See Inside Designer Ulla Johnsons’s Family Home in Brooklyn, New York - The Gloss Magazine
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See Inside Designer Ulla Johnsons’s Family Home in Brooklyn, New York

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Fashion designer Ulla Johnson imbues everything with signature polish, including her Brooklyn brownstone, as SARAH MACKEN found out …

Ulla Johnson has been quietly honing her brand of polished bohemia since she began her eponymous label in 1998, drawing inspiration from the world over. She credits her parents, both archaeologists, who met on a mission in Yugoslavia to uncover artifacts from the Mesopotamian civilisation, with her interest in other cultures and countries. Her clothes are beloved of celebrities like Katie Holmes (wearing an UJ patchwork dress as she dashes for coffee in New York) and Whitney Port, Jennifer Lawrence and Chrissy Teigen are fellow fans.

The designer’s SS21 collection is a study in the dress: maximalist midis with psychedelic, swirling florals; a dreamy puff sleeve in crisp, cotton poplin; hemlines that come to life with an expertly pleated trim. The devil is in the detail – and the gorgeously feminine prints.

“The show we did in March was a rebellion against athleisure,” she says. “As a company, we did a lot of soul-searching about the very nature of what we do and we’re more committed than ever to the ability of clothes to transport, transform.”

It comes as no surprise that Ulla Johnson didn’t touch a pair of sweatpants during lockdown. Her current take on Zoom dressing includes the Cleo blouse from the spring collection – a soft but structured cotton poplin blouse with elaborate pleats in a shade of rust. Just don’t ask her to commit to a work-from-home uniform. “I find that very suffocating,” she says. “I reinvent myself every day based on my mood, rather than conforming to anything rigid.”

Unabashed femininity is also reflected in Johnson’s four-storey 19th-century Brooklyn house she shares with her husband Zach Miner, a director of a private contemporary art foundation and her children, Soren, 15, Asher, 11 and Agnes, 8. A female-led team of architect Elizabeth Roberts and interior designer Alexis Brown (both worked on Johnson’s Bleecker Street store) masterminded the project with Johnson and her husband. The couple spent a year remodelling the house.

The result is a mellow, inviting home, with natural finishes throughout. Bleached sycamore and white oak imbue it with a soft womb-like glow, while blush walls are courtesy of Farrow & Ball’s Setting Plaster. In the kitchen, a marble island contrasts with a chevron floor made from Douglas Fir planks (treating the wood with soap gives it a velvet-soft finish, Johnson explains). A dining table shaped like a surfboard – purchased from architect Arthur Casas on a trip to Brazil – stretches towards the patio doors; a suitably laidback setting for family meals. The addition of a sunroom – which draws light from the west-facing garden into the kitchen – was key to creating the warm sunny atmosphere of this room, with its view over the pretty garden.

The English country-style garden (more Cotswolds than NYC) kept Johnson buoyant despite the confines of lockdown. She says arranging cut flowers in a vase on her desk every morning is an important WFH ritual: “I’m so grateful for mother nature, I always have been, but never more so than during the past year.”

“We endeavoured to create a garden for all seasons, an oasis for birds and bees in our bustling city. I planted it knowing I would want cut flowers in spring and summer. Watching the action shift from tulips and daffodils to peonies and lilacs is a delight.” On any surface, on any day, you might find a clutch of daffodils picked from the garden or some hellebores in an earthenware vase.

With nearly half a million Instagram followers, Johnson knows the value of a good “moment”. And her house has many. The custom shelving in the den is reminiscent of Joan Didion’s book-lined study in her 1970s Malibu home. The living room features a coffee table cluttered with glossy books. In Asher’s bedroom, a night sky mural by Ashley Zangle offers both a talking point and the backdrop for a cosy nook for bedtime reading.

A self-confessed literature fan with a passion for female authors, Johnson majored in psychology and women’s studies at university. Reading is something she encourages in her children, too. Weekend trips to local bookshop the Greenlight Bookstore are a favourite.

A woven wall hanging by Sheila Hicks was a special commission. “I’ve been obsessed with Sheila since I was a child,” she says. A focus on craftsmanship mirrors Johnson’s engagement with embroidery through her work – she reflects on these designs as “future heirlooms”.

On Sundays, Johnson hosts an open kitchen for friends; the table can seat up 20. For Johnson, it’s an opportunity to embrace the three Cs essential to entertaining: Candlelight, Chicken and (Johnny) Cash. When they do eat out, they go local at nearby Italian eatery Roman’s.

At a time when fashion shows are on hold, she is doubling down: the designer’s AW21 show in March was her biggest production to date. A nod to a childhood attending the ballet, Johnson commandeered iconic New York cultural institution the Lincoln Center. “It was an honour to hold the first event there since last March. It feels like the wheels are in motion for the world to come back to life.”

Ulla Johnson is at Brown Thomas and Havana, Dublin 4.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY FLOTO + WARNER

“Warm, welcoming, familial” is how Johnson describes her home: “We wanted our house to feel elevated and elegant, but it is also a real living space and not precious – I have three children after all,” Johnson says. A hanging sculpture is by Kathleen Ryan, the painting by Benoit Maire. The sculpture above the fireplace is by Ugo Rondinone. The woven wall hanging is by Sheila Hicks.

In the kitchen are handblown glass pendants by Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert above a table by Arthur Casas.

The kitchen island unit is made from calacatta vagli marble with Vola sink fittings.

The garden was planned by Miranda Brooks with outdoor dining table and chairs by Roda.

Fashion designer Ulla Johnson with her children, Soren, 15, Asher, 11 and Agnes, 8.

In the master bedroom a Pierre Paulin sofa sits at the foot of a bespoke bed with a vintage Hawaiian appliqué quilt.

The staircase with white oak rail. Art by Luiz Zerbini and Paloma Bosquê.

Custom shelving displays books in the den. The lamp is by Bernard Buffat.

The master bathroom is clad in Travertine.

“Warm, welcoming, familial” is how Johnson describes her home: “We wanted our house to feel elevated and elegant, but it is also a real living space and not precious – I have three children after all,” Johnson says. A hanging sculpture is by Kathleen Ryan, the painting by Benoit Maire. The sculpture above the fireplace is by Ugo Rondinone. The woven wall hanging is by Sheila Hicks.

In the kitchen are handblown glass pendants by Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert above a table by Arthur Casas.

The kitchen island unit is made from calacatta vagli marble with Vola sink fittings.

The garden was planned by Miranda Brooks with outdoor dining table and chairs by Roda.

Fashion designer Ulla Johnson with her children, Soren, 15, Asher, 11 and Agnes, 8.

In the master bedroom a Pierre Paulin sofa sits at the foot of a bespoke bed with a vintage Hawaiian appliqué quilt.

The staircase with white oak rail. Art by Luiz Zerbini and Paloma Bosquê.

Custom shelving displays books in the den. The lamp is by Bernard Buffat.

The master bathroom is clad in Travertine.

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