Photography by Belathee
Julianne Johnson is a magnet. A woman whose enthusiasm for people and the world around her draws you in, and the space she calls home is equally as fascinating and inviting. The art director and artist, who recently added furniture designer and contractor to her list of expertise, has an impeccable eye and true gift for finding beauty in everyday objects.
We took a tour of Julianne's inspiring space and talked everything from second careers to do it yourself projects (for the DIY adverse) to home rituals. Her insightful answers have us rethinking our space and the function of the items we put in it.
Tell us the story of your space - how did you find this gorgeous apartment?
You’re going to discover I’m an oddball soon enough so I’ll just tell you straight away: I get crushes on buildings and sometimes fall in love with them. Buildings speak to me. So I was walking the neighborhood past one of my apartment crushes, “La Quinta,” the Spanish mission style apartments with the interior courtyard by Fred Anhalt, and when I rounded the corner I spotted it for the first time: this four story building made of beige plaster and what seemed like a thousand paned windows. It was dusk, windows were open and some curtains blew in the wind. The building looked equal parts abandoned, asylum, and Left Bank bohemia. I was entranced! I walked onto the front porch, peeked around the mailboxes, looked for clues to understand who lived here, but couldn’t piece anything together. After that I planned my walks and runs to pass by this place, to be near it, to check in. I was following intuition and it felt like my fate to live here.
A few years went by and I was making plans for a first date with a man who suggested I come over to pop champagne corks out of his second story window and sing to people in the street below. This proposal sounded fun, and as fate would have it, his second story window was the one right above the front door of my dream building! I gasped when I showed up for our date. We were instant friends and he put me in touch with the notorious building owners, with whom I started a phone relationship, calling weekly for more than a year to see if they had anything available. One day when I called for my weekly “Hey it’s Julianne again, calling about wanting to live...” they told me a dancer had just moved out, they had an opening and it was mine! After that call I laid in the grass like I was in heaven. Everything felt so right. Isn’t life funny?
What changes have you made to it since moving in?
The floors are checkerboard linoleum, which I found unbearable when first moving in and hatched a grand plan to paint them an almost black shade of green with exterior deck paint. It was going to take three days to cure and required a lot of sneaky logistics, plus it’s an apartment so I knew I’d lose my deposit and probably the respect of my landlords, so I decided to leave the checkerboard alone, and I’ve come to love it’s vintage vibes. I decided to let checkerboard be the pattern and get rid of my vintage rugs, opting for neutral rugs with texture instead of pattern. I painted the walls and ceiling with my favorite Benjamin Moore “White Dove.” The kitchen is very small and a real design puzzle for storage, so I hung bars above the stove to hold pots, pans and utensils. Currently, I’m experimenting with lime plaster and natural sealants like olive oil soap, and I’m going to try a little bathroom revamp with those materials soon.
How would you describe your interior aesthetic?
For my own home, my aesthetic sensibilities are intuitive and come from an intimate place. My mother gave me a lot of permission with the words “If you like it, then you know it will work,” when describing her aesthetic to me as a kid, and I’ve used this logic to trust decisions like “Should I bring a red toolbox into my living room, and is that going to clash with my pink sofa?”
Visually, I fall hard for something on the verge of extinction, a bit crumbly around the edges; expressions of time in material. In Leonard Koren’s iconic book “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” he describes materials that are “visibly vulnerable to the effects of weathering and human treatment. They record the sun, wind, rain, heat, and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shriveling, and cracking. Their nicks, chips, bruises, scars, dents, peeling, and other forms of attrition are a testament to histories of use and misuse.” These aesthetics have always been my visual language.
But beauty transcends visual language and aesthetics are also felt. A beautiful room feels beautiful with your eyes closed. To me, simplicity is very important and I never want to be tripping over things, squeezing through doorways, hung up or tight feeling. I want ease of movement and this requires less things. It just does. So I’m always practicing how to edit and probably always will be because I’m an artist and I see potential in every piece of trash! So I treat simplicity like a game and the practice keeps me curious: how far can I pare back? What does one honestly need, to live well?
There is a line in Pablo Neruda’s poem “October Fullness” about learning to ask more from honey and from twilight. I sense that we can find all we need, even immense beauty, in the everyday things around us.
What is your favorite piece in your home and why?
My kitchen nook is my favorite place! The bench seat in front of the window is the best coffee-drinking, reading, writing, thinking, eating, dreaming spot in the house. Plus it’s right above the heater, so sitting there in the winter is like being a cat.
My dad and I built the L-shaped bench out of pine boards and black steel pipes, really basic hardware store pieces, which I painted white to look more built-in. I’ve learned a lot about wood working since this initial build, and am going to re-make the bench seat soon, with slightly more craftsmanship and material knowledge. I wonder if this will always be the case-- we make things as well as we can at the time, and then need to re-make them as we gain skill and knowledge. It’s certainly the case for me right now.
You (somewhat recently) made a big career transition - how has that change shifted your perspective of "home" and has it informed any decisions you have made with your space?
Yes, I’ve just been celebrating the one year anniversary of working in design for myself! This time last year, I was majorly adjusting to no longer working “my 9-5” and I was awash in new patterns, but I noticed the most change in the way I spent my mornings. I still wake up between 6 and 7 every day because I like my brain best in the mornings, but instead of rushing off to work without breakfast, getting coffee on the way, diving into social space with people and meetings, my mornings are full of quiet and daydreaming now. I use them for myself, to practice gratefulness and gather myself, internally. Not because I have nothing better to do, but because I had just enough space to begin some morning practices that I find enriching. For example, I started writing for 30 minutes every day upon waking and now I can’t imagine a day without that reflective time. I make coffee at home, sometimes scramble an egg. On the best days I roll my living room rug back and roll out my yoga mat. Often times I let myself simply stare out the window for a while. My brain goes wild for this! Everyone should try it.
I suppose what we need from “home” is always shifting. I was in New York recently, which re-exposed me to the crafty ways that people do so much with so much less space, and I thought “why is my living room a living room, when it could be my art studio?!” So I’ve been working to slowly shift its focus from lounging space to painting and plastering and projecting space since then.
What is your favorite thing about living alone?
I’ve spent the majority of my life living communally, first with my family then with my chosen family of friends. And I have aspirations of buying into co-housing or creating a live/work commune in the future, so living alone right now in this moment feels like pure luxury and I am basking in it! To be fair, I’ve planted myself in the middle of the densest neighborhood, in a building full of friends, so it’s a very social version of “living alone.” In a lot of ways my apartment is where I sleep and sometimes work, but the neighborhood is my living room.
Do you have any rituals or routines that help make your home feel sacred and aligned? if so, what are they are why are they important?
In feng shui teachings, the two most important areas of the home are the entry and the hearth or kitchen stove (the symbolic heart of the home), so I have little rituals to honor and care for these spaces, like hanging written notes or flowers on my door and burning palo santo around the entry to clear energy and make way for new paths. In the kitchen, I like to keep a pot of water and essential oils or tea simmering. I try to use all four burners, rotating which one boils my water for coffee each morning. I read that having a mirror near the stove amplifies hearth energy, so I propped one up in the kitchen and immediately felt the difference! Maybe it’s because my kitchen is so small, the mirror really helps bounce light around the space, but maybe the hearth energy is just off the chart now. Either way, these little practices make me smile!