Living a Beautiful Life – An Interview with Interior Designer Shelley Johnstone

Florida Condo Primary Bedroom | Photographer: Kevin Kerr

Interior designer Shelley Johnstone can often be found in her Lake Forest, Illinois, design studio and showroom, dreaming up creative solutions for her clients both near and far. Her exquisite taste and ability to complete a project to perfection have garnered her clients from around the country and across the pond. So it is no surprise that House Beautiful recognized her as one of their “Next Wave” designers, and her work has been celebrated in the pages of Traditional Home, Luxe, and The New York Times (to name only a few). Having trained at London’s Inchbald School of design, her style has evolved to incorporate her unique take on classic European elegance with a modern twist in a fresh yet timeless blend.

Client Project Dining Room | Photographer Cynthia Lynn Photography

Growing up with two creative parents (her father was a landscape architect, and her mother owned a flower shop), taught her to appreciate the beauty around her. “My surroundings were always filled with stylish, interesting, and beautiful details.” Becoming a designer, she strives to create a world of beauty to serve as a backdrop to a joyful life in the homes of the clients with which she works. “My goal is always not just to create a beautiful space, but one that is lived in and enjoyed. It is a lifestyle I help my clients to create. I want them to be happy in every space in their home.”

Client Project Family Room | Photographer Aimee Mazzenga

To create the sophisticated, nuanced, and stylish homes that she designs, Johnstone often draws from her rich experiences living and traveling in Europe. “Travel is a very influential element for me. The ease and effortlessness of the idyllic Italian island of Capri are achieved with beautiful hues, architecture, and beauty of the sea, layered with the scent of lemon and jasmine and their weathered rattan furniture. It’s not just how pretty the island is; it’s the lifestyle and environment that provoke this inspiration for me.” One of the many elements of her work that stands out is her wonderful attention to detail, resulting in spaces where small details are discovered the longer one spends in a room. Indeed, this aspect of design is one that she appreciated during her days in London as a student. The designer recalls loving “the attention to every little detail and the unbelievably talented craftspeople who executed all these designs.”

Florida Condo | Photographer Kevin Kerr

Other areas of Europe left their mark on Johnstone as well and continue to influence her to this day. “I love French architecture and Deco style, especially designers like Jean-Michel Frank, and plaster pieces by Alberto Giacometti. I also adore the architect David Adler, and his sister Francis Elkins, who was inspired by her collaborations with Frank & Giacometti and used their items throughout David Adler’s designs. Together, Elkins and Adler created some of the most beautiful and iconic spaces to date.”

Florida Guest Bedroom | Photographer Kevin Kerr

This influence can be seen in the stunning vintage and antique pieces she works with in her designs from various eras and styles. “Antiques and vintage pieces are a crucial element of our design. Curating the perfect vintage and antique pieces and mixing them with newer items creates layers that make the space interesting and detailed.” On procuring the right pieces for a home, the designer notes: “It is important to work with a reputable source, such as The Local Vault, where they have a variety of inventory, and you know the quality standard is important to them. It is key to be mindful of the scale of vintage pieces, especially when mixing with newer items. The beauty of using vintage/antique pieces is their patina and history provide a more curated and personal feel in the space.”

From Johnstone’s book “A Loving Table” | Photo by Cynthia Lynn Photography

When she is not working on the home (or business) of a client (Johnstone recently completed a few large commercial projects), she enjoys spending time in her own home. “My home is curated and layered with everything that I love. It’s timeless and definitely a space that is lived in and enjoyed by my family and friends. A special place we love to call home!” One of the pieces she has a particular affinity for was found in a legendary Paris flea market. “I have a set of dining room chairs that I bought in Paris on a Sunday night at the Marche aux Puces, and they were in my dining room the next day. I checked them in with my luggage at the United ticket counter :)”

Lake Forest Showhouse 2020 | Photographer Cynthia Lynn Photography

Click here to shop Shelley’s TLV Favorites


5 Questions with Designer Shelley Johnstone

TLV:  Where do you look for inspiration when you feel blocked?
SJ: Travel, books, classic movies, Instagram, and the town that I live in–we are really fortunate to have such great architecture right outside my door.


TLV: Go to color combination?

SJ: My favorite color combination is various shades of brown–especially chocolate– and white. I love how brown looks, mixed with shades of blues, pinks, or greens.


TLV: Most beloved pattern?

SJ: My all-time favorite pattern is brown & white ticking stripe or a great brown & white check, and I love to mix a velvet in with these patterns. When using bold patterns, it’s important to be conscious of scale, and using a simple jute or abaca rug is a nice way to keep the space from being too busy.


TLV: What is one trend you are currently loving?
SJ: All of the fabulous home and tabletop items that are easily available all over the world


TLV: Most memorable keepsake from or piece purchased on a trip?

SJ: The items I was lucky enough to bring back from my time living in Europe.


Images Courtesy of Shelley Johnstone | Profile Photo of the Designer in Her Vegetable Garden and Potting Shed by Photographer Aimee Mazzenga | Text by Liana Hayles Newton


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