Create the mood
How to create a home aesthetic with Sean Brown
Toronto-born multidisciplinary artist Sean Brown walks us through how to put together a home that feels completely your own.
If you’ve been anywhere on the internet, you’ve probably seen Sean Brown’s CD rugs depicting legendary albums like The Love Below, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yellow Submarine. But these genius design objects are just one manifestation of the Canadian’s multi-hyphenate career. Getting his start in fashion illustration and founding NEEDS&WANTS, a Toronto-based sportswear label, Brown has launched publications, created exhibitions, developed fragrances, directed award-winning visual media and created his own line of home decor and everyday objects—Curves by Sean Brown. Oh, and he’s currently serving as creative director for Diddy. His artful approach and expansive process have manifested in work that transcends boundaries. Here, the artist gives us a masterclass in cultivating a personal aesthetic and creating a mood at home.
What do you think the connection is between fashion and home spaces?
"They're both personal expression. They're both visual communication. Fashion is expression. When you're outside in the world, it’s how you communicate with people. But home decor is more intimate. You can either invite people in or be left on your own with this space that you've created. I think that they both intersect because they both affect your mood. They both affect how you communicate with yourself and with other people."
Your work takes so many forms through Curves, through your creative direction work for Diddy and now through urban development. How do you maintain fluidity in your creativity?
"How my brain has worked up until this point is connectivity. Connecting everything. I can't just look at fashion. My fashion sense is informed by the mood of the space I'm in or the store or the merchandising and vice versa. Everything connects. Everything intersects in the way that I see it and how I approach design."
A lot of your work celebrates the early 2000s aesthetic. Why does that particular moment in time compel you?
"It spoke to my understanding of things. Things were just done with a sense of purity then because it was before the digital and information age. You still had magazines to look at and books and you could actually create real reference points. It just felt like a special time. When I do reference the early 2000s, it's to dial back into that: what it felt like to approach art and design before you could just go on Tumblr or you could just Google something and have all the information at your fingertips.
"I'm very much still focused and concerned about the future. I don't want to dwell on the early 2000s. There are so many things about technology and about how we can get things done now that are obviously better and improved. But, the experimentation of that time period still informs how I see something and just want to try new things."
Obviously, pulling references is an integral part of your process. Is the mood board something that's pretty central to the beginning of your creative process?
"Mood boarding is like getting to the root of being inspired versus imitating. So even with the CD rugs, it's like taking something that exists or taking an idea and looking at it like a remix. I'm really interested in that space of taking things and repurposing them, giving them new context, new life, new ways to look at it, new perspective. So that's where my mood boarding starts. Not copying, not imitating. Finding the lines between being inspired."
What are some tips for cultivating an aesthetic at home?
"Home decor usually starts with necessity. Start with asking yourself questions about your actual daily life and function. Say you just saw this leather chair that you wanted. Ask yourself, 'Is the chair comfortable? Are you going to be happy in that chair slipping and sliding with the kind of clothes you wear?' Ask yourself actual questions about the function of your space and how you use it because then that will inform the different things that you buy.
"You actually have to live with the objects you buy first. I just bought a suede baby blue couch so I know now that I'm going to have to really consider what rug I'm laying down because of that specific color. Now going to have to consider what lighting is going to go with a blue couch. If I had just gotten the champagne couch that was presented to me, I probably wouldn't have to consider the lighting pendant as much. But now that it's blue, I've got to spend time and really think about how everything is going to work together and make sure that it's still me if that makes sense."
How should we think about starting a home decor project?
"I know for me, I just started with wanting to do everything at once. I don't think that's the right approach to creating a space for yourself. Start with whatever and live with it for a little. Say you start with the bedroom and you start with the bed frame. Then from the sheets, you pick the lamp and then pick the hamper and then what kind of hangers. If you spend time thinking about every single thing, inevitably by the time you're done everything just looks so well considered. I feel like that's also the secret: you can’t do everything at once. It's kind of like putting a puzzle together. You won't just do it all in one sitting. You just start adding a little by little and before you know, you turn around and you've got a space that feels like it's lived in. It doesn't have to mean spending a lot of money. It just has to mean spending a lot of time."
You’ve created an amazing artist statement tote bag that ends with, "Growth isn't linear: it curves." How has that statement informed your work?
"I knew I was going to be in the arts. But I had no idea of the twists and turns of having to get into video directing and styling and photography and now home decor, space making and residential design. I never saw those things as a part of my orbit. But they happened because when you're just trying and continuously growing and evolving, those things just happen. You end up touching areas that you didn't plan on doing, but still staying true where your creative path is going to lead you."
Do you have any advice for others on how to maintain that kind of open relationship with your own creativity?
"Yeah, it's really about staying curious. What I see is a challenge for some people is staying curious and not starting. If you start, you can figure out how something works for you or if it doesn't and you can keep evolving and keep growing. My process is about keeping inspiration and mood boarding really sacred and just constantly staying curious."