Ben Sander, aka Brini Maxwell, designs two sensational 70s bedrooms

retro mod decor

Ben Sander, photo by his dad!

Back when I started the blog in 2008, several readers turned me on to Brini Maxwell — actor Ben Sander reimagined as a delightful decorating and entertaining diva. Brini (that is, Ben) had her/his own TV show for a few years, with a loyal cult following. It was great! While Brini’s take on style-makers presented as parody, there is nothing artificial about Ben’s talent for interior design: This man can put together an exciting room, and like us, he likes to up the challenge ante by finding and using lots of vintage materials. Now, amidst a continuing boom in retro decor, Ben has launched his own interior design business, with a focus on “20th Century-inspired statement interiors.” That means: Peeples, prepare your eyeballs — “statement interiors” are not for the design faint of heart. Today, let’s take a look at two “white box” bedrooms that Ben made over into sexy 1970s sensational.

Ben Sander’s interior design style

Before we jump to the after, an email Q&A with Ben Sander.

Tell us why you decided to transition from being a performer to interior designer?

retro mod decor
Ben Sander as Brini Maxwell. Photo courtesy of Bradford Noble, Noblephoto.com.

I think second acts are fun, don’t you? I was lucky enough to have a potential client contact me to see if anyone associated with my television show did interior design. It’s always been a passion of mine — ever since I saw Auntie Mame, and her constantly redecorated apartment, as a child. Of course, I jumped at the chance. It was a dream of a first project — the client, who is an absolute doll — wanted me to do exactly what I love. He essentially gave me free rein. This doesn’t mean, however, that I’m done performing. I’m just adding to the repertoire.

How do you describe your style… your approach? 

20th Century inspired statement interiors. I like the latitude that affords me. While my focus has certainly been the period between 1957 and 1976, I love the idea of capturing other eras of the 20th century. I recently worked with a client on a project that was very much based in the early 90’s esthetic of the Goodman/Charlton designed Duo line — all velvet and curves. It’s not my favorite period, but I understand it, and can work in it. I would love to do over an apartment in art deco or moderné, and ultimately, I’m coming around to some of the 80’s esthetics…

The master bedroom: Mylar, mirrors and chrome glamorous

Photos courtesy of Ben Sander (before) and Everett Short Photography (after).
Ben  Photos courtesy of Ben Sander (before) and Everett Short Photography (after).

And that blah white box, after? Ben tells us:

The master bedroom is dominated by a dramatic chrome four poster bed (found on eBay) dressed with a flokati rug (from Overstock.com) as a bedspread. The headboard wall and the wall opposite it are papered in the same chevron pattern from the hall, only in grays on a silver mylar ground. The window treatments are mirrored vertical blinds.

A flotaki rug as a bedspread! Dig those oversized light-bulb lights (they come up on ebay now and then, super cool). And mirrored vertical blinds — oh my! Notice: Statement interiors like those don’t need a lot of art on the wall, and be wary of clutter — each element is carefully chosen so that the whole maximizes the sum of the parts — it’s a room for neatniks.

retro mod decor

The master and guest suites both are accessed by hallways. I unified the halls by using the same black and white chevron wallpaper from York in both. The ceilings are black and the doors off the hall are red (in the master suite) and green (in the guest suite).

The guest suite: Vintage Vera Neumann fanciful forest

retro mod decor
Photo courtesy of Everett Short Photography.
retro bedroom
retro bedroom

We love our vintage Vera Neumann, and so does Ben, who went VV Crazy in a Good Way in the guest bedroom. He tells us:

This is the guest bedroom. Because it’s not used every day, we could make it a little more fanciful. I used vintage Vera sheets in the Shadowfern pattern almost exclusively in the room. This worked out well because that particular pattern was everywhere back in the 70’s, so it’s quite easy to find on Etsy and eBay. It was also quite a bit cheaper than buying matching paper and fabric at a design house. I upholstered the walls in it, covered a lamp shade, made cushions and used it for window treatments. Because the pattern was so popular, they also made bed spreads in it, as well as towels (for the guest bath), and even a line of china, of which I used the candle holder and sugar bowl as accents. The furniture is all Victorian revival wicker from the 60’s and 70’s that’s been painted creamy white and flecked with green stain. I was even lucky enough to find a canopy for the bed. The formica parsons table was a thrift shop find that was used on my television show set.

