This spring, her new show, Katie Brown Workshop, will begin on public television stations around the country. The “P” word perky inevitably is used to describe Brown. She is that and more.
Her persona is that of the ultimate best friend she has her disasters, which she tells you about, but she's also full of ideas for improving everything from your living room to your next dinner party. Several years ago, Brown who now lives in New York married William Corbin, an executive at the A&E Network who now runs her production company. They have an 18-month-old daughter, Prentiss.
These two events have only strengthened her conviction that homemaking needs to be simplified. “I'm leaning more towards the practical these days,” she says. “Everything we do is fairly quick, fairly easy and affordable.” In a recent wide-ranging interview, Brown spoke about her roots, her thoughts on decorating and entertaining, and the challenge of making homemaking a career.
Did you grow up in a stylish house?
Katie Brown: My mom always said the first time you decorate a house you play it safe. You buy a practical couch and use lots of beiges and browns. But the second time around, you do what you want. I grew up in my mother's second house. Petoskey's (Michigan) a little gloomy in the winter and she used a lot of bright colors to keep it happy. We had an orange dining room, a porch with a bright yellow ceiling and a Mexican print on the couch.
How has your style changed over the years?
KB: I was very cute when I first started. Everything had to be pretty. Now I prefer a rougher, more unfinished look. I really like comfortable furniture, tables and cabinets that look a little worn. I don't like everything to be one style. I like to mix it up.
Do you make a distinction between comfort and style?
KB: Not really. I think comfort is style.
Are you a big antiques person?
KB: Antiques are something I don't really have the luxury of indulging in. I have a lot of old pieces but I'm not sure they'd qualify as antiques. I just call them treasures.
Any family pieces you take with you from house to house?
KB: My grandfather was Prentiss Brown. He was a US senator from Michigan. I have his leather office chair. Right now it's in storage because I'm between houses, but that goes everywhere.
I hear you just bought a new house.
KB: I did. It's an old brownstone in Brooklyn. It's a mess: the previous owner had 27 dogs, but I think it has good bones. We haven't closed on it yet, but I'm already starting to think about colors for the living room. I may do red I've always had a thing for that whole red/yellow/orange color palette or I may play it safe and do blue.
Where do you find stuff?
KB: I'm a total bottom feeder. I love garage sales. I have a weekend place in kind of a hoitytoity town on Long Island where they have the best garage sales. And I love going to flea markets like Brimfield in Massachusetts.
Do you ever buy new stuff?
KB: More than I used to. But I have mixed feelings about it. Now that I'm married and have a baby and a house, I'm thinking maybe I should buy stuff that isn't quite so decrepit. But it hurts to spend the money!
There's always Target.
KB: I know. And I love the line of stuff Thomas O'Brien is doing for them. It's so pure and sleek.
On your Web site, you say that you began as a caterer.
KB: I started out cooking for friends. I was an out-of-work actress and the only way I could eat was to tell my friends that if they'd pay me $5 a piece, I would cook dinner for everyone. So I'd collect $50, spend $10 on food and pocket the rest. After that, I eventually got into catering.
Where did you learn to cook?
KB: My family. I come from a fairly small town and have 14 aunts and uncles and 32 first cousins a big brood. The dinners are huge. And they all try to outdo each other when it comes to cooking. My aunts can spend hours on the phone discussing something like tomato salad. And they're great cooks.
Any favorite family recipes?
KB: My Aunt Ruth's cinnamon bread. I've cooked it twice on my show and it's in my new book because I get asked for it all the time. It's a really easy quick bread. Everybody loves it.
What's the best basic cookbook?
KB: My mother swears by Joy of Cooking, but that's just a little too old school for me. I love the Silver Palate ladies. I can't tell you how many times I've made their Chicken Marbella. It's almost embarrassing.
I know you entertain a lot. What's a typical menu for a dinner party?
KB: Turkey meatloaf, roasted potatoes, maybe some sliced tomatoes with oil, vinegar, lemon and fresh basil and strawberry bread pudding for dessert.
Are you a big baker?
KB: I do quick breads and things that aren't too exacting. It's odd, though. The one time I really got into baking was several years ago out in Los Angeles after the last big earthquake. For three weeks, all I did was bake. It was so soothing. Because it's all about control. And at that point, everything in Los Angeles was out of control.
What's the hardest part of your job?
KB: Trying to figure out how to be a mother and still work. I miss my daughter. And the second hardest part is learning how to be a good manager and boss. It's a strange position and a difficult one for me. There don't seem to be any instructions.
And the best part?
KB: Coming up with the projects, developing recipes, working with my staff. That's super fun. Standing in front of a camera all day looking perky can get old. But I really am lucky. I believe in what we're doing. I like watching shows like mine. So periodically, I have to remind myself to stop being a brat and just smile.