After approaching Jill Brown for an interview, she graciously suggested that we talk over lunch at her house. Jill is the owner of brown, Houston’s most distinctive lighting and antiques store. She is an extremely interesting woman and someone I have longed admired. A true visionary, ahead of the trends, Jill has created a brand that is uniquely her own. To be sure, there no other place quite like brown.
Jill Brown’s house. Instead of a concrete sidewalk, slate chips make up the path that leads to the house.
As soon as I pulled onto her street, I knew immediately which house was hers. In a neighborhood filled with 50’s ranches, Jill’s facade quietly announces someone with style lives within its walls. After a wonderful lunch of homemade soup and baked pie, we got down to business: her childhood was spent in the Ohio farming country, where her love of Americana began. She says she born with a gift for merchandising and her early work was in that field. Along the way, she married and had two sons who are now both in college. At one point, the family transferred to Houston. Soon after settling here, Foster, her husband, announced one day that they were all moving to Belgium. At this point, Jill had become a “picker” – someone who, before the days of the internet, would scout out antiques in attics and basements and sell them to the design trade. Could an antique picker be happy in Belgium, of all places? Once there, Jill at first felt quite lost, until that is, she discovered the country was filled with antiques. She quickly began buying - stashing her loot in the basement and in every available inch of space. To her husband, she said only, “trust me” – which he did. Jill found she was especially drawn to lighting fixtures and industrial goods – little did she realize at that time, that she was at the forefront, nay, even before the forefront, of several major design trends.
“Welcome Joni” was written on the chalkboard. As Jill’s sons grew older, she decided to sell the family home and move to this slightly smaller house in a nearby neighborhood. The house was totally remodeled to suit Jill’s aesthetic, but a few parts were left untouched, such as the original metal casement windows with their hand cranked hardware.
The Browns spent four happy years abroad and Jill’s business took off. Tragedy struck unexpectedly when her beloved Foster suddenly passed away. It’s been five years since, and Jill is only just now beginning to feel ready to get back to the business of life. She has since raised her sons alone, and used her store to escape from sadness. Through lots of very hard physical work and mental stress, her business has grown beyond her dreams. Where she once rented space in an antique store, Jill now has her own prominent location on a tree-lined street filled with other specialty shops.
brown is stocked with all the things that Jill loves. Indeed being in shop is almost like being in her home – there are her lighting fixtures, both old and new, some designed by others, and many designed by Jill herself. Old mirrors and new brass cooking pots share space with metals – iron, pewter, and zinc. Large industrial pieces fashioned into useful furniture are juxtaposed against charming, vintage teaching charts. Though Jill has never been one to follow trends, brown finds itself at the epicenter of two major design styles that has swept the country: the Belgian and Industrial looks. Perhaps, Jill was just lucky to be in Belgium before it was hot, or perhaps she is a genius at merchandising. Either way, there is no denying that the lanterns she has been selling for years is now THE one fixture to own, or that the teaching charts she has collected for decades are now being massed reproduced, or that the Industrial look she has lived with in her home is now favored by the younger, hipper crowd. And certainly, Belgium, the country where she once bought and hoarded everything in sight, could not be any hotter today. Amazing foresight, Jill!
The first things you see when entering Jill’s house are these two charming folk art paintings. Old? Actually, no – these were commissioned by Jill’s mother. The one on the right commemorates Jill and Foster’s wedding. These two paintings set the tone of the house: a mixture of Americana and Belgian, antique and industrial. The tones are muted, there is nothing bright nor shiny here. The colors throughout are a blend of khaki, taupe, sage, mustard, and of course, brown. There is a masculine feel to the collections – Jill certainly doesn’t go in for frou-frou. The interiors are as unique as she is and are a direct reflection of her style.
In the family room – open to the kitchen and eating area – a large, file cabinet brought back from Belgium is typical of the industrial pieces found at brown.
Interesting vignettes are at every corner, on every wall – here, a pair of lamps are made from 1950’s l’art populaire.
The breakfast table – with our empty lunch dishes - sits in front of a built in banquette. Hanging on the wall is a fractions teaching chart, one of many found throughout her home and store. Can you see what I drank with lunch?
Wonderful, oversized linen cloths are used for napkins. Everything in the house – every item – is handpicked by Jill. Nothing ends up here by chance. It is all, down to the smallest detail, an expression of Jill’s style.
For instance – there are no cooking pots that just “happen” to be here. Instead – all pots are these gorgeous, glorious copper ones – which she sells in her store. These are seriously beautiful - and I have my eye on them! Too bad I don’t cook!!!!
Jill pays her bills at the bar in her kitchen – notice the charming vintage chair and metal bin. She has an extensive pewter collection – a few pieces of which sit on the windowsill.
The laundry room is separated from the kitchen/breakfast area by a curtain made of linen. This linen is found in every room – as curtains, as pillows, and on upholstery. The linen serves as a continuous theme throughout the home.
