Neutral Territory

In a Buckhead home with classical overtones, designer Robert Brown melds timeless architecture and contemporary art with aplomb.

Designers often find themselves playing marital counselor or psychologist, but diplomat? In a way, the latter might accurately describe Atlanta designer Robert Brown’s role when decorating a young family’s Buckhead home. It wasn’t that the homeowners were at odds. Far from it. Rather, Brown was charged with negotiating a peace accord between the home’s classical architecture and the homeowners’ cache of ultra-contemporary art. As Brown succinctly puts it, “The challenge was in coming to the middle ground.”

Because the owners’ art was to be the focal point of the interiors, everything was chosen to enhance the collection. Notes Brown, “If art is a major consideration, you have to make sure that you think of what the backdrop will be.” In this case, the designer created a neutral background by painting most of the home’s walls chalky white, a color often used in museums. And yet, fabrics and accessories in shades of dusty pastels were introduced to soften the “sturdy” architecture and bold artwork.

Furniture presented another opportunity for Brown to “bridge the gap” between old and new. In the living room, traditional antiques—a holdover from the owners’ previous house—stand alongside contemporary, clean-lined furnishings. Nowhere, though, is this generational mix of furnishings more apparent than in the master bedroom, where classical furniture shapes and an elegant folding screen mix with a modern Lucite cocktail table and a soft, contemporary color palette.

The husband’s study is where Brown’s sensitivity to balance and harmony proved especially valuable. Taking an iconoclastic approach to decorating a classic, dark wood-paneled room, Brown bypassed the expected traditional furnishings in favor of contemporary pieces that don’t compete with the room’s eclectic art. “The upholstery and furnishings could stand on their own, and yet they don’t overpower what the art is doing,” he explains.

While a mix of such diverse elements might seem incompatible, Brown succeeded in striking a most attractive compromise. Thanks to his gimlet eye and design savvy, the designer was able to meld everything to create a harmonious environment. Call it picture perfect.