The Art of Living

In Darrell and T.J. Johnson’s home on Signal Mountain, good taste and artful design reign supreme. Each room flows thematically into the next as each piece of fine art and each furnishing has been lovingly placed “just where it should be.” T.J.’s natural eye for aesthetics was fostered by her art and design background and periodic collaboration with other designers. Darrell, an oncologist and hematologist, shares the same passion for art and is an enthusiastic collector himself.   

By Laura Childers  Photos By Med Dement

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The Johnsons have been in their home now for 13 years, and while their tastes and their needs have changed, they’ve worked hard to keep a unified design. “We have tended to use neutrals throughout our home,” T.J. explains. “That way, you can bring something in, take something out, move the furniture, and it still has a cohesive design.”

A slight push on the Johnsons’ brass door handle leads into a grand, two-story foyer with raised ceilings and a sparkling chandelier overhead. In the center of the space, a grand staircase features an intricate wrought iron railing with gold trim. T.J., who loves to arrange flowers, has done a simple arrangement of greenery and magnolia leaves tied with beige ribbon around the bannister. Behind the railing hangs a painting by American artist Geoffrey Johnson in a champagne frame.

To the right and left, doorframes are accented by fluted columns with crown molding, details added by the Johnsons in a renovation of the space. “The foyer is one of my favorite spaces in our home because it’s so architectural,” T.J. says. As such, the room offers an ideal backdrop for several important pieces in the Johnsons’ art collection, made up of contemporary and antique paintings, sketches, bronzes, and sculptures. On the left wall hangs a large seascape by 19th century Dutch painter Louis Gartner, a heavy piece placed high up on the wall “where it can shine,” T.J. explains.

A few steps to the right lead into the Johnsons’ formal dining room. Walls painted in a deep scarlet color are accented by window treatments of billowing gold fabric with Houlés tassels imported from France. A cabinet in between the windows holds an assortment of stemware and china. “We actually enjoy eating dinner in our dining room a lot,” T.J. says. “I wanted my kids to grow up knowing how to use stemware and flatware and how to enjoy a nice meal naturally and gracefully.” On the back wall, a large painting by Geoffrey Johnson, procured by Sue Markley of Gallery 1401, was a present given to Darrell on his 50th birthday.

Just off the dining room is the Johnsons’ cozy kitchen, outfitted with an exquisite green backsplash and dark cherry cabinetry, along with new lining below and crown molding above. Four barstools line the green granite countertop, on which sits an arrangement of bright red poinsettias and a grouping of nutcracker men—one of many Christmas gestures scattered throughout the home.

The kitchen is also home to two still life paintings by T.J.’s mother, an accomplished portrait and landscape painter—one beautiful blue impressionist piece, her very first, and a pastoral kitchen scene in which water gushes from a hand pump.

A cozy breakfast nook in the far corner is home to a weathered, French country-inspired breakfast table, with comfortable banquette seating on two sides and a long bench upholstered in cowhide on the third. A beautiful work by English painter Thomas Rose Miles hangs above the banquette on one side—the focal point of the room. An arrangement of dried hydrangeas gathered from the backyard adds the perfect final touch to the space’s neutral color palette.

A stone fireplace with a roaring fire divides the kitchen and breakfast area from the main living area, furnished in warm browns. Portraits of each of the Johnsons’ children painted by T.J.’s mother hang above plush leather sofas, and a sketch by Salvador Dali hangs next to the fireplace. Above the fireplace hangs a landscape by 19th century Italian oil painter, Carlo Pizzi. The living area also has a mid-19th century baroque-style “Madonna and Child” painting and several antique furnishings, including a 250-year-old French cabinet with a beautiful seashell molding and a 200-year-old commode with weathered patina. A creation-themed Christmas tree in a portion of the room set off by three architectural columns is decorated with bright red cardinals, berries, willow, and grapevine.

T.J.’s library, which the Johnsons had retrofitted from a hallway, is just off the living room. Walnut shelves filled with leatherbound books and family albums surround her 200-year-old antique English desk set, and a cowhide rug underneath warms the space. “I find that being in a peaceful, quiet, place helps me think,” she says.

