Growing up in Jackson, MS, Marguerite Johnson was obsessed with playing house, but she was so focused on the interiors and furniture that she could never start “playing” until it was perfect. She soaked up architecture on family trips and spent weekends looking at historical Mississippi homes. As a child, Anna Still was constantly painting and drawing, and she dove into every DIY project she could. In her grandparents’ mid-century home filled with Scandinavian furniture and accessories mixed with beautiful antiques, Anna began to appreciate “the mix” she infuses in her design work today.
Anna and Marguerite overlapped working for Betsy Brown for five years and came to know each other’s knacks and quirks. When it was time to move on, Still Johnson was born, amalgamating their names, creative sparks, and technical talent.
How has the brick-and-mortar retail shop changed or enhanced your design business?
AS: Our shop dovetails perfectly with our design business. We are in downtown Birmingham, and our location broadens our reach to potential clients. One of our favorite projects is with someone who randomly walked by the shop after dinner and reached out to us. We also use the shop as an expanded portfolio. A potential client can stop by the shop and understand that we like interesting art, eclectic antique and vintage furnishings, and handmade accessories.
The shop also enhances our existing projects by offering readily available furniture and accessories. We love to grab a few things from our shop when we are installing a design project. Finally, it’s just really fun to buy items as we find them. If a vendor has a fantastic set of chairs or an artist has completed a huge abstract, I don’t have to wait for a project to use them. It used to be sad to come across an amazing “find” with no home for it; now we can buy it! Someone will pop into the shop and fall in love as well.
What do you want your clients to feel when they enter their Still Johnson-designed space?
MJ: I like to create homes that reflect a client’s personality, inspire them daily, and serve as spaces where clients can relax and enjoy daily life. I hope clients feel we’ve taken their vision and exceeded their wildest dreams. I want the spaces to serve functionally and beautifully as an inspiring background for everyday life.
What’s a common misconception people have about interiors?
MJ: Interiors are more than pillows and throws (as my interior design professors used to say). It is crucial to understand a space’s architecture, scale, materials, and function before selecting furnishings. We work for hours perfecting floor plans and then developing a comprehensive scheme to guide the project. The initial groundwork informs each individual furnishing selection.
AS: I don’t think people understand how much it costs to furnish a home. Many of our potential clients are younger, and we spend a lot of time educating them about how much to expect to pay for a furnished home. It doesn’t matter if you buy furniture from a catalog; if everything is custom or a mix, the components add up. However, I think a well-furnished home can be life-changing, so I believe there is significant value in what a designer can provide.
Is there a current design “trend” you’re leaning into?
MJ: The first that comes to mind is pattern play. I enjoy mixing patterns of different sizes, scales, and designs into our schemes. Many of our clients desire a mix, and pulling that together is so fun for me! I love all the patterns playing together and pulling the colors from the patterns through the room.
Secondly, hand-blocked textiles. There are so many great lines with designs that range from playful to more serious and traditional. I love the depths and level of craftsmanship in a hand-blocked textile and how they can make an item such as a re-covered chair or pillow so special.
A third trend I love is glassware. The irregularities of handmade glassware are so beautiful and eye-catching. I love how a set of hand-blown Murano glasses from Italy catches the sunlight. Or the sparkle of the glass plates we design with a company based in Jackson, MS.
What’s your favorite hidden gem in the South?
MJ: Birmingham! We have a great design and food scene, and downtown is becoming a fun destination with lots of work, play, and dining activities. Birmingham is a design hub with nationally recognized architects and designers. I also love the houses that overlook downtown. Birmingham is the endpoint of the Appalachian mountains, and the elevation changes give the city a unique topography for houses that overlook the city. You can weave back and forth, street after street, and up the mountains to view historic homes built with a view.
AS: I absolutely love the Hotel Saint Vincent in New Orleans. I am obsessed with the design of the lobby and rooms, the restaurant, San Lorenzo, and the shop called ByGeorge. The art shows in the South are another secret resource. Every year, I try to attend the Kentuck Art Festival near Tuscaloosa, AL, and Marguerite introduced me to the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford, MS. These shows are a great way to discover new artists, purchase relatively inexpensive fabulous art, and support the art community.
Finally, what’s the best advice you’ve received, and from whom?
MJ: “Leave it more beautiful than you found it.” I am not sure who initially said it, but I heard it in preschool, and my mom would always say it. It has stuck with me since.
AS: My husband started his own business a few years before Marguerite and I started Still Johnson. He’s constantly telling me that when starting a business, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” That could be applied to starting a business and even our design work. Take the time to get it right. As a very impatient person, I try (usually unsuccessfully) to remember it.
Thank you for chatting, Anna and Marguerite. To explore more of their work, visit stilljohnson.com and swing by and see their store in Birmingham. Tell them StyleBlueprint sent ya!
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