Anthony P. Browne, interior designer to the stars, dies at 70

October 28, 2012

Anthony P. Browne, a onetime rock-and-roll manager turned interior designer whose star clientele included media magnate Oprah Winfrey, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and Washington socialites Pamela Harriman and Evangeline Bruce, died Oct. 13 at the Capital Caring hospice in the District. He was 70.

He had a tumor near the optic nerve, said a friend, David Helfrich.

Helfrich said Winfrey visited Mr. Browne on the day he died. Mr. Browne’s career received a huge publicity boost after the talk-show host praised his work in a national magazine.

“Anthony is a master at putting colors together,” she told Architectural Digest in 2003. “When he’s finished, the whole room rises up to meet you.”

She saved a magazine photo of a room Mr. Browne had decorated in Baltimore for years before requesting his services in spiffing up her Indiana “farmhouse” — a six-bedroom, Loire-style estate. He also helped furnish her home in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Before he found his calling in design, the English-born Mr. Browne was the personal assistant to Robert Stigwood, manager of British rock groups such as Cream, and business partner of former Beatles manager Brian Epstein. For a period, Mr. Browne was world tour manager of the Bee Gees.

By the early 1970s, he left the rock industry and took over the family business, Starcraft Cleaners, a London firm specializing in fabric cleaning and restoration. The firm’s patrons included Buckingham Palace and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mr. Browne’s work with Starcraft nurtured his growing interest in design. On frequent visits to the United States, he enjoyed chatting up wealthy clients and suggesting furnishings for their homes.

His classic English country style caught the attention of English and American dignitaries alike, including the British ambassador Nicholas Henderson. The hallmarks of his style included grand, yet comfortable, interiors and bold ceiling treatments.

“You’ll never find a white ceiling in anything I’ve ever done,” he once told the New York Times.

Mr. Browne was especially keen on “timeless” fabrics, particularly floral chintzes.

“The best design look,” he explained to The Washington Post in 1991, “is something that does not look new when you finish.”

After gaining clout with the city’s elite, Mr. Browne decided to settle in the Washington area in the early 1980s and open a Georgetown design boutique, Anthony P. Browne Inc. He frequently visited New York for commissions and lived there for a few years after his Washington shop closed in 1993.

He juggled his time between a Manhattan penthouse apartment and his Dupont Circle home, an 1892 carriage house commonly featured on historic home tours.

In addition to outfitting Washington homes, Mr. Browne dabbled in other design work, including decorating restaurant lobbies, crafting theater sets and creating a custom line for SA Baxter, a manufacturer of high-end architectural hardware.

One of his most memorable jobs was “dressing up” a suite at the British embassy for the 1985 visit by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

“I got the most ridiculous phone calls from the press at the time,” Mr. Brown told the Times. “They asked me such questions as, ‘Does Princess Diana have a nylon cover on her lavatory seat?”

Anthony Phillip Browne was born Nov. 29, 1941, and raised in London by guardians. He told Architectural Digest that he was 3 when his father died during World War II and that his mother ran off with another man who did not want children.

“They spoiled us rotten,” he told the magazine of his prosperous guardians. They sent Mr. Browne and his two siblings to boarding school in England.

His marriage, to Susie Driver, ended in divorce. Survivors include a brother and a half-sister.

Mr. Browne said he had an eye for interior design early in life, but his guardian family discouraged his interest.

“It was regarded as frivolous and unmasculine,” he told Architectural Digest, “but I couldn’t help doing it because I was good at it.”

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