Home & Design | Room Evolution

Lea Johnson knows how to read the room. But she couldn’t put her finger on how to fix some of what she thought were glaring flaws in her Fridley living room: “It just felt really dark, even though we have big windows,” she says of the space. “And when I looked from our kitchen into the living room, it didn’t sit well at all. I thought, This has to change.”

The interior stylist and Creekwoodhill blogger felt stuck—so Lea enlisted California-based Emily Henderson to help her with a complete refresh. Lea met Henderson, a stylist, author, and Design Star winner, a few years prior, and they recently struck up an informal mentorship. “She kept driving home the point that if it doesn’t feel cozy to you, you’re not going to use it,” Lea says. Henderson coached Lea through design decisions that brightened and opened up the space, thanks to new furniture pieces and accessories that turn the room into a comfy oasis for the whole family to enjoy.

“Keep in mind how you live, and make practical decisions. If you’re just going by looks and not functionality when you choose something, you’re not going to use it.”

—Lea Johnson, homeowner

1. Play In The Sunshine

The west-facing living room should get a lot of bright light—but Lea’s ivory-and-black-patterned curtains and a high-backed sofa blocked the sunshine (see “before” photo, next page). New thicker-weave chambray curtains from Calico Corners and a low-slung Article sectional (in an easy-to-clean performance fabric) bring the room to life.

2. Light It Up

Lea is an avid DIY-er of light fixtures. Inspired by Gucci fixtures and her family’s Asian heritage, she (and an electrician) transformed a paper lantern from Amazon into an airy pendant. “It’s not loud,” she says. “It kind of recedes.”

3. Textural Touches 

Lea was specific in her rug wish list: “It can’t be anything too precious or too light, because eventually you’ll see dirt,” she says. She wanted low-maintenance wool with a texture comfy enough to sit on for family game nights and a neutral pattern to hide wear (and cat scratches). A hand-knotted wool rug from Dash and Albert fit the bill.

4. Strike A Balance

The room’s only full wall, which previously backed three large bookcases, was a challenge for Lea. “All of a sudden, they looked super out of place, like they were towering over everything,” she says. Henderson suggested a piece made from warmer wood—like this walnut sideboard from Article, which looks in proportion with the room’s scale.

5. Contrast Is Key

Originally, Lea worried her Industry West midcentury modern chair (which she already owned and loved) would look too dark against the dark-wood cabinet and floors. In what she calls her “chair freak-out moment,” she panic-texted Henderson about the potential clash—and Henderson assured her the rug’s softer color and pattern would save the day. “Of course, when the rug went in, the light and dark gave a good contrast,” Lea admits.

6. A Bold Statement

As Lea lightened up the room, she had an “aha” moment—the front door, previously painted white, needed to be black (Pitch Black by Farrow and Ball, to be exact). The color provides contrast from the home’s light interior and exterior while balancing some of the darker accessories in the living room. “I had design paralysis,” she says. “I kept going back and forth on colors. Now it’s like, Oh wow, I don’t know what took us so long.”

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