Written By Joan Lerch
Photography By Alise O’Brien
Three years in the making, the meticulous attention to detail in this home makes it worthy of almost every superlative. Even from the curb, a glimpse up the sloping driveway tells the visitor they are about to experience something truly extraordinary. And then, rounding a curve, the elegant structure appears, anticipation heightens once more, and it’s instantly apparent why the homeowners call this their dream home.
Using a team headed by custom home builder Roger Johnson, of Johnson Development Company, and his wife Kelly Johnson, owner of Kelly Johnson Design, their journey began with a search for the perfect lot, finally discovered in the spring of 2015. Negotiations regarding purchase and possession delayed the building process for about six months, which gave everyone time to ponder floor plans and other preliminaries. The drawings were completed and construction began later that year.
When the designer first met the soon-to-be homeowners, they had a scrapbook of plans and magazine clippings, and a “punch list” of things they wanted the home to have, but they were completely open to fresh ideas. “It’s not often that a client says, ‘We are totally open-minded. What do you think would be super cool?’ Usually we have parameters, but this time we didn’t,” Kelly explains. The designer had an inspiration file of her own that included a photo of a home she had discovered in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Marking the beginning of a truly synchronized collaboration, the clients’ scrapbook featured the identical photo.
And so it began.
The empty-nester couple came to the project from a very fresh perspective, truly starting from scratch, Kelly explains. In addition to choosing finishes, rugs, lighting, fabrics and accessories as simple as napkin rings, the designer also chose furnishings for every room in the new home. “They moved in with their clothes,” she explains. Her artistic eye is evident in every carefully considered detail, from sculptural light fixtures to the hand-made brass barstools by artist Anna Karlin, designed to mimic chess board pieces.
Streamlined and deliberately neutral, the interiors were designed to showcase the art collected specifically for this home. Just off the long foyer— a magnificent gallery that extends front to back— the formal dining room is the perfect setting for a contemporary work by Valerie Jaudon, a New York artist recognized as a leader in the Pattern and Decoration movement. The piece was acquired through gallery owner Philip Slein, who describes what makes the painting so remarkable. “That white line is not painted,” he explains. “All of the black is painted up and the white is raw canvas showing through. Jaudon painted up to the edge with incredible skill.”
Describing the homeowners as “true collectors,” Slein describes their approach to art. “When they come to the gallery, they choose paintings that have meaning and significance to them— works of art they want to live with. It’s all about connoisseurship. When you are a collector, it’s very important to display your collection in the most esthetically pleasing way. In older days folks tended to “decorate,” but collecting is much deeper. When it’s done well and a home is collected and presented, it’s really the best and most timeless look.”
The Jaudon was a pivotal moment for Kelly, who explains, “ The dining room was “the last room I could see in my head— it was always a blank. We considered five chandeliers before settling on one. And then they bought that painting, and that was it! The whole room came together.”
When dinner is over and it’s time to relax, the neutral symmetry of the gathering room makes a soothing statement, punctuated by an oversized abstract canvas. The celestial ceiling, with a heavenly silver-leafed dome, reflects illumination from another spectacular light fixture. A Tufenkian rug, rich in silk and knotted by hand, anchors the space. And when it’s time for a party (or just a private toast), the bar is a few steps away.
Throughout the home, expansive windows blur the line between outdoors and in, offering a tempting invitation to explore what’s beyond. From the barrel-ceiling great room, three sets of French doors open to the very private rear of the property, where a dramatic walled fountain provides a soothing soundtrack to the bucolic setting.
Another Tufenkian rug and cozy seating create an intimate space for fireside conversation in the large great room. When it’s movie night, a motorized panel above the fireplace reveals the television. To visually break up the long room, Kelly designed a room divider of stacked, see-through shelving. Parsons tables crafted by bespoke furniture builder Martin Goebel, of Goebel & Co. furniture, can be used for casual dining or, with chairs removed, an overflow bar.
In the adjoining kitchen, a row of tall windows was substituted for upper cabinets on one wall, providing a panoramic view of the gardens beyond. And if guests wonder how the stunning kitchen is impossibly clean in the middle of a dinner party, the secret is just behind the cooktop wall. Kelly explains: “This is the pretty kitchen, and it’s decked out with every feature you can imagine.” But a second, galley-style kitchen, closed off with a sliding barn door, is where the culinary magic really happens. “It’s the ‘dirty kitchen.’ When they have people over, nobody has to look at the mess.” A half wall of cabinetry, topped with a custom Parsons-style bar, separates the “pretty” kitchen from the gathering room without blocking light and views.
An abstract painting by Robert Sagerman is displayed in the hall leading to the home’s private wing. Describing the artist’s unusual approach, Slein says, “He counts every single dollop of paint and titles each work with something like “17,040” for the number of times he touches the canvas.” In yet another perfectly executed touch, the Sagerman is hung so it is approached from the side, offering the proper perspective on the textured dimension.
This hall leads to “her” study, entered through shōji doors (Japanese-style doors constructed from translucent paper over a wood frame) which allow light to pass through, while maintaining a quiet calm in the Zen-inspired space. The “decompress” mood is essential for this homeowner. As the managing partner of a Fortune 500 firm, she spends a considerable amount of time traveling and living in luxury hotels, so it was essential to have an equally 5-star space of her own when she was not on the road. She’s often accompanied by her husband, who sums it up this way: “We travel a lot and absolutely look forward to coming home. This is where we want to be!”
The master suite, echoing that 5-five star vibe, is a masterpiece of exquisite detail. The bedroom and sitting area are arranged to take full advantage of terrace views and the planned putting green, but the stunning cove lighting is the visual star that steals the show. Kelly worked with 3rd Degree glass for two years on the design and execution of the art-glass display, a brilliant mix of artistry, engineering and a bit of angst. In the master bath, standing-height vanities from Alspaugh Kitchen & Bath accommodate a busy morning. On a lazier day, a high-walled outdoor shower beckons.
From first meeting to final walk-through, the homeowners were enthusiastic about the Johnsons’ team approach to construction and design. The husband says, “I tell everybody who asks about our experience— Make sure you get a team on board!” In what might be the ultimate compliment for the team, he adds, “I’m almost sorry it’s over.”
When their dream home was almost complete, Kelly prepared for the big day with a directive. “OK, give me the keys and don’t pull in the driveway until it’s ready.” (The homeowner admits with a smile, “That was hard!”) Days later, after furniture was placed, art was installed, towels were hung just so, and everything was perfect, it was time for the reveal.
Finally allowed to return, the homeowners came up the driveway in the evening hours. The lights had been turned down low, the music was on, and candles were flickering. The Johnsons met them at their new front door, handed them a glass of champagne and said, “Would you like to see your new home?”
We couldn’t write a happier ending.