Steve Elton reveals his ongoing passion for luxury outdoor design and shares a peek into his rise to the top.
Luxury outdoor furniture manufacturer Brown Jordan is lucky to have Steve Elton. Serving as the company’s chief brand curator, this humble man in his early 60s has given his life to a business he adores. Thirty weekends a year, he hops on a plane and travels to one of the company’s high-end showrooms to meet with clients, customers and staff to share his design knowledge and, most likely, sell merchandise while he’s at it.
Elton was hired as a sales rep for Brown Jordan in 1990, but it wasn’t really the position he was looking for. “I wanted to get into the creative end of things,” he admits. “When I was in my 20s, I went to design school and took a class on branding. Architectural Digest came up in discussion and it brought back memories of perusing the pages in the copies my parents always had on hand. I kept seeing the Brown Jordan ads, and they just inspired me.” From then on, he made it his mission to work for the firm.
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, he spent a lot of time playing sports. “I was a good athlete and really loved basketball,” Elton says. After high school, he attended business school, but always had a yen for design. “I was drawn to fabrics and I was always moving the furniture around in our house. I was not very artistic, but even at a young age, my teachers would come to me and ask for my opinion on how to fix up the classroom.”
Elton eventually took a job as a sales person at an exclusive furniture store while supporting his wife, Miriam, and daughter, Melanie. Then he set his sights on Brown Jordan, wooing the company for the next eight years. “I started sending letters to the head of the company asking for a job,” Elton says. “One day out of the blue, the president showed up and said, ‘You’re not going to stop with the letters, are you?’” And that was the start of his illustrious career with Brown Jordan.
“One day out of the blue, the president showed up and said, ‘You’re not going to stop with the letters, are you?’” And that was the start of his illustrious career with Brown Jordan.
Over time, Elton built a strong reputation for knowing the company inside and out and eventually was charged with overseeing the media. As luck would have it, his first interview happened to be with Margaret Russell, the highly respected editor of Architectural Digest at the time. “It was just terrible, I really messed up,” laughs Elton. “I was nervous and Margaret told me I needed to get it together.” Now a seasoned pro, he handles the media like he’s never done anything else.
One of the turning points in Elton’s career was when famed designer Richard Frinier took him under his wing. For 20 years, Frinier was Brown Jordan’s chief creative officer, and he and Elton began working together, especially on fabric selections. “He saw something in me and encouraged my creativity.” Elton stepped up to the plate and is now in charge of all fabric selections, often traveling overseas to study fabrics and fashions.
When Frinier left the company, Elton took over as chief branding officer and with that position comes some good storytelling. He loves to relay how one of Brown Jordan’s most iconic pieces, the Mid-century Modern Kantan chair, won a major industry design award in 1956. Fast forward 54 years later when the Kantan line was reintroduced with a new strap, and the chair won the exact same award at the exact same show. “That says something about the strength and durability of our designs,” he remarks.
Fast forward 54 years later when the Kantan line was reintroduced with a new strap, and the chair won the exact same award at the exact same show.
Brown Jordan, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, has also reissued Walter Lamb’s metal-tube and cotton rope furniture, first designed in 1947. “What makes it so fascinating is that the outdoor furniture was originally made from salvaged brass tubing taken from sunken ships in Pearl Harbor after World War II,” says Elton. “You can still buy some of the original pieces, which are fetching as much as $25,000.” More than six decades earlier, the company also gave a portion of the proceeds to the families impacted by the tragedy at Pearl Harbor.
Brown Jordan recently played a starring role in the creation of an exceptional collection of student designed furniture. The pieces were developed by 16 students at the Savannah College of Art and Design over a ten-week period with Elton serving as a mentor. “It’s such an honor to help guide these extremely talented and innovative young minds,” says Elton. “The pieces they created are both masterfully crafted and conceptually original.”
Elton was joined by renowned designer Richard Frinier and former Architectural Digest editor Margaret Russell in critiquing the pieces. All were made from a thermally engineered wood. “This modified wood works great outdoors, and we don’t have to affect teak and rain forests,” notes Elton. “We are able to give back to the environment and offer opportunities for students.” The winning designers were honored at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this past May in New York City.
Twenty eight years into his tenure with Brown Jordan, Elton still loves his job. He was recently honored with the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Casual Furnishings Association for his impressive contributions to the design industry. Today, he is a respected influencing force among his peers as he continues to build on the Brown Jordan legacy, a truly iconic brand.