When Everett Brown, a New York interior designer, is asked what kind of decorating most people want, he replies, "Oh, proof decorating, of course. You know, kidproof, stainproof, soilproof, scuffproof, wrinkleproof, wearproof, staticproof, and fadeproof. Which is just another way of saying that people want things to look good and wear well for a long, long time."
He is also pleased to say that today's technology has gone such a long way with development of new fibers and protective finishes that "proof" decorating has become an ever-nearer possibility.
Mr. Brown has been designing homes, offices, and hotels for more than 40 years. As "proof" of his own outstanding professional achievements, he has just been given the 1980 Designer of Distinction Award by the American Society of Interior Designers during its annual conference in New York. The ASID, of which Mr. Brown is a fellow, has 17,000 members and is the largest such design organization in the world.
For years Mr. Brown has helped set new trends through his work at Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago, the Grand Rapids Furniture makers Guild, the decorating pavilions at the New York World's Fair, and his furnishings designs for the mass market.
Mr. Brown and his wife, Martha, have lived in at least 30 residences, ranging from earlier attic, basement, and garage apartments in the Midwest to a shingled cottage overlooking San Francisco Bay, their present Manhattan apartment, and their Victorian second home in connecticut. In each case, he says, whatever their budget at the time, they put together an attractive home as quickly as possible. He explains that it has always been important to them both, and to their two daughters, to feel settled and complete, not suspended in many decorating projects of indefinite duration.
His rooms, both in homes and in offices, exude what one editor calls "an almost tangible feeling of warmth and hominess. One could feel immediately at home in them, and both physically and mentally comfortable."
From his own experience, Mr. Brown shares the following observations about decorating today.
* "I think many of today's interiors are shockingly devoid of cozy groupings of furniture and a thoughtful approach to creature comforts. Every time I provide a place to sit, I also provide a place to put down a sandwich and a glass of milk, a pad and pencil for notes, a good-looking container of paper tissues, and a nearby wastebasket. I always think in terms of seating clusters so friends and family members can chat amiably and closely together, not across a chasm of space. I think people today enjoy living all over their houses, so I set up every room for a convenient flow of living and entertaining activities.
* "At our house we have desks of various types and sizes in many rooms, ready for easy writing, reading, or study. We have lots of small tables where one can put down a lunch or breakfast or evening snack tray. Martha and I love having a meal or two each day in the master bedroom in front of the television set. We have clocks and small radios in every room and a comfortable sofa or a chair or two to encourage private or tete-a- tete quiet time.
* "Color, to me, is a vital ingredient of decorating. I use lots of it, but take care about how I distribute it in a room. I have always believed in the advantages of dark colors for walls -- colors like bottle and olive greens, rich browns, teal and bright navy blues, and even black such as we now have in our New York living room. I once painted the walls of our California house all white, but we soon found them boring. I repainted the whole downstairs a firecracker red, leaving white trim, and we liked that better. Darker colors are flattering to both people and things, but they can always be interspersed with lighter, brighter colors in other areas.
* "I find that both family and guests love a sense of visual surprise, which is why we constantly change place mats, napkins, and dishes. We even vary the color and design of paper plates and cups. We see that beds look pretty when they are turned down at night, and that towels are arranged with an eye to special color and pattern. Guests always feel and appreciate that we have taken real thought for their comfort and their delight, and we have.
* "To me, a sense of order is a terribly important element of decorating. I tell my young clients that tidiness costs nothing but pays big dividends, that I can give them beautiful environments, but I cannot make them pick up their socks. I may be overneat, but I think a neat house says a lot, and is peaceful.
* "Learning and curiosity should also play a big part in homemaking and decorating. Both decorators and their clients should always be reading and observing what magazines, movies, television, museums, and decorator show houses are conveying about current trends and up-to-date materials and methods. Observant people learn to analyze what they can make their own, and what it is they like and dislike about such homes or settings. They can stay open to new ideas so their homes will not grow static and eventually stale. If they are collecting fine things, I tell them to set up a systematic program of study to inform themselves about their collecting field.
* "Don't be afraid to use a few overscaled pieces of furniture, for they can actually make a room look larger, not smaller. Big, lush sofas and fabric-hung four-poster beds are cases in point. A huge, gilt-framed painting hung in a small entrance hall is another example of overblown scale benefiting an otherwise tiny, dull space.
* "Remember that just one exquisite piece, such as an antique or reproduction French Louis XV commode or a beautiful breakfront or secretary, can give an entire room tone and class.
* "Recall that camouflage is an art. A vase of green leaves placed on an attractive pedestal in front of a window can effectively distract attention from the ugly air conditioner behind it. And be reminded that a contrast of textures , such as comes from placing 18th-century crystal wall sconces against a rough-sawn good paneled wall, can be startlingly appealing."
What has been Everett Brown's greatest satisfaction during his years of decorating?
"Making people feel happy and delighted with their homes, and teaching them what goes into their making. To me, education is the most important job a designer does. You have to have the patience to keep explaining costs, and quality, and solutions." This may be why he often refers to himself as a "helper ," someone who helps people to observe, see, and understand.
Mr. Brown's decorating jobs have run the gamut from millions spent on corporate headquarters of big businesses to a budget job for a young career woman who had saved $2,000 for her initial investment in her home.
Like most other designers today, he will also give decorating advice and draw up long-range decorating plans for people on an hourly consulting fee basis. These hourly fees can run from $25 per hour to over $200, although many stores with decorating departments offer consultations free of charge. If you need and want decorating help, it pays to shop for the right decorator, the right service , and the right price, Mr. Brown says.