PROVIDE CONVERSATIONS – Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown has been running her interior design firm, Stephanie Brown Inc., in Vancouver for over a decade now. The award-winning designer is known for her bespoke residential, luxury interiors that range from warm, organic and minimalist homes in Vancouver to boldly tropical designs in Hawaii.
We caught up with Stephanie just before the holidays.
How did you first get interested in interior design?
I’ve had an interest since a pretty young age. I think I became more tuned in to the specific world of design when my parents began to build a house on an acreage where I grew up, and in kind of a nerdy way, I just became slightly obsessed with looking through house plans. Because we were in a small town, there was no such thing as hiring an architect to custom to design your house. It was, ‘go pick up a bunch of planning books from Home Hardware.’ Each little catalogue had 200 house plans in it, and I could really read them. I could imagine what these different layouts would look and feel like, and even imagine my own little adjustments.
How old you were at that time?
I would have been about 10 or 11, so pretty young. I really loved getting into that. And then once they began building the house, I pointed out a few flaws with the floor plans – things like, hey, where are you going to put your bedroom furniture? You have too many doors. And my parents, oddly, they didn’t question me. They would just say, ‘Yeah, good point.’ And I began helping my mom pick the finishes for the house.
My introduction to the world of interior design was through magazines that my mom would get. Canadian House and Home, Better Homes and Gardens, that kind of thing. I really loved it, and it just became a huge interest of mine. And so I was pretty tuned into what I wanted to do for a career from an earlier age.
It’s interesting – you’re quite an architectural interior designer, and it seems like that aspect of it was something that you were attracted to at an early age as well.
Yeah, I definitely was. And I did look into architecture and think about that, and I still have a huge passion for it. Whenever we have the opportunity to get a little bit more architectural on our projects, such as a renovation, I really love it – it’s definitely a happy place for me. But in terms of a career, I think I gravitated more to interior design. With architecture it seemed like the process is quite beginning heavy, in terms of creating the shell and the bigger elements. And I felt like it was missing the finishing touches and the real touch points that people interact with and touch and feel and engage with at the end, when they live in a home.
And how did you get to Vancouver from small-town Alberta?
When I was still in college for interior design in Calgary, I began an apprenticeship at a firm who specialized in high-end residential design, and that was huge for me. I was exposed to so many different styles of homes, and it just furthered my passion for both the technical side of interior design, but I also learned a lot more about the furnishing and finishing aspects. I stayed at that firm for nearly a decade, but I was young, and the West Coast always called to me. It felt like it was meant to be home.
And an opportunity presented itself with a big project that we were working on here in Vancouver. And so I made the move out to lead the design on the ground here.
About a year and a half after being out here and working for that other firm, I just decided the time felt right to establish my own firm, where I would have a little bit more opportunity to focus on my values and how I wanted to approach projects, and the variety of projects I could take on – to spread my wings a bit.
Do you have projects that you think of as your favourites?
Every project I feel personally connected with and really invested in. But there have been a few where they’re really on par with my own taste, and the execution of them was exactly how I imagined they would turn out. We did a townhouse in Whistler on Blackcomb, and it was a thorough transformation from a really typical ’90s Whistler – that big stone and wood beam look – to a much more contemporary Scandinavian aesthetic. And I think the transformation was huge. It’s not the biggest project by far that we’ve done, but it has this really uplifting, light, airy mountain aesthetic. People love that – we still get tons of great feedback and comments on that, and it’s standing the test of time.
So what’s inspiring you these days? How do you keep your work feeling relevant?
Oh, that’s a great question. I’m always inspired to see what our community of designers is putting out. I think Vancouver has a really exciting architecture and design scene, and I’m always intrigued by what the more modern, minimalist architects are putting out – it’s really creative work.
Our projects are always so varied, I have to find inspiration from different sources almost for every project. We do a lot of vacation homes – we’re doing a couple of projects in Hawaii and Palm Springs, and even one in the Bahamas. So the inspiration I gather for Vancouver projects will be very different from those ones – I have to go looking for it.
Are there designers that you particularly admire?
When we’re working on our Hawaii projects, I’ve often looked to the work of Nicole Hollis. She’s a San Francisco-based designer, and her work is, like our own, very varied based on the location of her projects. But the aesthetic of a lot of her tropical Hawaii projects, it’s really inspiring. Great design is sometimes hard to come by in Hawaii, and yet she has a really beautiful, minimal modern aesthetic for her projects.
We touched on this at the start of our chat, but I wonder what you think about the role of accessories in finishing a project?
No matter where our projects are located, whether it’s Vancouver or Whistler, or even Hawaii, they’re never thematic. We want it to play to the context of where the home is – Whistler will for sure have a different vibe than Hawaii – but we never get too thematic. So we do rely heavily on textures and the quality of goods. That final layer is really important in that it truly pulls everything together, and helps solidify the style and the feeling that we are trying to establish in a home. So it might be something like a really awesome chunky throw, or is it a super refined, sleek cashmere throw?
The quality of the ceramics Provide has are really beautiful, like those from Heather Rosenman – I think they add that special kind of handmade, artisanal quality. When everything’s brand new in a house, and it can all feel a little bit shiny and perfect, and you really need that artisanal texture and quality and depth.
There’s something about the handmade that adds a different quality to a space. You can obviously go and grab a whole bunch of perfect white vases from any store. And while they might fill a corner, they don’t necessarily add character or substance or texture to a space the same way a really truly crafted piece does. And I think our clients also just appreciate the value and the story behind one-of-a kind pieces. A lot of our clients also take a less-is-more approach, as do we, and that lets us focus on quality pieces in a very strategic and meaningful way, rather than overloading with more standard decor.
You mentioned Heather Rosenman, what are some of your other go-to lines at Provide?
The glass collection from Guaxs, we’ve used it on a variety of projects. Right now I’m looking at a beautiful huge vase we have in our own office, and we have it on a sculpture pedestal because it feels literally like a unique piece of sculpture. So it’s the first thing you see when you walk into our office. Some of the pieces have a beautiful, really subtle colour to them. So while we’re not being thematic, it might offer a subtle hint at the ocean or the forest. We love that line for the depth and quality of the glass.
And then another one we’ve used quite often that is a great go-to is, of course, Studio Sturdy.
I mean any designer – we always laugh a bit when we’re dealing with a big dining table, and how to style it, because it’s almost always, ‘Well, a Martha Canoe Tray, would be really perfect here.’ They’re just really beautiful, simple minimal, but finely crafted pieces that work so well, whether it’s a Canoe Tray, or even the big sculptural bowls – we’ve used those as art pieces too.
Thanks to Stephanie for taking part in Provide's Conversation series. Visit Stephanie Brown's website to see more of the design firm's beautiful interiors.