Chic & Thrifty Top 10
Brown says her cooking improved after she began keeping mini-tureens of salt and pepper by the stove. The quick access meant she seasoned food more liberally ("Butler's Pantry" bowls, $58 each; 800-63-LENOX).
Two of Brown's favorites are Lee Bailey's Cooking For Friends and Soup Meals: "His language isn't intimidating, and you really get a sense of the South" (Kitchen Arts & Letters; 212-876-5550).
Brown bought Slate tiles for her kitchen floor at Lowe's. "Spills show less on slate, and that's good for a sloppy cook like me," she says ($1 to $3 a tile; 800-44-LOWES).
Brown loves vintage stoves, especially those by Roper: The burners aren't too close together, so pots don't touch (909-445-0300 or www.antiquestoves.com). One tip: If your gas stove has a weak flame, try cleaning the holes in the burner head, which may be clogged.
When Brown was younger, she bought used appliances from the Recycler Classifieds, a West Coast weekly (213-473-2691 or www.recycler.com). Brown got her first Kitchenaid Stand Mixer there (right, a modern model): "For me, it was a rite of passage, something all the grown-up women in my family had" ($250; 800-541-6390 or www.kitchenaid.com).
Brown's dream kitchen is the one at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, which she describes as "the size of a football field." Staff members don't talk much but move smoothly around one another: "It sounds corny, but you feel like you're watching an orchestra" (800-334-7263). Like hotels, Brown buys basic ingredients in bulk--partly because she loves the industrial packaging. One of her favorite bulk suppliers is Smart & Final (800-793-9344).
Brown admires Dorothy Draper, an interior decorator prominent from the 1920s through the early '60s. Brown says Draper was "whimsical and very brave with color": She picked the signature orange-and-blue combination for Howard Johnson's and painted ceilings in soft hues. In tribute, Brown painted her kitchen ceiling celery green.