The main living/dining room is filled with the hand-picked items that Jill collects for her house and store. The striking rug is American – hand hooked - and sets the color scheme for the house. The sofa is antique, upholstered in the same linen that hangs at the windows throughout. Two oversized pieces capture the eye: the cabinet on the left and the large, custom lantern over the dining table behind the sofa.
Jill designed the oversized lantern that is the focal point in the room. She likes the tension that is created by large and small scaled items. American chairs surround the table.
In the dining area – a wonderful antique French-Canadian bench sits underneath a beautifully framed, large teaching chart.
Another interesting vignette features an old folding table - a piece Jill particularly likes. Notice that one picture on the left hangs up high on the wall, and on the right, one hangs very low. Throughout the house – Jill hangs her extensive collection of art both extremely high and low. Also, notice the lamp cords which sparked an interesting discussion. As a lighting fixture designer, Jill sees beauty in each part of the fixture, including the cords and prefers not to hide them. Indeed – many bloggers have written about the beauty of vintage lamp parts – i.e. silk cords, etc. – so Jill is not alone in her opinion.
Another shot of the symmetrically laid out dining area with its wonderful lantern. The two portraits appear to be old, but were painted in the 60s. The wonderful casement window is original to the house.
The opposite end of the living/dining room boasts floor to ceiling built in bookcases filled with treasures that caught Jill’s eye. Sconces from Jill’s own lighting line, Far-Fetched, hang from the shelves. Between the bookcases, you can see Jill and Foster’s wedding painting, with a charming chest below it.
Another vignette, with yet another vintage iron folding table and oversized teaching chart – this one is about coral!
The hallway leading to the bedrooms is a gallery-like space, filled with the vintage juried art school pieces that Jill collects.
The sink counter in her sons’ bathroom was fashioned from a scrap piece of metal found in the backyard. Notice the heavy-duty racks, holding the linen towels.
This armoire hold bath towels in the boys’ bathroom. More graded art school pieces and framed work from her sons’ youth line the walls. There is very little wall space left available anywhere in the house, so extensive is Jill’s collection.
Each son has one of a pair of these very high twin beds - painted a chalky, deep red. This son’s walls are lined with the beautiful vintage diplomas of homing pigeons – another genre of art that Jill collects . Very rare, she might be the only person who does collect them!
A corner filled with the homing pigeon diplomas and portraits. Judging homing pigeons is a popular sport in Belgium. I must say, I had never before seen this genre of art – yet it is quite beautiful and I can truly understand Jill’s obsession.
Jill’s bedroom is the most colorful room in the house – I love the fabrics she has chosen to use on her bed! Again, a very symmetrical arrangement with corner windows identically covered with tortoise shades and the linen curtains found throughout.
Continuing the colorful theme, Jill’s bathroom curtains are made from vintage fabric. I love the hat box on the old stool.
Landscape architect Mark McKinnon designed this area between the house and the garage. I love the crushed slate and the concrete slabs between the row of shade trees. McKinnon also landscaped Jill’s store.
At the back of the yard, another seating area, this time with a fountain.
So, what does Jill’s store look like?
brown is located on a busy corner. It’s distinctive landscaping, again designed by McKinnon, is similar in feel to that found at her home. Notice the different materials used in front of the shop: slate chips, Zoysia grass, Bermuda grass, mulch, and Ruellia form a grid, not unlike a Mondorian painting.
Inside the front main room. The floors are wood and very echoing, adding a pleasant, solid sound to the shop. The two main rooms have soaring ceilings up to the rafters that are lit by large sky lights. Besides lighting fixtures of every imaginable kind, brown sells antiques and soon-to-be antiques.
Of course Jill sells old teaching charts – from the extra large to the small.
The second showroom.
Here, a display of bottles. In her home, Jill’s bedroom lamp is made from one of these.
Here is just a small selection of the many lanterns for sale.
Sconces – you need sconces? brown has a huge assortment of sconces. Also for sale are the beautiful copper pots Jill cooked my soup in - I want these!!!
Antique mirrors stack up along one wall.
One of my favorite fixtures in the store is this antique crystal chandelier. The crystals, especially the small round ones, are so beautiful.
So what do you do if want to buy something from brown, but you don’t live in Houston? There is always the web site, of course, but brown is now listed with 1st Dibs. I love these sconces found on brown’s 1st Dibs site.
A great set of chairs, available from 1st Dibs.
One of the many mirrors available from brown on 1st Dibs.
And of course – there are all kinds of teaching charts for sale! This one really caught my eye.
A while ago, I decorated a high rise apartment for a woman who loves to play cards. We turned her dining room into a part-time poker parlor – the table had to be round, seat eight, and the lighting had to bright enough to read cards. I looked for months for a special light fixture for the space – which is open to the apartment. The colors in the room are a deep grey-green with terracotta accents. When I walked into brown and saw this fixture – I knew immediately it was the “one.” The oversized fixture came from Belgium, it’s brass had a very heavy and beautiful patina. My client was almost as thrilled as I was, just almost, though. There is nothing that beats the thrill of the hunt – when successful. Thanks to Jill Brown – her ability to pick the best – made it a most fortuitous day.