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The inner sanctums of two local interior designers.

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Eric Stanley and Christopher Board

Owners of Mason Butler and Interior Designs of Virginia

Fads don’t lure Eric Stanley. Even though the interior designer could easily change his home as often as he likes, Stanley and his partner Christopher Board prefer a relaxed home awash in earth tones. Stanley’s calm demeanor is reflected in the way he decorated their home — Board, the more boisterous of the two, can be seen in some of the fun details he’s added, like a monkey cookie jar or themed guest rooms.

After just eight weeks in their new home, Stanley and Board still have much decorating to do: “The previous owners loved wallpaper, ” Stanley said pointing out the recently stripped walls. After living in a Tudor-style home in Windsor Farms, what floored them about their new brick colonial home off Three Chopt Road was its enormous yard and the openness inside the house. “When I saw the garden, my mouth dropped,” Board says. “I almost started crying.” The kitchen, great room and master bedroom all run along the back of the house and all have rows of windows that bring in the enormous yard, with its ever-changing foliage.

The first room to get the designer’s attention was the main living space, the great room. Stanley says he feels it’s important to decorate your house based on function. “People have an idea of what they think they want,” he says. “I try and direct people with [that] and their function.” For example, put the chair and ottoman where you have coffee. Design must mesh with everyday life, he stresses. And that is what he tries to figure out when working with a client.

In his own home, Stanley says he prefers a relaxed, muted, masculine look. “I get tired of florals,” he says. Instead he will bring in flowers or throw on a hot-pink tablecloth for a party. He believes soothing colors are the way to go, “Do you really want to wake up in a red room?” In their home, Stanley and Board’s great room, aside from an exposed brick wall, is painted tan. The rust and brown Oriental rug is functional, says Stanley. The couple’s poodle, Savanna, and Jack Russell terrier, Monterey, are very much a part of the family and since they’re in and out of the house, rugs and furniture need to be dog-resilient. Other textures in the room include a silk/linen daybed-inspired couch, a chenille chair, a contemporary brown leather chair and a Ralph Lauren wool tweed-covered antique wing-back chair. “I love mixing antiques with modern things,” Stanley says. He also plans to hang curtains up high so they don’t block any light. The result is a room with clean lines, yet with a comfortable and casual feel.

Clearing out clutter is something Stanley has experience with. He’s worked with real-estate agents to help stage homes for open houses. He says the secret to decluttering and maximizing space is knowing how to let things go. “You don’t have to put all your picture frames out at once, rotate them.”

Although they describe their home as a “gentleman’s quarterly” or an “English cottage,” the couple has experience decorating for all different types of looks. Both have worked at Domicile, the nouveau European furniture and design store in Carytown. Stanley also managed the English traditional Kellogg Collection in the River Road Shopping Center, and Kim Faison Antiques on Grove Avenue. All this experience with varied customers has helped them feel just as comfortable doing a modern look, as a beach house in Lily Pulitzer pink.

Last year Stanley and Board bought the Mason interior design store at Patterson and Libbie and renamed the business to Mason Butler, after their mothers’ maiden names. Stanley handles the designing and Board takes care of the business end of things, but both have an eye for the eclectic. They bought the inventory along with the store, so the two have slowly been filling the store with less-traditional items such as Asian artifacts, garden lighting, and even olive jars from the 16th century. “Whether you want a modern look or a camelback sofa, we’re just looking to bring a fresh approach,” Board says.

The large store is set up with different decorated vignettes so customers can gather decorating ideas. The walls of bolted fabrics and catalogues of wallpaper, trim and more fabric are also great sources of inspiration. Stanley looks to Architectural Digest for constant updates, but cites shopping, historic homes and going to Europe on buying trips as sources of his own inspiration. He keeps files of pictures in categories like slipcovers, pillows, etc., for clients to browse through.

Stanley says sectional couches and overstuffed furniture are two of his least-favorite fads. “I’d rather have two chairs than one chair on steroids.” Board adds matching sets to the don’t list: “Go to flea markets, antique markets, don’t buy all at one time. Don’t go to Bombay and Co. It’s all about where you can find that great little table.” And that, Stanley says, is the secret to picking a great designer, for a designer is only as good as his resources.



Janet Brown

Decorator and owner of Janet Brown Interiors

Janet Brown loves color. When you walk into her Carytown store, you’re greeted with a palate of pastels: hand-hooked rugs, throw pillows, upholstered chairs, tassels, painted lamps, quilts. Her home, while not as whimsical, is just as colorful. Her living room’s English arm couch is deep leaf green, her dining room walls are red, her kitchen has yellow and blue Pierre Deux wallpaper. It’s the kind of place where you could look around for hours. And you can tell that Brown is a very detailed woman. Each end table, coffee table and chest is carefully appointed with its own diorama — carefully stacked books, boxes, lamps, figurines all exist in their own world. It’s all about the interplay.

But it’s not just the color that catches your eye in her home. It’s the lush draperies, the rococo mirror, the antique-box collection, the oil paintings. Brown has skillfully integrated eye-catching elements into the Fan home she’s been living in for the last nine years; she calls her look cozy English. “I’m definitely not a clean minimalist, I can’t put one thing on a table; I have to put an interplay of color, texture, design.” And it’s that interplay that marks Brown’s style.

Brown believes there is a bit of sociology involved in design. Everyone’s tastes and style are affected by their life experiences, she says. And it’s your home, after your appearance, that tells us the most about who you are. “You could put ten people in ten identical homes and they would look different,” she says. In fact, she knows: Brown has decorated the same home for different clients. She herself has always lived in old homes and feels strongly about antiques. “I really like to mix old and new elements,” she says. “I think a house where everything is brand new is missing something. An old chest or old piece of furniture is amost always better made, better finished than a new one.” Sometimes what’s new can be something old with a new use. Brown says she takes old fragments and gives them a new meaning. She recently had an old fireplace andiron made into a lamp. “I find it fascinating when I do find something that I never thought to put together; it excites me.”

Brown says working with clients keeps her fresh because clients today are more knowledgeable. “You have to stay fresh to stay in business.” Brown travels as much as she can to take in new styles, and even when she’s on vacation, she goes to auctions and somehow is seeing or learning about design. On a recent trip to Pompeii, Italy, she spent more time looking at frescos than lying on the beach. She says that’s one reason she loves Richmond, because of all the history. But each client offers opportunities to learn, too. When she works on a house with a particular style, it’s a chance to learn about that style and time period. “Everything in design comes from the old. I think every decorator needs to be a historian, the more you know about the past the more you can make it fresh for a young couple.” One thing she advises against is being too trendy. “Buy a trendy pillow,” she says, “but buy a classic chest.”

In her own home, Brown says what she loves best is the molding and architectural features like the wide Palladian arched doorways with raised-panel sides. She admits the pale yellow, flowered carpet on the stairs was a bit impractical but she’s happy with it. “When you’re a decorator you can want to change your house every single day because there’s always a great new fabric,” she says. “I’ve done that in other homes. I’m pretty comfortable with the way this one is. You can always make little changes to keep you comfortable with the room.” Of course, there’s always a new way to tweak the interplay.

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