Anthony Browne: Interior designer

 

Anthony Browne was a rock'n'roll manager turned interior designer whose clientele included media magnate Oprah Winfrey, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and such Washington socialites as Pamela Harriman. Browne's designing career was boosted when Oprah praised his work: "Anthony is a master at putting colours together," she told Architectural Digest in 2003. "When he's finished, the whole room rises up to meet you."

For years, she had saved a magazine photograph of a room he had decorated, and eventually she requested him to help spiff up her six-bedroom Indiana "farmhouse". He also helped furnish her home in Santa Barbara, California.

Browne, who was born in London, had been personal assistant to Robert Stigwood, manager of such rock groups as Cream and business partner of Brian Epstein; for a while Browne was world tour manager of the Bee Gees. But in the early 1970s, he took over a family business in London, Starcraft Cleaners, which specialised in fabric cleaning and restoration for such customers as Buckingham Palace and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

He had always cared about interior design, but the wealthy guardians who raised him after his father was killed in the Second World War, and his mother met a new man who did not want him around, discouraged his interest, although they otherwise, as he said, ''spoilt him rotten''. Interior design had then been "regarded as frivolous and unmasculine," he told Architectural Digest, "but I couldn't help doing it because I was good at it." Leaving the music business to run the firm nurtured his visual tastes, and on frequent visits to the US, he enjoyed chatting with wealthy clients and suggesting furnishings for their homes: that was the way he made the transition to the business of design.

His classic English country house style, which he perfected just before it became a pervasive fashion in America, caught the attention of the then British ambassador Nicholas Henderson, and many Americans. The hallmarks of the style included grand, yet comfortable, interiors with bold ceiling treatments:"You'll never find a white ceiling in anything I've ever done.'' He was keen on timeless fabrics, particularly English-style floral chintzes, the antithesis of the graphics and synthetics of the 1970s. "The best design look," he explained to The Washington Post, "is something that does not look new when you finish."

Once he became popular with the Washington elite, he decided to settle in the area in the early 1980s, and opened a design boutique in Georgetown, Anthony P Browne Inc. He often visited New York for commissions and lived there for a few years after the Washington shop closed in 1993, spending time in both his Manhattan penthouse apartment and a home in Dupont Circle, a grandish 1892 house that often featured on historic home tours.

He dabbled in other design work, including decorating restaurant lobbies, producing theatre sets and creating a custom line for SA Baxter, a manufacturer of architectural hardware. One of his most memorable jobs was dressing up a suite in the British embassy for a 1985 visit by Prince Charles and Princess Diana. "I got the most ridiculous phone calls from the press at the time," he said. "They asked me such questions as: does Princess Diana have a nylon cover on her lavatory seat?"

Anthony Phillip Browne, music manager and interior designer: born London 29 November 1941; married Susie Driver (marriage dissolved); died Washington, DC 13 October 2012.

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