Phyllis Brownlee, a resident of Neahkahnie, Oregon, died March 2, 2019 in Astoria. She was 93. The cause was a stroke. She was born on June 22, 1925.
Brownlee, a noted interior designer and Arabian horse breeder, was raised on a ranch in Rock Creek, near Haines, Oregon. After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Oregon, she did a short stint as an advertising copy writer in Portland.
When she and her first husband, John Koines, moved to Honolulu in the 1950s, she began working for Theo H. Davies, one of the “big five” trading companies in what was then the Territory of Hawaii. The company was importing Herman Miller furniture, and Brownlee learned everything she could about the products, which were difficult to assemble.
Soon, local architects were asking for her help placing the furniture in buildings and homes. Brownlee began learning on the job, eventually doing her own interior design work. She collaborated often with Pete Wimberly, a prominent architect in Hawaii, the West Coast, and the Pacific Rim.
Brownlee went on to have a successful career as an interior designer. She was recognized for her use of local design motifs, colors, and indigenous artwork in restaurants, hotels, resorts, banks, and private homes.
The hotelier Laurance Rockefeller commissioned her to design interior hotel spaces at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, in Hawaii and the Fijiian, in Fiji. She received the International Design Award for the Batik Dining Room at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Brownlee counted her years in Hawaii as some of the most productive and expansive in her design career.
Phyllis Armand Perkins Brownlee was born in Baker City to Grace and Armand Perkins. She began riding at an early age, and in the early seventies horses called her back to eastern Oregon. She and her second husband, Edward “Mick” Brownlee, a noted sculptor, returned to the Baker Valley, where she had a second successful career as a Arabian horse breeder.
Drawing on the knowledge of her father, Armand, who was known for his horse-trading acumen, and her own research and sensibilities, Brownlee bred and raised many champion Arabians at the Bar One Ranch, at the foot of the Elk Horn Range near North Powder. The Arabian Horse Times recognized her as one of the nation’s 30 leading Arabian horse breeders.
Brownlee and her husband built a life that combined art, ranching, and horses on the Bar One. Both were involved in the local community, with the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, the Oregon Trail Museum, the Haines Park, and the rebuilding of the Haines Steak House. They were instrumental in launching the Old Hands Contest, which honors a working cowboy each year in Haines.
Despite some of the messy work that comes with horse stable management, Brownlee always looked stylish — even with mud on her boots. She was instantly recognizable by her proud bearing, a stylish hat and elegant clothes.
Brownlee spent her final decades enjoying the beauty of the Oregon coast, where she helped several residents design their homes and gardens.
Brownlee was pre-deceased by her husband, mother, father, and sisters Cornelia Perkins and Belle Rogers. She is survived by her three stepchildren — Kevin Brownlee (Marla), Shannon Brownlee (Greg), Shawn Brownlee (Denise), seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. A drop-in celebration of Phyllis’ life will be held in Neahkahnie later in the spring.