The Brown House
Kristin and Harris Brown commission extensive renovations with respect for the past, yet firmly rooted in the present.
Article by Maré Brennan
Photography by Martin G Meyers
Styling by Kristin Brown
Back in 2009, Kristin and Harris Brown were boating in and out of their Ouachita River fronted home. Although their home stayed high and dry, the commute by boat to terra firma became tiresome as floodwaters took quite a long time to recede. The need to be closer to family and the opportunity to restore a beautiful piece of property on Phillips Bayou proved irresistible to the community-minded pair whose interests lie firmly in politics, the environment, history and the arts. In 2011, “The Brown House.” with its stately columns and near perfect siting along the banks of a pristine waterway that used to connect to the Ouachita River, came back onto the market and needed another set of creative “Browns” to love it just as the ones before had.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING.
Built in 1950, this classic Greek Revival home has always been known to Monroians as “The Brown House.” In its 66-year history, except for one brief time, it has only been owned by families with the last name of Brown, none of them related.
The original builder of the home was Mr. Slade Brown, of the “paper mill” Browns. Slade Brown purchased one of the first lots to be sold after the Country Club relocated and the nine-hole golf course was developed as a residential neighborhood. Slade Brown loved music and the theater – he actually won a Tony Award in 1961 for producing “Bye Bye Birdie.” At one point, he bricked up the back windows in the living room to install a rather large pipe organ where the fireplace sits. It was later donated to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
The second owner was the Edmund Brown family of the newspaper business. Bitza and Edmund Brown purchased the home in the 1959, where they raised their large and lively family and lived for many years until 2008.
A NEW TRADITION.
Kristin and Harris Brown purchased the home in 2011 and thus began a loving restoration of this classic Southern place. Through the decades, several additions had complicated the back of the house, windows were bricked-over and the upstairs hallway had been carved up into small rooms. For the restoration, the couple enlisted the in-demand contracting services of Robbie Smith. Says Kristin, “This was the second project that Robbie has done for us, and he completed this entire project from start to finish in less than ten months. Robbie is very focused when he works on your renovation, and he’s very realistic. We became close friends with his foreman, Ron, and the whole crew.”
Explains the homeowner, “This renovation was like an archaeological dig.” The home was completely gutted down to the studs, additions removed and windows opened up, bringing the home back to its original floor plan. Renovations included all new HVAC, plumbing and electrical throughout the house. Efficient tankless water heaters replaced behemoth tanks and freed up floorspace.
During the restoration, one of the most dramatic changes occurred when the kitchen was returned to its initial position, then doubled in size. Kristin added a bank of windows to take in the sweeping view of Phillips Bayou.Together with Sandy Sartor of Key Millwork, Kristin designed the kitchen cabinetry which is painted a deep, warm grey tone. Wall mounted cabinets on either side of the range hood feature glass-paned doors. On either side of the Kitchen Aid stainless refrigerator cabinetry is designed to hide small appliances and store the couple’s collection of cookbooks. A painting of a levitating onion by the late Glenn Kennedy highlights the hood above the Viking stainless range and was a Christmas gift from Harris to Kristin when they first married. Counters are topped with Calacata Velluto marble with a graceful, bullnosed ogee edge. The marble for the kitchen and the marble tiles in the downstairs bathrooms were sourced through Walker Zanger in Dallas. In keeping with the era in which the home was built, Kristin chose an oversized Ann Sacks subway tile for the backsplash. The painting of an egg carton is by a Park City, Utah artist.
Just beyond the kitchen, through a set of French doors lies the home’s outdoor living area. “We took the whole back of the house off. Our intent was to bring it back to its original footprint. Outside, we were able to create a huge living space,” says Kristin. “We truly use this space, and eat dinner outside every night when the weather permits.” Teak seating and tables create conversational groupings for gathering and are brightened by colorful accent pillows and the couple’s collection of succulents. A freestanding hammock adds hours of enjoyment for dreamy afternoons spent reading and soaking in the ambience of the bayou.
Kristin and Harris took great care to leave intact as much of the original features as possible, such as the staircase and its wrought iron railing. Says Kristin, “The intricate carving on the treads of the stairs along the wall is a detail that dates to the home’s origins. Kelly Iron Works was able to seamlessly piece together an additional section of railing upstairs for us as well.” The home’s red oak floors took on new life after a complete sanding and ingenious use of diluted white wash to achieve a pickled effect. The beautiful bay window which commandeers an entire wall of the dining room and the bi-fold doors and their unique brass hardware which open into both the dining room and the living room from the main entry hall were renovated as well. The front door with its massive brass hardware and beveled glass surround were restored to pristine condition. Downstairs an egg and dart step to the original crown molding was removed and a custom molding was created by Robbie Smith’s craftsman, Cecil, to Kristin’s specifications.
Kristin, an award-winning graphic designer known for her impeccable sense of style and ingenious use of color, decorated the home herself with the help of a few, close talented friends. The paint colors throughout the house are soft grays and warm neutrals, with names like Mouse’s Back and Down Pipe from the Farrow & Ball line. Light fixtures throughout the home are new to the home yet are in keeping with the age of the home. Kristin sourced many pendants and sconces from Circa Lighting and found the entry hall’s antique gilded wheat and chaff chandelier at The Mews in Dallas and the gilded wheat sconces in the hall half bath were discovered online at One Kings Lane.
The home’s distinctive entry hall features a large canvas by Wendy Dulaney, which was purchased through Tish Miller’s Inside Indigo at an art show one Christmas. A collection of blue hued blown glass bottles top a hall console of iron and reclaimed wood. Stair treads are painted an inky black giving the staircase a graphic punch. The doorway that leads to the newly expanded kitchen was widened during the renovation.
