Designers Rob Brown and Todd Davis on D.C. vs. Miami


Rob Brown and Todd Davis. (Gary James/GARY JAMES)
June 13, 2012

It’s been more than a decade since Rob Brown and Todd Davis, who decorated the British Embassy residence and the Clintons’ Chappaqua, N.Y., home in the early aughts, moved from Georgetown to Palm Beach, Fla. But they say their connection to Washington is as strong as ever.

“Home’s home,” said Brown, who was born at Arlington Hospital and grew up in Mount Vernon in a house on the Potomac River. “Our goal has never been to uproot, just to expand. We’ll always be in D.C. one way or another.”

Brown and Davis, who are also a couple, have come a long way since 1994, when they formed Brown Davis Interiors and redesigned a house in Logan Circle as their first project.

“This was back when I couldn’t even get my friends to visit me there,” Davis said.

These days, they mostly work out of Miami but keep offices in the District and Los Angeles for client visits. Although most of their business is done online, the Miami and D.C. office each has a full-time staffer for when Brown and Davis are traveling — and they often are. They’re producing a collection of china tableware in New York, hosting a lecture series for the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles and developing an eco-friendly paint line with Premier Eco Paints on Capitol Hill.

At a presentation at the Corcoran Gallery of Art last month, Brown and Davis showed photos of Villa Nirvana, their sleek Miami home with tall black accent walls, bold paintings and plush pieces from the ’60s and ’70s. The biggest hit of the evening was a slide of their dining room, which includes a playful set of chairs with fur seats and spindly steel legs that resemble baby chickens.

We caught up with Brown and Davis by phone to talk about about their growing business and the differences between the D.C. and Miami design scenes. Here is an edited excerpt.

What’s your style motto?

Davis: Comfort is the greatest luxury. Rooms must be as comfortable as they are compelling.

Tell us about your signature piece,
the sociable.

Brown: When we started, we were often called into homes where the living room was the problem: They were big rectangular rooms with fireplaces in the middle, and everyone bought matching sofas and faced them towards each other. That left the areas behind the sofas void; it was dead space.

The sociable was the solution. By moving the sofas to the perimeter and putting a round piece in the center, suddenly the room opens up. At parties, nothing comes in handy more.

How did you land Bill and Hillary
Clinton as clients?

Brown: When we bought Hollerith House in Georgetown, Susan Mary Alsop was one of our neighbors. She introduced us to the British ambassador’s wife, who hired us to do the embassy. Not long after, Hillary attended an event there. She called us a few days later.

What kind of a look did they want?

Brown: Chappaqua represented comfortable country living. They are not pretentious people. It needed to be inviting, intelligent and thoughtful. We used a lot of yellow and red, and some really elegant patterns.

Where do you go when you’re in town?

Brown: Darrell Dean, Marston Luce and A Mano [all in Georgetown]. We also love the vintage boutiques over on U Street.

Davis: I’ll never get sick of La Chaumiere. I went there after my high school graduation, and their Dover sole is the best around.

What’s the difference between the
design scenes in Miami and the
District?

Brown: The basics — scale, function, quality — are always the same. But in Miami, playfulness and risk are more acceptable, which allows for stronger color and contrasts. There is a lot of white, and the accents in throws and pillows are bolder.

Davis: Everything D.C. has exists in Miami, but just a little more over the top.

What’s new in paint?

Brown: In both cities, there has been a shift to smoky colors like grays, mauves and lilacs. They’re relaxed but sexy. It’s funny, mauve was a taboo word 10 years ago. Suddenly, it’s everywhere.

Can you give a tip for Washingtonians that you’ve picked up from the folks in Florida?

Davis: Have more fun with your home.

What’s the story behind those chicken chairs?

Brown: They are Milo Baughman stainless-steel chairs from the 1960s that I covered in Mongolian sheepskin. And the result is, well, they look like chicks. It’s a playful touch for a serious room. Every now and then, you’ve got to be unpredictable. Life’s too short to be a catalogue.

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m.

Newell Turner, editor in chief of House Beautiful, joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A about decorating and household advice. Submit your questions now.

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