Sometimes, the best things really do come in small packages. No one knows this better than jewelry and fashion maven Cara Brown. “I have always loved trinkets,” she says. “There could be 40 little items collected on one tabletop, and I would look at them all.” Cara’s fascination with tiny treasures eventually turned into a passion as she began seeking out things to add her own provenance to, whether it’s a relic she transforms into a necklace or an adornment she adds to the custom vintage tweed jackets she designs. “I’ve always had an affinity for old things,” Cara says. “My mom was an interior designer. During my formative years, she taught me about fabrics, texture, and the importance of learning about antiques.”
Being surrounded by design at a young age propelled Cara’s own creative stirring. After she graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in marketing and returned to her home state of Texas, a friend introduced her to the thrill of hunting for vintage beads and old jewelry. Together, the duo bought and repurposed their finds by disassembling the baubles and reimaging them as intricate Christmas ornaments. Eventually, they showed them to buyers at Neiman Marcus, and the company immediately placed an order for 200.
In 2001, Cara temporarily put her business on hold when she and husband David moved from Texas to Hopewell, New Jersey, so he could pursue a master’s degree in counseling. Cara turned her attention to raising their children but sated her appetite for design by decorating their 1724 home. “I had always yearned for an old farmhouse,” she says. “There’s nothing like this in Texas!”
Listed on the national, state, and local historic registers, the farmhouse was built by Huguenots forced to flee France for religious persecution. “They used stone from this very property to build it,” says Cara. “I especially love the wide plank floors, wood ceilings, and beams.”
Without compromising the integrity of the original structure, Cara and David contributed elements from their own aesthetic lexicon. Additions include a hand-painted mural that extends from the entry to the dining room and up the staircase. Paint colors are from the Williamsburg Paint Color Collection by Benjamin Moore, and rooms are filled with antiques, some purchased together as a couple and others passed down from family members. Pieces include a 1920s English chest used as a bar in the dining room, an 1880s Welsh dresser, and an 1890s French dining table and chairs. The bureau in the enclosed porch belonged to David’s grandmother. “We wanted everything to look like it belonged here,” Cara says. “Our goal was to dress up what was otherwise a fairly primitive home and property.”
The house is elevated even more during the holidays when Cara and David welcome their children home. “At Christmastime, we want to create a beautiful setting where we can all just enjoy being together,” Cara says. To help her set the scene, she calls upon friend and floral designer Jennifer Figge. “We added floral arrangements that reflect the style of the house and also complement Cara’s collections,” Jennifer says. Using clippings from the garden combined with hothouse flowers, the floral designer conceived an elegant, woodsy scheme that mixes conventional Christmas blooms and foliage such as amaryllis, paperwhites, and evergreens with purple clematis, peach ranunculus, and burgundy Agonis grass. She accented it all with blue-gray silk ribbon. “The mix is festive and playful while also enhancing the colors in the house,” Jennifer says.
On the dining table, a trio of arrangements picks up the colors in Cara’s Persian rug and in her antique Amari china, a collection she keeps on display on a sideboard year-round. Arrangements in the living room play to the jewel tones in Cara’s handmade Christmas ornaments and topiaries arranged on the coffee table. “These are some of the first ones I ever made,” Cara says. “Now that I’m able to fully focus on my design business, I like that these pieces serve as a reminder of where it all started. Bringing them out every year makes the holidays even more special.”
By Cathy Still McGowin | Photography by Tria Giovan
Read “What’s Old Is New for Cara Brown Designs”
To see more of Cara Brown’s designs, visit her website and follow her on Instagram. Phone: 609.730.0506