Manhattan Beach designer Jill Johnson tells us how she remade a rental mess into her dream cottage, one room at a time.
JJ: Having gotten through this renovation, my top criteria for a potential fixer-upper is one that's never been remodeled. The more dilapidated the better!
JJ: Absolutely not! When we bought the house, it was a total shanty, thanks to poor upkeep and a slew of ill-conceived additions. I never thought I'd live here―our plan was to paint the whole thing white and rent it out. But once it was painted, I thought, "This could be cute with a little work."
JJ: For our first round of renovations, we started with the kitchen and bath. By the time we had raised the ceiling in what was then the living room, I thought, "I could live here after all―but I'm going to have to redo the whole thing."
JJ: Pretty much. Only the master bedroom is in the same spot it was before. We converted a one-bedroom house to a four-bedroom house just by enclosing some indoor/outdoor spaces and tinkering with underused interior spaces. We also replaced the garage with an airy carport and added architectural details throughout.
JJ: I wantd the 1920s house to look its age―not like the 1970s halfway hose it resembled when we bought it. So we pored over magazines and books to get the details right. We installed light hardwood floors, and added lots of molding and trim, all new windows, cedar-shake shingles, and the brick drive out front.
JJ: We did it in stages, which made things easier on the budget, too. We also lived elsewhere during the intense construction work, something I highly recommend. If that's not an option for you, make sure to keep one room that's a "safe" escape from the battle zone beyond.
JJ: Easy―a vintage bamboo chandelier. I have one in almost every room. My biggest coup is one that I found on the side of the road in Texas for $30. I painted it, and it was a s good as new―or better!
JJ: We utilized every last inch of the house by creating seating nooks out of pass-through spaces, like the built-in sofa opposite the island in the kitchen. That used to be part of the living room. There are hardly any closets, so we also built out every last nook with drawers for storage.
JJ: Definitely! We sacrificed our crawlspace attic for pitched ceilings in as may rooms as possible. Just that extra couple of feet in terms of ceiling height made rooms seem so much larger. We also added windows and skylights wherever we could to bring in more natural light.
JJ: A lot of that has to do with my palette―I love blues and greens. There are just hints of color on the walls, and we clad the ceilings in white-painted V-groove. It's very soothing―not every room looks the same, because I varied the patterns throughout, but there is a unified effect.
JJ: I would say my personal look is "cleaned-up eclectic." I like my upholstered pieces to have very clean almost modern, lines―nothing that looks too old-fashioned. But I like to mix in vintage pieces and flea market finds, as well.
JJ: The key is to vary the scale so patterns work together without competing with each other. I was a clothing designer for 12 years, and I think my background in fashion and fabrics helps me mix prints in my home.
JJ: I love Raoul Textiles, Hable Construction, and Schumacher. Quadrilled is definitely another favorite.