Directly to the right is the home’s formal living room, outfitted with varying damask fabrics in shades of cream and gold. A handmade Stark rug imported from France with a neoclassical-looking pattern beautifully complements silk string wallpaper with gold stripes. “I did want a formal living room, but one that was approachable, and one that when you saw the sofas and the chairs, you just wanted to plop down and get cozy,” T.J. says.

The room’s elegant design offers a fitting backdrop for several works of art. On the left wall, a stunning Lorraine Christie painting of a street scene on a rainy day hangs above gold and cream empire-style seating. Above the fireplace mantel hangs a charcoal sketch of Darrell and his grandfather—a particularly meaningful piece to the Johnsons. “Darrell’s grandfather worked as a coal miner for 50 years and helped put Darrell through medical school,” T.J. explains. To the left of the mantel rests a 200-pound Frederic Remington bronze, entitled “Coming through the Rye.” It’s just one of several bronzes by Remington scattered throughout the downstairs.

On the far wall, the Johnsons have put up a Christmas tree with decorations inspired by Handel’s “Messiah.” The tree’s ornaments, which include ecclesiastical crosses and pieces of the oratorio’s score on parchment, were handmade by T.J.’s mother and T.J. herself, who is a trained vocalist and has studied classical music for most of her life.

Back through the library and to the left, the master bedroom continues the cream-and-gold color scheme. The Johnsons
raised the ceiling to make room for a chandelier and imported a fireplace from California, which is now the centerpiece of the room. Above the master bed, Scalamandre fabric falls softly from a water-gilded cornice made by local artist Alan Shuptrine. To the left, gold fabric billows from the windows. “We wanted to give the home more of a Georgian look and make the windows appear larger, so we put a lot of fabric on the windows with a big Manor House cornice,” T.J. says. In the far corner hangs another ethereal street scene by Lorraine Christie, and a turn-of-the-century oil painting by Tadeusz Rybkowski hangs on the wall to the right of the bed. Above the fireplace hangs a late 19th-century oil painting.

To the right, the master bathroom offers a beautiful vista of dogwoods and crepe myrtles and magnolia trees through a large bay window above the bathtub. Limestone tile imported from Jerusalem in “Galilee Gold” complements solid gold fixtures and warm wood cabinetry.

Upstairs, a long hallway leads to the bedroom of Lauren, a freshman and golfer at Vanderbilt University, and Dustin and Brandon, twins age 15, students and golfers at Baylor School. At the landing at the top of the stairs hangs a large watercolor by Alan Shuptrine in a water-gilded frame with the Baylor Crest. Titled “The Big Red Walk,” the painting shows the entrance to the school in the fall. Nearby, a Christmas tree is decorated with whimsical ornaments in red and bright green.

Lauren’s room has a delicate color scheme of powder blue and beige with silver accents. In a nod to many happy times spent at their home at St. Simons Island and Sea Island in Georgia, fragments of coral are mounted on the wall. Next to Lauren’s large sleigh bed rests a guitar case—a gift from Vince Gill given to her after playing in his charity golf tournament.

Just down the hall, Dustin and Brandon have a fun and functional living space that acts as part-art studio, part-bedroom, and part-living room. The back wall houses two twin bed frames in between a dresser, all custom-made in cowhide by the same artisan who does upholstery repair for Buckingham Palace. The left wall, the “art wall,” displays the twins’ considerable portfolio of Lego creations—a variety of trains, planes, and other objects representing years of collaborative work. On the right wall, the library wall houses dozens of books and a flatscreen TV. “This room is designed for two to live, but for four to six to be here to hang out on the weekends,” T.J. says. “We wanted a space where their friends can come and feel comfortable. It’s fun! You can’t drag those boys out of that room.”

With attention to detail and nuance and a natural talent for design, the Johnsons have created a home that balances beauty and livability. “We always knew we wanted it to be a home, not a museum, a home that was full of children and love,” says T.J. “I’ve just tried to edit our home so that it’s comfortable and the things that we want to highlight can be highlighted.”

“It’s been a process. We’ve grown into it.”


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