It was 2015 and Lea Johnson, founder and lead stylist at Creekwoodhill and IT wizard, sat with her contractor excitedly sketching out a floor plan on a napkin. The chance to build a home for her family of four from scratch in Minneapolis, MN was a rare one, and she was determined to make the most of it. Laundry room here, kitchen facing this way, staircase winding like so, and the list went on.
Customizing the home to her family’s needs was not the only thing at the forefront of Johnson’s mind throughout the build, though. She also aimed to seamlessly combine the amenities of a brand new home with the character of an older one. Vintage dressers would act as bathroom vanities, backsplashes would come with a backstory, and every light source was going to exude personality.
At four years old, the home bears little resemblance to other newer houses thanks to the clever choices Johnson made during its infancy. So little, in fact, sometimes her guests are fooled: “I love when people walk in and the first thing they say is, ‘Is this a new-build or a remodeled older house?’ To me, that is a compliment,” Johnson adds proudly. Keep scrolling to see how she pulled off the sleight of hand.
By dressing the young home in a collection of secondhand art and furniture that spans different eras, Johnson instantly infused it with a sense of heritage. In the dining room, for example, her collection of mismatched dining chairs surround the table. Next to them stands a cabinet that looks to be original to the house, but is actually an old hutch Johnson dug out of a basement 15 years ago. By tucking it into the corner and painting it the same color as the walls, though, Johnson has mimicked the look of a built-in.
The adjoining living room is covered in cozy wood-paneling; it's the most extensive addition to the home and a nod to Johnson’s lifelong love of farmhouses, including her own grandmother’s. “As a child, I just loved all the character in her home...there was so much texture,” she explains.
To create the look, the construction team installed simple plywood panels in a staggered pattern over the existing drywall. During the install, Johnson had the crew leave a sliver of space between each panel to give them a grooved appearance and decided against filling in the nail holes so as to preserve their organic vibe. To complete the illusion, Johnson strategically held back when it came time to give the panels a second coat of paint. Skipping the step has kept the wood grain visible and adds to the installation's rustic charm.
Johnson saved quite a bit of money on her custom build by not having the crew install any light fixtures. “Our contractor actually owed us money for this portion of the build because we barely tapped into the preset lighting allowance,” she says with a grin. The omission also gave her time to curate just the right lighting for each room. The home office, specifically, is crowned by a ceiling medallion (a $30 find) that Johnson unexpectedly paired with a Japanese paper lantern. Both items came from common big box stores but exude sophistication when married together.
In the kitchen, shaker-style cabinets are accompanied by a one-of-a-kind backsplash Johnson created alongside her friend Mercedes Austin, owner and founder of Mercury Mosaics. The subtle pattern they devised resembles pixels in a “techy”–but stylish–wink to Johnson’s background in IT. Like the simple cabinetry, the accent adds interest to the kitchen while still playing nicely with all that surrounds it.
Off the kitchen sits a narrow laundry and powder room. Its petiteness gave Johnson an excuse to install pocket doors; a feature that would both save space and add a dash of charm. “I love homes from the 1920s-40s, and they all have pocket doors somewhere,” Johnson begins. “This was my way of adding a piece of that into this house.”
Slide open the door that leads to the powder room, and you are met by a vanity crafted from a well-worn dresser. When Johnson came across the $40 piece at a thrift store, her father was battling cancer and looking for a distraction, so he jumped at the chance to revamp it. He sanded off the four layers of chalkboard paint it wore, added a shelf to make it counter-height, cut out all the holes for the plumbing and restained it. “Now it sits as a reminder of his work, and I love it,” Johnson says.
Besides the vanity, the rest of the custom touches peppered throughout the home are Johnson’s gifts to the next owner. That is, if the family ever leaves. “This was meant to be our forever home, and it was built that way,” she tells us. “It feels just right…it feels like home.”
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