For interior designer Tasmin Johnson, landing this new challenge—a four-bedroom 1890s house for a young couple and their three kids (and dog!) in the leafy suburb of Woollahra, Sydney—was like winning the artistic jackpot. With every new project, she tries to stretch her creative muscles, but typically she can only go so far as her clients will let her. This time, she had carte blanche.
“The client has fantastic taste,” Johnson says. “When a client truly trusts you, you can really push yourself to do something incredible.” In this case, that meant creating a colorful, bright space that put the couple’s impressive art collection at the forefront.
The historic home, with its generous rooms and grand entry foyer, had immense potential—but it required a ton of love to make it livable. We’re talking a gut renovation of the majority of the existing house and a brand-new contemporary extension to bring natural light and airy proportions to the existing architecture. Here, Johnson shares her top tips for pushing your design plan one step further.
Keep a Hint of the Home’s History
Nearly every detail in the extension was custom designed by Johnson, from the stonework to the raw nickel hardware, which was chosen for its beautiful patina. The kitchen countertops are travertine; the oak cabinetry thoughtfully crafted with cutout finger pulls. But at the heart of the newly extended kitchen is something old: a whitewashed brick wall. “The client wanted to retain the brickwork instead of plastering over it to really emphasize the last of the original structure,” Johnson says. The designer finished off the space with a pair of Jean Royere scalloped stools.
Work With, Not Against, a Couple’s Distinct Styles
Though the couple agreed on many points—they loved art but wanted a house that didn’t feel too grown-up—the husband liked cleaner, more contemporary lines, while the wife preferred quirky accents. Their home ended up being a perfect marriage of both: a breezy space filled with light furniture, simple silhouettes, and attention-grabbing art. To offset the neutral pieces, like the white sectional designed by Johnson and the Fritz Neth Cloud chairs, the designer added custom linen beach ball pillows and a groovy Ultrafragola neon mirror. “They’re both very fun-loving and outgoing, and they have their quirks in their personalities,” she explains. “I think this is reflective in the interior.” The Anna Chalsworth plaster chandelier is a happy mix of the two.
Think Beyond Standard Finishes
Unlike the many designers who strive to have a signature look, Johnson aims to reinvent herself with each new project. “The less I have seen something, the more it appeals,” she says. Take the home’s vanities with their arched backsplashes: “We fell in love with various slabs at the stone yard and then customized a design with youthful elements. They’re a young couple, so we didn’t want it all to be too serious. We also didn’t want a plain white tiled bathroom.”
Buy Vintage (or Make It Yourself!)
The designer is constantly on the hunt for never-before-seen vintage items. “I buy from a network of dealers from around the world,” she explains. “I try not to use the same pieces twice.” Everything else she creates herself: rugs, lighting, vases, even wavy headboards like the one pictured above. “We have a few organic shapes in the custom items, so they all work together nicely,” she adds.
Original designs aside, Johnson values her clients’ reaction above all. “Nothing makes me happier than a client who truly loves their home: a space that feels new but layered in history, in a refreshingly modest setting; a space where aesthetics and beauty are secondary to function.” Check, check, and check.
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