Friday, September 18, 2009

Introducing Mrs Eleanor Brown McMillen-Martha Rex

"There is nothing more trite than a set period-any
antique period brought intact for today's living."

Born Eleanor Stockstrom in St. Louis, Missouri in 1890. At 24, she married Dury McMillen, an engineer. They traveled extensively for 10 years and were later divorced. In 1934 she married the architect Archibald M. Brown. Between marriages, she took a three year course at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts (now Parsons School of Design). While there she became close to two people who taught there: the antiques expert William Odom, who first taught her to appreciate fine French furniture and was known as her silent partner, and the designer Grace Fakes whose flair for architectural detail was to account for much of Mrs. Brown's reputation. She so valued the education she received there that she served on it's board and for 40 years hired ONLY Parsons graduates. Considered a pioneer in her field, she built her reputation on her ability to combine great style with a keen sense of business. After attending Parsons she went to both business and secretarial school. "I thought it I was going to do it all, I'd better do it professionally," she once said. "That's why it's Mcmillen Inc. and not Eleanor McMillen. I wasn't one of the ladies." Instead of working from her living room, as so many decorators have done when starting out, she took $13,000 of her own money and opened an office in a town house on East 55th Street.

She also had a reputation as a genius at furniture arrangements.

For about 60 years she lived in a duplex apartment on East 57th Street that barely changed, "If you get it right the first time there's no need for change." And indeed, Mrs. Brown lived by her beliefs. Every 20 years of so pieces of furniture were reupholstered and the walls given a fresh coat of paint, but always in the same shade of pale yellow.

Her earliest work could be described as stripped-down Directoire. Later on she was one of the first decorators to use Italian 18th-century furniture. One person who remembers her style particularly well is the decorator Sister Parish. When Mrs. Parish married at 19 and had been decorating for all of a year, Mrs. Parish's mother gave the newlyweds a small house on Gracie Square. "It had been decorated from top to bottom by Mrs. Brown," Mrs. Parish recalls. I never forgave my mother." Nonetheless, Mrs. Parish said, she still had antiques Mrs. Brown bought for her.

She also had a talent for creating a look that was at once restrained and elegant. French furniture carefully mixed with modern pieces was one of her signatures.

Mrs. Brown went to her office every day until she was 85.

She died at 100 years old
in 1991 at her home in Manhattan.

Architectural Digest, September 1999
The Finest Rooms By America's Great Decorators
New York Times

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