It is kind of weird. And now my mind’s gone blank on who they are … John Rosselli, Patrick Mele grew up on a chicken farm … and there’s someone who grew up on a peach farm in California.

Oh really? My dad had beef cattle [in Tennessee] and we showed cattle … that was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done.


It’s just hard. Have you ever tried to lead a cow around a ring before? You have to break them and you have to teach them to come along with you and you have to get them to set their feet the right way. You have to groom them—it’s the hardest thing.

So it’s like the Westminster Dog Show?

Right, exactly that.
A photograph by German artist Elger Esser dominates the east wall of the living room. Nearby, a small bench by Hans Wegner is positioned in front of a floor lamp by Isamu Noguchi.
Ah! How do you think that trained your eye?

It didn’t train my eye for any of that [interior design] stuff. It was just more about teaching you just to work hard.

Was that your father’s full time occupation?

No—that was a way for him to make money because he was [also] an engineer. You know he had four kids and we lived on a farm; we had meat in the freezer for the winter and [it meant that] he was solvent. We even grew tobacco. It is so labor intensive. It is the worst job ever.

Gee, interior design must be a piece of cake after all this.

You have no idea how hard this is sometimes! [laughs] I would much rather go back and deal with the tobacco sometimes …
A Swedish vase filled with Japanese lisianthus as well as favorite art and design books are arranged on a glass-and-stainless steel coffee table by Joe D'Urso.
Stacked art books work as a table for an Italian white glass light.
A limited edition "WC4 Chair" by ASH NYC stands under photographs by Christina Dix (top) and Richard Prince (bottom).
What do you find hard about it?

The stress is always about the money.

How about incompetence?

You have to micromanage everybody to death. I think in New York, if you can afford it, it’s really better to go for the top person [contractor] or the middle—don’t ever go for the lowest.

What did your parents think of your choice to become to an interior designer?

They have always been very proud. It started out with architecture and sort evolved into interior design. I didn’t want to sit around and do math all day long.
More of Timothy's photography collection leans against a wall in a corner near the dining area.
A 1940s French table lamp stands near another small wood pedestal by Chris Lehrecke. Tim found the marble-and-steel table at the 26th Street flea market.
And how did you get to work with Victoria Hagan?

It was an internship and then I got a job. I went down the back pages of Architectural Digest and just picked firms that I liked and called them all.

That showed a lot of confidence—college kids who live in New York might not have done that.

I don’t know if I would have done it now. One of my best friends from Tennessee, we laugh today about how I called Victoria’s office. I called up and left a message for their office manager, whose name was Gail and when she called back, I recognized the number, I was like, “Hey, Gail!” … you know very country bumpkin. But then I found out [later] she was from Long Island and she used to sound really terrible and that she had voice lessons to be Miss Prim and Proper.
Mid-century Dutch chairs from Robert Altman surround an Alain Richard dining table.
Branches of quince in the foreground frame a mirror from Knoll that hangs on the kitchen wall.
Timothy updated the original 1960s kitchen with open shelving, marble countertops and stainless steel appliances.
In addition to housing the necessary dishes and glasses Timothy used the open shelves to display a collection of pottery, art and wood sculptures found at a Hamptons estate sale. The glazed parrot, a gift from a French friend, stands in front of a photograph by friend Ron Marvin.
So [for your style] you seem like you like to edit.

Yeah, I do. I love to go through people’s stuff and tell them to throw it away. My closets are a little packed for me right now. I would love to be able to open a closet right now and go, “Oh, there’s a moth ball in there.”

So where’s the romance in all of that, in design work, I mean?

It’s because they come to you and say, “Here’s my blank apartment.” And you get to color it in in your head … and at the end of the day, it’s becoming friends with somebody … it’s a whole process. Also I don’t know if [you’ve been] told but I’m getting ready to open up a store at 200 Lex.

Oh, what are you going to sell?

Antique furniture and vintage furniture. I’ve been shopping in Paris and locally. I have a friend who shops for me in Belgium. I don’t want to overcrowd it. We’ve had everything in storage for the past two years—it’s taken me that long to find the right space to do this.
A group of framed Japanese wood block prints hangs on a wall in the bedroom hallway. Turning the corner into Timothy's bedroom. The blue leather chair is by Milo Baughman. Pottery, books and a speaker are arranged upon the bedroom windowsill and chests of drawers.
In Timothy's bedroom, a photograph, "One Iceberg," by Olaf Otto Becker from Youngblood's Antiques hangs above a custom bed. The indigo linen throw is by Maison De Vacances.
A photograph by Chris Hedrick hangs above a French 1970s filing cabinet. A small, framed origami by Timothy is positioned behind a Tizio lamp.
More views across the bedroom. A wire sculpture by Timothy hangs above a watercolor of an iris by Kim McCarty.
Another Tizio lamp stands on a small table by Charles Eames.
Photographs of the ocean by Daniel Jones hang above two "close but different" Danish mid-century chests. The marble table lamp is by Nessen.
Timothy's all white, no-nonsense bathroom. Hanging on the wall is "Nice Try", a well-placed photo of a roll of toilet paper behind which a Batman action figure is attempting to hide.
Why do you want to do a store?
I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to. I think there’s a definite need to get people back into stores, to get them to sit on things, to see things and to touch things and to experience the different textures of things. The only way to do that is to limit what you’ve got online and make people come into the store.

But … retail, I mean if you go down Madison Avenue … how many empty stores are there?

I know. People get lazier and lazier. I have an old client—she bought a car online. They delivered a Mercedes to the house.

People buy dogs and cats online …

I did buy a dog once online. And she’s been great!
Timothy's building, Kips Bay Towers, is one of a two-building complex by architects I.M. Pei and S.J. Kessler. It was completed in 1965 on seven-and-a-half acres and is considered an example of Brutalist style architecture.
Open city views can be seen from all the rooms of Timothy's apartment.
A three-acre private garden between the two apartment towers features landscaped lawns and recreational spaces. The Towers are home to more than four thousand residents.
Okay now the last of the cool facts about you that I read somewhere or other—your Swiss Army knife that you say you find so useful. Do you seriously carry one around?

I have two over there right now. [He gets one] So okay, [you can use it] for installations if you need to take tags off of things. [You can use it] if you need to open up plastic bags or to cut threads. I don’t use the nail file.

You see I’ve always wondered what the Swiss Army does with those knives …

I don’t think they defended themselves with them … like they taped it to the front of their gun and used them as bayonets. It’s just a really handy little tool. What do you want me to say?!