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Flipping Out for Brown Design

I've been a huge fan of the Bravo reality series Flipping Out since it first aired three years ago. And, like most people, it's not so much the design/flipping aspect that entertains me, but the characters, especially Jeff Lewis, who is so eerily like a dear friend of mine from college that it's occasionally creepy. Yes, Jeff is OCD, anxious and sometimes just downright mean, but I suspect he's a softie at heart (just as my friend is). In any case, when the third season premiered a few weeks ago I was interested to hear what Jeff, Ryan, Jenni and Zoila were up to now that the bottom had fallen out of the California real estate market. So far I haven't been disappointed; it's been fascinating to see how Jeff and Ryan's businesses have evolved to reflect the down market. In fact, watching Jeff and Ryan develop their respective design businesses has been more interesting than house flipping -- at the very least, seeing Jeff have to make clients happy is priceless.

Design-wise, I find Jeff Lewis' style to be a bit too sterile for my tastes. Admittedly, he uses exquisite finishes, buys only the best, and has, in a technical sense, excellent taste. And yet there are very few surprises -- and very little color -- in his work. I'd also venture to say that he takes it all a little too seriously. Jeff's friend and business partner, Ryan Brown, on the other hand, is far more my speed. His eclectic modern style is a great blend of mid century modern, graphic pattern and plenty of bold ethnic and/or chinoiserie accessories to keep things interesting. After all, design is all in the mix.

Apart from his dealings with Jeff, Ryan Brown also has a separate design business that he co-owns with his brother Joshua called Brown Design and I highly suggest scrolling through Brown Design's online portfolio (and blog) for some inspiration. One of the recurring themes in their rooms is the tendency to include one large element of surprise -- be it a large colorful painting in an otherwise neutral room or a giant orange chinoiserie china cabinet (which I love and want for myself) in an otherwise very modern kitchen. The tension created between this large focal point and the rest of the (often quiet and understated) room is interesting and also very personal. As with the kitchen above, this kind of visual tension lends some much needed warmth and personality to what otherwise might lean towards too modern and sterile.

This room is one of my favorites -- and not just because it appears to be just steps away from a gorgeous beach. In particular, I love how the mix of furnishings and accessories are beachy without being your standard-issue shells, rattan furniture, etc. I also love how the very modern, streamlined sofa works so well with the grain sack pillows (which seem to be everywhere this season) and even the "found" objects (or fish hooks) hanging as art on the wall. The vivid blues in the art work are also brilliant as they relate to the turquoise ocean visible through the glass doors without competing with the stellar view.

I absolutely adore the giant Shinto garden shrine in this bathroom -- together with the large potted tree (is that a ginkgo?), it really helps to blur the line between the indoors and out in this light-flooded space. I just wish the Browns hadn't decided to throw a cowhide down in front of the tub. All I can think is how smelly that thing must get when it gets damp. All in all though, this bathroom is still lovely and serene.

There's probably a good argument that Imperial Trellis is a bit overplayed at the moment, but since I still love the fabric, I'm always happy to see it pop up somewhere. Here, the pattern works beautifully with the fantastic shape of these chairs. The real star of this space though is the architecture, and I really appreciate how the designers didn't try and compete with it. Overall, the furnishings, lighting and woven blinds (that don't cover up all that gorgeous woodwork) compliment the room and highlight its best assets (the curvature of the walls, the height of the ceiling and the windows to be specific).

I'm admittedly a sucker for a giant Union Jack, but I think it's a great focal point for this small guest bedroom and a nice contrast to the very simple, almost rustic, linens. The tribal pouf in the corner is also great fun.

Love the wallpaper, love the bed, love the chairs -- in short, I love this room. The layer of patterns is particularly adept here, but by keeping the patterns in the same brown tones, the bedroom remains serene. Now I only wonder what's on the outside of that door. From the reflection in the glass, it looks to like a killer view.

Just had to share this photo for its amazing floor tiles, which keeps this from looking like an add for Restoration Hardware vanities and fixtures. I also love how they painted the outside of the bathtub a glossy brown.

The subtle layering of styles, periods and textures in this dining room is really quite masterful. The three lanterns highlight the incredible length of the table, and I love how the slickly painted white chairs play off the more rustic tabletop.

A very modern, clean dining space to be sure, but you can't really go wrong with classics like a Saarinen table, Imperial Trellis or Jonathan Adler's Meurice chandelier now can you?

One thing I've noticed on Flipping Out is that both Jeff and Ryan tend towards very masculine styles and very muted (and often very brown) color palettes. That said though, someone over at Brown Design (and maybe it is Ryan, I don't know) manages to work in some color now and then. I absolutely love this pink sun room with its sophisticated pops of gold and dark brown.

I adore these built-ins. In fact, they're exactly what I want to have built into the niches on either side of the fireplace in my family room. Only thing I think I would change would be to make the upper cabinets open for display (and paint out the back in a great color). Otherwise, I'm taking this picture with me when I search for a contractor.

The rest of the room is pretty great, too. The pink and green is very California preppy but again the layering of patterns is very sophisticated and well done. I'll also take both of those giant white ginger jars on either side of the door.

I've saved the best for last. Isn't this just stunning? I love the mix of Chinoiserie wallpaper with Moroccan pillows and rug (which looks like a rug West Elm used to carry...and the daybed looks like the West Elm overlapping squares daybed). I love to see high-end designers use moderately priced goods, don't you? And the orange, brown and gold color palette is fresh and not overdone. Overall, this room gets a big "A+" from me.

Inspired by Brown Design's portfolio, I thought I'd pull together a modern, eclectic mood board. In homage to the Browns love of, well, brown, I kept the palette fairly tight in shades of chocolate, tans and golds. Many of the Browns rooms are also wallpapered, so I decided to go with the classic Stella print in a soft champagne and gold to bring in some subtle geometric patterns. For furniture, I started with a strong, modern sofa with clean lines, I layered in a traditional wing back chair in an amazing graphic print in muted browns, a modern console table with a Chinoiserie feel, and a large coffee table with a strong industrial feel. For accessories I pulled in soft gold lighting, ethnic print pillows with a modern twist, classic gold and white ginger jars, and some natural elements like a cedar stool. And as for artwork, a single large piece like this gorgeous map of Paris is in keeping with the Browns' style.

Source list:

1. Vintage Paris Map from Restoration Hardware ($1795).
2. Collector's Classic Console from Ethan Allen ($849).
3. Gold and White Ginger Jars from Williams-Sonoma Home ($175-$195).
4. The Perfect Wingback Chair from Woodson & Rummerfield ($2950).
5. Meurice Chandelier from Jonathan Adler ($750).
6. Oslo Spheres from ZGallerie ($9.95/piece).
7. Sophie Brown Bentwood Butterfly Chair/Stool from Overstock ($87.99).
8. Assorted Pillows from John Robshaw ($75-$165/piece).
9. Furniture Factory Cart from Restoration Hardware ($1495).
10. Movie Sofa in Walnut from CB2 ($999).
11. Quatrefoil Table Lamp from Circa Lighting ($420).
12. Natural Tree-Stump Side Table from West Elm ($229).
13. Stella: Gold & Taupe Wallpaper from Graham & Brown ($75/double roll).

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