Designer Sean Brown’s Toronto Apartment Elevates the Y2K Aesthetic

Designer Sean Brown’s Toronto Apartment Elevates the Y2K Aesthetic

By Jaelani Turner-Williams
The creator of the beloved CD rug mixes business and pleasure, treating his own digs as a life-size vision board for his home line Curves.

Toronto-based multi-hyphenate artist Sean Brown is hard to pin down, though many know him for his hand-tufted CD rugs (depicting iconic albums such as Sade’s Love Deluxe and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine), adored by design and music buffs alike.

Sean Brown’s Toronto apartment is stacked with a collection of nostalgic magazines from the 90s and early 2000s, coordinating with his viral CD rugs.

After getting his start in fashion design as the founder of sportswear clothing label NEEDS&WANTS in 2013, Brown met singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar on the heels of his Praise Break EP, soon becoming his creative director. Since then, Brown has gained whirlwind recognition for his musical collaborations—including the 2020 Audience Award Prism Prize for directing Caesar’s "Cyanide (Remix)" music video alongside Keavan Yazdani.

A CD rug celebrating Lil Kim’s debut album Hard Core pairs with a gold velour couch in the living room.

Brown professes that there isn’t a succinct formula to his creative approach. Instead, he hits the drawing board after being given an evocative reference point—as was the case with his futuristic nameplate artwork for SZA and Ty Dolla $ign’s "Hit Different." And with a love for the early-2000s aesthetic, it’s a fitting development that Brown has recently become Diddy’s creative director, spanning the rapper’s various brands including CÎROC.

"Puff’s done so much to inform my aesthetic, and now I have to find a way to take [his brand] to a different place," says Brown. "He’s not interested in recycling culture—that’s who he was decades ago. I have to find a balance between that kind of look informing my work and being like, ‘How do we make it look new? What does the architecture of the second phase of his life look like?’ Even as a person who celebrates the Y2K era, I’m still interested in the future."

Brown’s Curves collection got a shout-out in Beyoncé’s Black Parade Route directory of Black-owned businesses.

Thankfully, Brown doesn’t have to look far for creative inspiration—his new loft-style apartment in Toronto, which he moved into last November, functions as a life-size vision board and hyper-personal studio. When we spoke, Brown had just returned home after spending the fall in Los Angeles and was designing the 2021 catalogue for Curves, his home and lifestyle brand (aside from the visibility of the CD rugs, Brown got an extra signal boost in Beyoncé’s Black Parade Route directory of Black-owned businesses). 

Highlighting his retro influences, Brown’s digs treat stacks of old issues of The Source and The Face as colorful centerpieces among sleek, minimalist pieces. Portraits he’s shot and his signature Baby Phat sunglasses sit atop a vintage CB2 end table.

"I bought maybe 50 Source mags off one guy, and he just thought they were junk, but to me, it’s like a pot of gold," says Brown.

"I think I’m one with my space," says Brown. "It feels like me. I spend quite a bit of time making sure that the energy and the environment put me in a space and direction of being my best creative self."

Colored glassware and countertop organization keep Brown’s kitchen looking sharp. 

"Before I moved into my apartment," he continues, "I wasn’t thinking about the way the sun was coming into my window and how that affected my mood, or how close the kitchen and bathroom were from the front door. These are all things that I’ve now been programmed to think about because I know how important they are for me being productive, inspired, and happy."

The Casted Hands Incense Holder and Assorted Incense are both available on the Curves online shop. Hand-dipped by Wild Berry, the set of incense has a range of scents including India Moon, China Rain, Fantasia™ Exotica and Tibetan Orchid.

Addressing a lack of Black representation in interior design, Brown pushes a "high-level" Black aesthetic and a celebration of its history, especially in his own home. "All The Source mags, the nuances of the Baby Phat glasses, that’s really my crib," he says. "I need that around me all the time. I go online [and find] estate sales, people selling this and that. There’s very little that I was able to keep because I was moving around so much when I was young, but I will do the utmost research to find who has what. I bought maybe 50 Source mags off one guy, and he just thought they were junk, but to me, it’s like a pot of gold. I love Tumblr, but when you’re holding on to these things, like tangible assets and reference points of history, it’s another beast." 

The Frame HDR Smart TV by Samsung doubles as artwork.

Brown shares a small list of essentials that he needs anywhere he goes: flowers, purified water, a notepad, good Wi-Fi, aromatherapy, and a reasonable desk height. Design, wellness, technology, and music all fall into place in his pad, and it’s this holistic perspective that sets Brown apart.

"What really enhances the CD rugs—and the reason they’ve gained so much traction—is how we were unifying them with spaces: even [Lil’ Kim’s] Hard Core rug with the gold velour couch," says Brown. "Everything was so intentional. When people try to do the same thing, the one missing element is unifying object and space. [Unification] shows that they’re concerned with their whole aura, how their space is gonna feel. That’s where the ‘win’ is; when I see what people are doing with the CD rugs to make it a part of their own world."  

After spending a couple months in Los Angeles, Brown returned to his Toronto apartment for the holidays to plan the 2021 Curves relaunch.

Bedding gets a bold streetwear treatment in this set from Curves. The 2021 catalog was shot in a 1962 home in Los Feliz, Los Angeles.

The Shower Curtain features chair paintings by mixed media artist Miki Dessine.

Collaborating with fellow Toronto designer Xylk to create a limited-edition grocery bag, Brown paid homage to the fisheye aesthetic of ’90s music videos, notably inspired by director Hype Williams. "I would spend countless hours glued to the television watching Planet Groove and studied CD liner notes more than I studied for math tests," says Brown.

The Woven Throw comes in four designs, including this one tipping a hat to the greatest albums of all time.

While visiting Japan in 2019, Brown stumbled on E.W. Pharmacy, a shop devoted to floral artist Megumi Shinozaki. Partnering with E.W. Pharmacy for the Dry Flower Bouquet, Curves is the first North American stockist to carry the dry flower collection.

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