Janet Browne, a retired designer who outfitted the interiors of colleges and banks during a lengthy career collaborating with her architect husband, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 12 at the Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson. The longtime Guilford resident was 91.
Born Janet Augusta Biedler in Baltimore and raised on Calvert Street in Charles Village, she attended Friends School and was a 1939 Western High School graduate. She then earned a degree in design from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She later earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University.
She joined the firm of Gomprecht and Benesch in downtown Baltimore's retail shopping district and worked with one of its owners, Edward Benesch, who was known for his affection for classic modern design. In an autobiographical sketch, Mrs. Browne said that at the furniture store, she became familiar with the work of Hans Knoll, George Nelson, Noguchi, Warren Platner and Lars Larsen.
"She was a modernist," said her daughter, Rebecca Browne Reynolds of Brooklandville. "She thrived on the work of the top furniture designers, collected it as well, and maybe for a whimsy would throw in an antique piece here and there. She liked clean lines and she used color a lot. She had a keen eye for it."
In 1944, she married J. Prentiss Browne, an architect. After raising her two daughters, she opened her own commercial design interior business and supervised a staff of six. She worked alongside her husband and designed the interiors of the structures he produced.
In a 1977 Evening Sun article, she explained how she and her husband worked: "We both have a hand in running the ship. We toss around ideas when there's a major decision to be made. We understand the field and we can discuss it intelligently. We help each other." The couple worked together in an office at Calvert and 25th streets.
"Janet and I found this was, and is, one hell of a way to be married," her husband said in the article. "Sometimes we are together all day, sometimes never."
Family members said she liked working with fabric and was an expert seamstress. She made her own clothes and outfitted her daughters.
"Her work was architectural as well as decorative," said Rita St. Clair, the Baltimore designer. "She was very active in the early days of the American Society of Interior Design here and was a hard worker in helping young people in the profession to make the interconnection between interior architecture and the decorative arts. She was a very pleasant person who was professional in her dealings."
Ms. St. Clair recalled Mrs. Browne as a colleague who "tried to help the profession become more important throughout Maryland." She also remembered Mrs. Browne's "beautiful collection of stoneware jugs."
Active from the 1960s through the 1980s, Mrs. Browne did the interior designs for the Oakland Mills branch of the old First National Bank in Columbia. She worked extensively for the Maryland National Bank and outfitted its Waverly branch on Greenmount Avenue.
She also worked extensively at what is now Loyola University Maryland during a period of campus expansion in the 1970s. She also designed interiors for dormitories at Towson University.
In 1974, she completed the interior design for a new clothing manufacturing plant constructed near Eldersburg for the Londontown Corp.
Mrs. Browne became a member of the American Institute of Interior Designers in 1969. She also lectured on interiors at the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Library.
She retired nearly 30 years ago.
"She was a dear, good friend, and we traveled together," said Patricia W. Waters of Towson. "She was a direct person, and if she said something, she meant it. She was a good manager, and if she said, 'Jump,' you'd better do it."
Mrs. Browne kept extensive gardens at her Overhill Road home. She kept separate borders for roses and other perennials and annuals. She worked alongside her husband, who grew vegetables. They also visited public gardens in the U.S. and Europe. She was a volunteer gardener at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Pickersgill, 615 Chestnut Ave. in Towson.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include another daughter, Janet Mason Howard of Ruxton; a sister, Mary Caroline Van de Weghe of Chestertown; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her husband of nearly 60 years died in 2005.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun