Michigan Design
Designer Spotlight
STRUCTURE AND STYLE: Mark Johnson discusses architecture,
interior architecture and furnishings

Mark JohnsonMark Johnson, of Mark Johnson and Associates, works with clients to marry the good bones of architecture and interior architecture with great quality furnishings. Mark Johnson is known for developing a client’s personal style, while bringing connoisseurship and impeccable detailing to every development.

How do you work to develop and define your clients’ personal styles?
I rely heavily on my clients’ personal style. Even if that style isn’t fully developed, I will help them realize it.

I was recently working with a client on a closet remodel and we were picking out carpet for the space. The client wasn’t sure what she wanted, so I brought a broad selection which included a sample of a subtle leopard print broadloom carpet. When I presented it to her, she lit up even though she was initially intimidated by the choice. I look for that kind of spark from my customers because we want them to feel that way every time they walk into their space.

Mark Johnson Living Room
Detailing of the interior architecture in this spacious home was kept minimal to not compete with the homeowner’s collection of 1950s furniture.

My clients’ personal style may come from travel and exposure to more exotic cultures, but I urge them to pick a style and do it with authenticity. Indigenous pieces usually have superior craftsmanship. We just placed an ornately carved Moroccan table in front of a sleek and modern bathtub for great contrast. I will follow design rules so that nothing is done in questionable taste, but will also break them so that the final project is a reflection of the owner’s style. I’m always looking outside of our culture for design influences.

I also rely on my clients’ existing collections to evaluate what’s important to them. A collection is the beginning of personal style and can set the tone on a project. If a client has nothing in a collection, I will talk to them about starting one. It is a really important way of personalizing your home in a way that’s quirky and client specific. Occasionally we must also de-acquisition existing pieces so as to improve the quality of a design; editing is actually our most important service.

Technology and the internet have created a sort of flattened world, how have you seen that affect design?
In the digital age clients run the risk of going from patrons of the decorative arts to being consumers of objects. We need to get past consumerism and marketable trends; quality is what remains timeless. The biggest obstacle with the internet is that we are bombarded with additional information and choices but it is really difficult to discern quality in the virtual world. A 21st-century designer’s job is to ensure quality furnishings are purchased, not just pieces that are seductively marketed or conveniently obtained.

The new interior of this dining space features a paneled dining room, and a custom kitchen with high tile wainscot and onyx countertops.

Walk us though your typical design process, and how you work to realize a space:
I begin the design process with a functional interview – how the client lives, and their daily rhythm in their home. We walk through room by room, and tailor options for those rooms to our clients’ lifestyles. Design begins with a master plan and concept for the whole home. If a client wanted a dining room redone, I’d look at the dining room as part of a whole sequence of living – dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry, and the living room. I take a broader view of how one lives.

As much as it’s about how you want your china to be stored, it’s also about how many people will be around your dining room table at night or for the holidays. I am an architect of function, and these are lifestyle clients. It’s not just about a single room – we are looking for life patterns.

I educate clients to possibilities through imagery, and then edit that imagery down to something that will be complementary to the client, and complementary to the architecture of the space.

How do you work to incorporate interior architecture and furnishings, and how do they influence each other?
Interior architecture and furnishings are often thought of separately, but they are very much complementary elements in design. The six surfaces of a room are the structure and the bones of style. Trim, wall coverings, lighting, wainscoting, and flooring all set the backdrop and stage for furnishings.

Interior detailing combines rich cherry trim work with native Michigan fieldstone to add to the modern home’s original palette.

If we get the bones of a structure right first – and that might mean moving a doorway, window, or altering a surface finish, the flow of the house will be correct, and it should work immediately without any furnishings.

But projects need to be complete thoughts, and furnishings for the room need to be thought about simultaneously, not sequentially to realize a room’s potential. I think of a project holistically. In a bedroom, for example, I will think about the placement of the bed to a view through a window, as much as the style of that bed and the soft furnishings that go on it.

Why do you enjoy working in metro Detroit?
Detroit is a city with extraordinary crafts people: metal workers, furniture makers, installers and manufacturers – it’s a town that makes things. In other cities known for design there aren’t actually as many custom manufacturing resources relative to demand. We encourage as much customization as a client’s budget and time frame will afford.

Customization gives clients a chance to make something personal and exceptional that pertains to their own homes, and with Detroit’s brilliant crafts people local projects have such potential for greatness.

To see more of Mark Johnson’s work, click here.



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