Meet the drag queen of domesticity
he Brini Maxwell Show," which airs Sunday at 6 p.m. on E!'s Style Network, has become a cultish, voyeuristic peek into Maxwell's pump-wearing how-to world of cooking, housekeeping and all-around fastidious domesticity. (Bradford Noble photo)
With the words ''terrazzo floor" and ''kidney-shaped pool," something in Ben Sander's androgynous voice gradually tilts, so when he arrives at the phrase ''cabanas on a terra cotta patio" his tone has hit full Brini Maxwell mode and there's suddenly a strong urge to start exchanging recipes for ambrosia salad and ask him for tips on removing scuff marks from linoleum.
Sander is on the phone from his deliciously appointed New York home describing how his alter ego, a drag queen who crosses Samantha Stevens-era chic with Martha Stewart practicality, came into existence. Like a therapy session that was scripted for Home and Garden Television, Sander articulates every life-altering detail of his paternal grandparents' midcentury home.
''I really think that's how it all began," he says of Brini's birth in young Ben's mind. ''My grandparents were very visually astute. The house was built in the 1950s and decorated in the 1960s. They had the Barcelona chairs. It really stimulated my desire to create beautiful interiors."
The only acceptable outcome from this story is that Sander's cross-dressing creation grows up to become America's foremost drag expert in domestic matters of decor and entertaining. For two seasons, Sander, who grew up in Wellesley, wore varying shades of polyester and eye shadow while dishing out practical decorating, cleaning, entertaining, and fashion tips for ''The Brini Maxwell Show" on the Style Network. He's now creating a weekly Podcast for National Public Radio (the five-minute segments, featuring topics such as how to locate vintage bargains, can be heard on iTunes), creating a new television show, and planning a line of high-end pillows that will bear Brini's name.
Sander -- along with alter ego Maxwell -- pines for an era where elegant dinner parties concluded with games of Parcheesi accompanied by a plate of flaming fruit kebabs. His Podcasts and his recently published book are aimed at helping people who want to bring the style of the '50s, '60s, and early '70s into their lives.
''I think there are things that we've left behind, and those things have to do with confidence and individuality," he says. ''What fascinates me about midcentury design was that it was a time when we were optimistic about the future. It was fully felt in this country, and it allowed us to go out on all these design limbs. It was such a rich time for design that we find it still permeates our lives today."
He has also been on a mission to revive the lost art of entertaining, resuscitating parties that begin with finger food and end with pineapple granita.
''Because there's such a focus on youth, people aren't trained to be adults anymore," he says. ''I think that's why entertaining is all chips and dip now. We've lost the gracious way of presenting guests with an event."
Sander will try a different style of entertaining this weekend. He performs his cabaret act at a fund-raiser for the Boston Gay Men's Chorus on Saturday. The focus will be on Brini as chanteuse, but it's inevitable that his inner Heloise will make an appearance.
''It's very difficult for me to turn it off," he says of Brini's helpful ways. People are endlessly fascinated that a denture cleaner can make their toilet sparkle."
Brini Maxwell performs at Crescendo at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Roxy. Tickets are $50, call 617-542-7464 or visit www.bgmc.org.
Chat with Brini Maxwell To discuss home decor and entertaining with the Style Network star, visit www.boston.com at noon today.