What next for you… and what do you think is next for the world of interior design?

Right now I’m actively looking for clients. New York is a great market for working in interior design, but I’m also exploring Palm Springs, CA. It’s a natural fit for the kind of work I do.

As for interior design, I think the way a designer works with a client is changing somewhat. There will always be clients like the one I had for this job who want their whole place done over from scratch, but (and this is thanks to the internet, somewhat), I think there are more opportunities for consultation now. There’s a whole new breed of clients that just want some guidance and advice. That’s an exciting development, because it allows a designer to market to a whole new group of people, and it allows people who normally couldn’t afford to work with a designer the opportunity to take advantage of that service.  One of the nice things about interior design that hasn’t changed is that it’s about relationships. If you do a good job for your client and provide value in your service, then you have a client for life. They’ll keep coming back to you for additions and revisions of the design, and also for new projects.

Thanks, Ben!

Tomorrow: A look at the kitchen and bathroom that Ben designed for the same apartment. Added bonus: They feature World of Tile tile!

Link Love:

  1. Jennifer says:

    Oh, the ferns! I was a green teen and insisted on this pattern for my bedroom–the bedspread and curtains. A friend and I painted the walls mintish green, and the carpet was hi-lo blue and green, and there were lots of plants and two terrariums. Love to see these again!

  2. Retroski says:

    I’d never heard of Brini Maxwell/Ben Sander before this; he is a talented guy. His work helps me to envision what great interior design in the 1970s might’ve looked like! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Rebecca says:

    I am a huge Brini fan, thrilled to see Ben is decorating – such talent. That green bedroom is to die for – I am a sucker for the whole room done in one print thing, I think it’s so luxurious and cocooning.

  4. Kim says:

    Ohhh, my mama had those exact Shadowfern sheets on her bed from 1976 on. How did I not know they were Vera’s? 🙂

  5. ineffablespace says:

    I like both rooms, but I think I would appreciate the metallic room more as a den.

    One of the schemes that my parents considered for their bedroom was an all-over, everything covered in the same fabric like the Vera room, only in pale blue, grey and beige, but they considered it too feminine for my dad and went with grasscloth that stayed for 40 years. It shows that an allover pattern isn’t limited to the typical toiles.

  6. Marc says:

    I’m a big fan of Brini and now a fan of Ben’s interior design work. The photos do look like they’re right out of a vintage decor book from the era. Fantastic!

  7. steph says:

    Beautiful! I discovered Brini Maxwell when her show was on E! or Style? Many year ago and I fell in love. I first understood that that was the aesthetic I was being called to while watching that show, and have been drawn into the mid century mod and Googie world ever since. Thanks Ben ! 🙂 Looking forward to following your design career.

    1. CarolK says:

      I remember watching Brini on TV, as well. I sometimes even watch old shows on youtube. I love that Ben is designing. He could design for me anytime.

  8. brty says:

    I had that exact wicker mirror in my bedroom 1969-79, only without the green flecks. It was placed over a matching wicker cabinet. The green table was my desk for homework only it was also white. Takes me back!

  9. Dan says:

    These look like pictures from an Architectural Digest circa 1974. That silver bedroom would have been my fantasy come true when I was in high school. I seem to recall a similar wallpaper being sold in the sears catalog.

    1. steve says:

      Great stuff. I esp. like the green room…if you look at the shelter magazines today they’re all knocking themselves out to be “fresh” and “daring”–these designs are all that and more.

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