The Brown’s artwork collection has been acquired by the couple over time and is comprised mostly Louisiana artists. Harris’s grandmother, Mrs. Abe Harris of Ruston, painted the large iris in the living room in the 1970s as well as the butterfly painting which hangs above the breakfast table in the kitchen. The design aesthetic which Kristin employs throughout the home is traditional with a clean, modern twist. The furnishings throughout are comfortable and casual, since they are often lounging spots for their three dogs and cats. In the living room a pair of linen upholstered sofas provide a comfortable seating area for guests to gather. Two large windows overlooking the bayou and a fireplace focal point are now where Mr. Slade Brown had installed his pipe organ. One of Brad Arender’s photographs from his Hurricane Katrina series is positioned above the mantle.
The right wing was converted into a single master suite with a bedroom, master bath and his and hers closets with dressing area. In the hallway to the bedroom, a Blue Dog painting by George Rodrigue, a gift from Harris’ mother, is a reminder of Harris’ beloved blue heeler and companion, Hambone. Harris had the solid cypress, quarter-tester bed handmadeby acclaimed furniture maker George Oliver of Natchitoches, LA prior to their marriage. Linens are by Bella Notte, and drapery fabric throughout the home was sourced through Fabulous Fabric. Spacious and calming, the master bedroom is a calming retreat for the couple. Windows from the bedroom take in views of the bayou, as well as a walled shade garden with 50 year old camellia trees, as well as hydrangea, fatsia, elephant ears and ferns. Throughout the home, Kristin tried to keep all the finishes and fixtures in the house true to its time period, using such materials as marble, subway tile and classic styles. Nowhere is this more evident than in the master bathroom. Floors dressed in elongated hexagon tiles of calacata marble anchor the master bath with his and hers vanities, a marble tiled walk-in shower with glass door and an elegant free-standing tub. An extra downstairs bedroom was converted into His and Hers closets as well as a dressing area for the couple.
The left wing of the house is the workhorse and features a spacious mudroom and laundry. Kristin sewed voluminous curtains of striped cotton ticking, which camouflage the washer and dryer. The vintage-style farmhouse sink with limestone counter is the perfect place for potting plants and flower arranging, two of Kristin’s passions. Just beyond the mudroom, the butler’s pantry provides a transition from the kitchen to the dining room.
In the light-filled dining room, a large oval table is surrounded by upholstered chairs in neutral linen with nailhead detail. The marble topped sideboard had been a fixture in Harris’ dad’s office for many years. The collection of French botanicals was a find from Traditions Antiques in West Monroe. The large landscape painting is by Susan Johnston, and a Michalopoulos colorful and visually skewed painting of a New Orleans Victorian adds a whimsical touch to the room.
Upstairs is a contrast in styles, textures and colors. Kristin likes to think of one side as being feminine, playful and fun, while the other is dark and serious – a “His and Hers,” so to speak. Her side includes a guest bedroom and bath for her nieces and craft room where Kristin sews, works on art projects and creates her award-winning floral and botanical art exhibits. As an exhibitor and Floral Design Judge for The Garden Club of America, Kristin makes good use of this room. The craft room overlooks the bayou and is flooded with natural light that streams in from the north and the east. The bright wallpapers are a modern twist on retro 60’s designs by Amy Butler. “I do love some wallpaper,” says Kristin of the bold, graphic prints she chose for the bed and bath rooms. The four post bed had belonged to Kristin’s grandfather. An Emily Sartor mixed media collage hangs near an antique vanity and mirror. In the bathroom, Kristin sewed the curtain adding colorful embellishment that picks up colors in the wallpaper. The Browns were able to retain the original fixtures, sink and tub but updated the flooring with cute hexagon porcelain tile flooring and subway tile on the wall by DalTile.
His side upstairs is more masculine, subdued and includes a library with fireplace, guest room and bath. The library is the logical place to house Harris’s bevy of books, but also a quiet place to display their collection of black and white photography. Of note are the three Shackelton Expedition photographs by photographer and visual documentarian Frank Hurley, who was part of the crew that set out to explore Antarctica in 1914. The photographs were a wedding gift from Harris’s brother. In the “His” side upstairs bathroom, adorable lighting by Schoolhouse Electric offers a modern take on vintage lighting with hand-painted glass shades that are keeping with the time period of the home. A glass corner shower with subway tile lined walls and flooring of hexagon tile blend perfectly with the original porcelain sink. “My first apartment was completely done in 20th century modern furnishings,” explains Kristin, “but I feel it’s important to be respectful and appropriate to the architectural time period of the house.” In the guest bedroom which overlooks the front lawn filled with ancient live oaks, Kristin has created a wall collage of black and white family photographs above the linen upholstered headboard. Atop an antique dresser, a silver gelatin print of a Grecian statue is by family friend Doug Kennedy, while a skull mount of large deer with gold glittered antlers on the opposite side of the room was created by Doug’s twin, John. Being close friends since college, John often acted as Kristin’s sounding board during the renovation.
Kristin and Harris have a definite philosophy about the homes they have had and feel one needs to be true to their architectural style and sensibility. Says Harris, “We are proud to be able to restore this home and bring it back to its grandeur.” To which Kristin smiles and adds, “We are simply stewards of this place while we are here, and it has been a true love affair and privilege to be part of this home’s history and journey. My hope is that we have honored it and the families that came before us, by restoring it and caring for it.”