I think this house saved my marriage,” laughs Anna when talking about her 1927 Tudor home in Forest Park. “Perry and I had sold our house on 42nd Street and were living in a wreck of a rental on Conroy. Our boys were so young, and it felt so temporal. I wanted to set up a lasting family home.” Month after month, the design perfectionist could not find anything that was suitable and was feeling downright desperate. Then one day a very needy house that Anna had long admired on her neighborhood walks came on the market. It was one of those homes that only an interior designer or architect could appreciate, requiring the buyer to look beyond fluorescent lights and a tacky fruit wallpaper border in the kitchen; visible mold in the powder bath; and an enclosed sunroom with vinyl windows.
“I loved the architectural details, and honestly, I didn’t want a badly renovated home that I would need to undo” says Anna. The designer enlisted the aid of architect Jimmy Laughlin who, like Anna, appreciated the home’s intrinsic beauty and potential. “When we started working on a plan, Jimmy and I were on the same page about the importance of deciding what features of the house speak to its original character and should be kept and what we could lose in order for the house to work for the way we wanted to live,” says Anna. “If you get the architecture addressed first, then everything else follows its lead, and you will be set up for success.”
Just like their mentor, Betsy Brown, Anna and Marguerite prefer a more neutral palette, but they know how to make it pretty and engaging. Here are some of their tips.
- Include a diversity of textures to infuse neutral rooms with personality by incorporating a mix of finishes—ones with patina, ones with some shine, and a few iron pieces, then choose fabrics with textural and visual interest.
- Bring unexpected touches to every room with things such as sculptural pottery and shapely lampshades that allow the eye to bounce around the room.
- Select rugs with visual interest such as ones with graphic stripes or even a more neutral one with a noticeable design. Layering rugs also adds additional visual appeal.
- Add a drop of black to every room. Whether it’s something large like the kitchen windows, a bookcase, or just a pillow, black serves as a punctuation mark and connector that unites adjoining rooms.
While the footprint of the home remained more or less intact, the interiors received a complete overhaul. The kitchen renovation was the most dramatic—the dark, cramped space that was formely filled with dated appliances is now flooded with stylish appointments and natural light. “I always wanted a view, and I had a vision that it could be realized in this house,” says Anna. To replace the existing tiny kitchen window—and open up the room to views—Jimmy designed a small box bay with multi-paned casement windows custom-fabricated by Bessemer Glass. The new windows match the originals, ensuring a seamless integration.
The view continues on an elevated outdoor deck and entertaining area that flows from the interiors.
“Be patient in your search for things that speak to you. If you buy pieces you love, you will always find a home for them.”Marguerite Johnson
The kitchen’s existing butler’s pantry was removed, allowing room for a more functional space. Tile floors were replaced with wood to match the rest of the home. Every bathroom was renovated with smart, respectful choices for the traditionally small spaces of the era.
In the sunroom, original vinyl windows that took away from the beauty of the façade were sent packing and replaced with beautiful, custom, multipaned steel windows. Central air-conditioning was added, making the room a perfect spot for a playroom for Anna and Perry’s two young sons.
“The playroom is open and close enough to feel like we are all together, but it has a separate, more colorful attitude than the main living spaces,” says Anna of the boy’s hideaway.
As far as the décor, the heavy window treatments also exited the stage, allowing the existing architecture to shine. Walls, trim, and the fireplace surround received a fresh coat of white paint. Anna commissioned Grant Trick to create the simple, white linen Roman shades throughout the house—something that softens the rooms and adds a finished look without swaths of fabric. “Historic homes have an innate character that can’t be duplicated, but the updates we made to this house make it work for modern family life,” says Anna.
Middle: The powder bath’s dark hue strikes a dramatic statement in the small space.
Right: Minimal layers of black and white strike a symphony in the main bedroom. A striped vintage rug from Paige Albright Orientals plays well with the artwork by Kate Roebuck. The custom headboard is by Gary Childers. Anna found the midcentury bench on Chairish.
The house also works as a studio for the duo. They use rooms to create vignettes, try out design combinations, and practice floral arrangements— something Marguerite is particularly fond of as she prefers cut flowers and natural greenery over anything over-arranged. “I love that Marguerite pushes for the avant-garde when I would make a more conservative choice,” Anna says. “And I’m always happy she does.”
Top Right: A storage cabinet with bins keeps the playroom neat and tidy. The orange and red painting is by 6-year-old Perry Still, Jr.
Bottom Left: The dining room doubles as a library, which makes for interesting conversation during dinner parties. Custom étagères from Artistic Birmingham Iron hold Perry’s collection of novels and Anna’s design books. Lee dining room chairs through Circa Interiors & Antiques pair with a shiny white table from Blu Dot and a budget-friendly (custom-sized, DIY) seagrass rug from Rush House. “This is a high/low room—the pricier pieces elevate the whole,” says Anna.
Bottom Right: A custom table by Michael Morrow in the breakfast room suits casual meals. Chairs are Adrien Audoux and Frida Minet circa 1960.
- A masss of blooms in the same palette makes easy but engaging arrangements.
- Brighten dark stairhalls by painting bannisters and rails white. A rice paper lantern strikes a contemporary (and budget-friendly) note.
- Painting mantels, the fireplace surround, trim, and walls the same color creates a modern, uniform look.
- Cabinets by Cotton Woodworks showcase minimal detailing for the contemporary kitchen.
- Children’s bedrooms are the perfect space to play with color and a mix of high/low finds. A vintage Kilim rug shares space with an Ikea bed.
Still Johnson Interiors
Interior designers and partners Anna Still and Marguerite Johnson of Still Johnson Interiors exemplify the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. They each bring talents to the business that complement each other even though some of those talents are in opposition. As Anna explains, “Marguerite is a true creative and risk taker, while I am more grounded and comfortable with the analytical and logistical challenges of running a business.” Marguerite adds, “Anna is also a perfectionist and really cares what people want in their homes instead of what she thinks they should want. We tolerate each other’s weaknesses and champion our strengths.”
The pair realized how compatible they were when working together at Betsy Brown for several years. At first, they worked side-by-side and then began to take on projects together. Soon, Anna thought they were ready to dive in together, and after meeting with Marguerite over coffee, Still Johnson Interiors was launched in June of 2021. Their style is modern, young, and fresh with accents of tradition. While the firm may be nascent, the talents are taking meetings with prominent local architects who know their reputations, and Betsy has handed off some projects as well. The pair uses Anna’s personal home to show off their approach to design as well as for a laboratory for trying new things. “It was a leap of faith to start our firm, and I have to pinch myself when I realize that we are well on our way,” says Anna.
Fresh Looks for Historic Homes
Anna and Marguerite shake up the interiors of a 1927 house with custom pieces, white paint, and carefully selected details that allow it to shine.
If you are living in a historic home with authenticity at every turn, Anna and Marguerite believe that you should invest in authentic décor. “Don’t feel like you have to get everything at once like so many young people think they should,” the designers advise. “Take your time and don’t settle on a placeholder piece. It’s better to have some emptiness than settling for something ho-hum,” says Marguerite. “And if you have young children, you need some open spaces for them to run around,” adds Anna. To give her Tudor a more modern attitude, the designers chose some edgier pieces. “We didn’t want anything to feel predictable, and we wanted the rooms to be dynamic and a bit quirky,” says Anna. “And don’t be afraid of some nicks or stains—they show life. If you live in an old that has seen a long life, you should embrace imperfections.” The duo’s curated mix of black accents, graphic fabrics, iron bookcases, stainless steel countertops, and organic pottery firmly plants this home in the 21st century.
stilljohnson.com – Instagram: @still.johnson