Baton Rouge designer Hope Johnson redefines ‘homebody’
Connecting her bedroom to her sister’s and to the den, the triangular fireplace in the middle of the old 1910s home designer Hope Johnson grew up in provided not only ample opportunity for post-bedtime whispers — “mostly, I think I just annoyed her,” Johnson recalls of keeping her little sister up at night — it also became a boundless source of inspiration for the burgeoning fabric and wallpaper illustrator who meticulously rearranged her room at age 6. “Looking back on it, that was so weird,” Johnson says.
When her parents renovated that home, some boards above the fireplace on the living room side were stripped off and beneath that first layer of skin, the home revealed a heart of lively vintage half drop patterned wallpaper.
It was dark but floral. Feminine but masculine. And it was unforgettable. With her new line of wallpapers, the textile designer is chasing the first feeling of finding sunken-treasure wallpaper as a child.
“I want mine to have this modern twist but feel nostalgic and comfortable,” Johnson says. “Just like something you’d find when ripping out the sheetrock in an old home.”
Now 32, the designer lands a phonebook-thick stack of sketches, samples and mood boards down on the table with a gentle thud. Samples of her new wallpaper line are set to arrive from the Connecticut manufacturer next week, and she’s buoyant with optimism. What’s lived mostly on Instagram will soon be in people’s homes.
“I’m sorry, I must have gotten some muffin on this page, or my kids’ fingerprints, maybe,” Johnson says, excusing a smudge near the selvedge of a pattern called Forest Friends, a wallpaper made with linoleum block prints of animals she made with her children, each captioned by the graceful handwriting of her grandmother who brought her to garage sales on many weekends in her youth.
Other patterns are called Roadside Picks, Forage and Vintage Laurel, each is slightly reminiscent of British textile legend William Morris, or the kind of whimsically detailed patterns found in the background of a Wes Anderson movie. Most are rendered in muted hunter green or mustard, shades of brown and the kind of deep grays that recall fresh sun-kissed soil, or the welcome shadows that stretch across the floor on a warm Sunday afternoon; all colors that the LSU printmaking alumna says bring calm to her often-bustling home. “I’m not really a primary colors kind of girl,” Johnson says.
“I love how Hope is inspired by vintage and antique design, but finds her own ways to make it modern,” says artist and photographer TahJah Harmony. “Her pattern work is so timeless it could work in a grandmother’s dining room or a child’s bedroom.”
From her countryside abode on eight acres northeast of Baton Rouge, Johnson works out of her spacious studio alongside her three young children and Marlin, the 2,000-pound letterpress named after tiny Marlin, Texas, where she and her husband Michael bought it and hauled it home by trailer.
What someone puts on her wall is a big commitment, but Johnson aims to demystify the process. “I think you have to know yourself and how your environment affects you, more than anything,” she says. “I want people to look at wallpaper or color and ask ‘How does this make me feel?’”
To help homeowners navigate common design decisions, Johnson created a digital mini book called “The Habits of Being a Homebody.” The volume is not a technical manual filled with architectural nomenclature, but instead a lived-in dialogue centered on valuing wellness and how a home can support — or detract from — personal wellbeing.
“The term ‘homebody’ gets twisted,” Johnson says. “People have different definitions of comfort. For me, comfort is function. With kids, you have to evolve your home. It needs to be a staging ground for functionality, activity and life as it goes on.”
Coloring the walls of family homes are fitting destinies for illustrations and patterns Johnson hand drew while sitting next to her own children, or on long visits with her antiques-gathering grandmother. The designs are less the result of frenetic studio time, and more borne of the quiet and warm, sometimes messy, moments of quality time with those she loves most. They reveal that family and life and the adventure of creating are all woven together, as tangible a knot as the lines of her Foraged wallpaper or a child’s fingerprints on her Forest Friends mood board.
For Johnson, there’s always a story worth telling, and even walls can talk.
“It’s a generational experience I feel when I look at it,” Johnson says. “It’s about passing down stories and creativity and memories of family together, and when people choose this wallpaper for their home, I hope they feel that, too, that it connects.”
When you’re not creating, what do you enjoy doing in Louisiana? How do you like to relax?
Lots of baseball games and gymnastics with the kids for sure. We do day trips in St. Francisville and just love to go on long drives where there’s no red lights. We have a camp south of Houma and spend a lot of summer time there. Being near the water is so relaxing to me.
What’s something you weren’t sure would work but turned out great?
I have a contract with Cotton + Steel Fabrics, and one time my daughter Isla had a drawing she’d done — we have a lot of rainbow drawings around the house sometimes — and I almost threw it out because we had so much of the kids’ artwork, but I saved it, and it ended up inspiring a new collection for Cotton + Steel. I called it Dear Isla for her. So, think twice before tossing something.
Do you consider your work Louisiana-inspired?
I think so. We have fished our entire lives, so a lot of my work has the vibe of a Louisiana lake house, very summery. I have this shrimp boat drawing I’ve kept for a long time, but still waiting to use that for something. I’m always inspired by good architecture, and I used to draw all the venues I saw while in the wedding industry. I have lots of New Orleans architectural drawings, and maybe that’ll become something in the future.