Interior designers living and working in Los Angeles tend to marvel at the light in California, and the way colors just look different there. Blues look more blue. White looks cleaner. This is something I notice when I look at the work of my dear friend, designer Los Angeles-based Leslie Hunt Johnson, of LLH Interiors. I first got to know Leslie when she was working in New York City, first for Mark Hampton, then for Stephanie Stokes, Sandra Nunnerley, and Scott Snyder. After returning to her hometown in 2003, she began her own design firm. Her appreciation for casual comfort makes family gathering areas cozy and her understanding of harmony in balance in a room come across in her more formal spaces. Some of my favorite moments in her work involve dining rooms, where she sets an elegant understated mood, or a playful exotic one. She has also mastered the art of the pillow mix, getting the ratio of print and pattern just right. I sat down with her recently to discuss her design path, which includes a recently completed Santa Monica restaurant, Local, and a casual bungalow for a young family. Also, you can vote for Leslie as one of Traditional Home New Trad designers, click here. I know she's a talent to watch, now everyone will! Ahead, get to know Leslie and her work better.
Who did you work for and where did you study to learn the trade?
I worked for Mark Hampton, Stephanie Stokes, Sandra Nunnerley and Scott Snyder. I studied Art History at UC Berkeley where I honed my visual skills.
When did you know this was your calling in life?
I knew within a week of working for Mark Hampton as a college intern that I was destined to be a designer. Everything just clicked.
How did you know you were ready to strike out on your own, and when did you?
I knew after I finished designing a 7000 sq ft home from start to finish under the helm of Scott Snyder that I was ready to strike out on my own. I did so when I moved back to Los Angeles from New York City in 2003. I haven't looked back.
What advice do you have for others wanting to do the same?
Trust your gut. You will know when you are ready.
What was the biggest surprise or challenge in starting your own firm?
The biggest challenge for me was not having a continuous pay check to rely on each week.
Do you have a signature look and how would you define it?
I am drawn to classic and timeless interiors but refer to my own style as eclectic. I merge formal design with a relaxed and understated sophistication that feels collected, rather than decorated.
Do you have a design mentor?
Yes, my mother.
What did she teach you that you can't learn in design school?
She taught me an incredible color sensibility and to appreciate my home and fill it with the things that I love. She also majored in Art History at Berkeley and is an interior designer so I guess it isn't a surprise that I ended up following in her footsteps.
What is the most practical knowledge you learned from working for such esteemed designers?
That it is okay to take risks and mix elements to create an exciting and personal space.
What is the biggest challenge of being your own boss? Has that evolved from when you began?
The biggest challenge is that it all falls on your shoulders at the end of the day. It has certainly gotten easier over the years but it certainly has its challenges from time to time.
Whose work of the past do you hold in high regard?
Mark Hampton as he was simply brilliant. He had the most amazing photographic memory that I will never forget along with his beautiful watercolors which he painted effortlessly during staff meetings.
What books do you own old and new that you constantly refer to?
I collect design books and refer to David Hicks, Bunny Williams, John Saladino, Markham Roberts, Tom Scheerer and Steven Gambrel constantly.
Where are you going for inspiration?
I get inspiration everywhere from going to flea markets on the weekends to designer showcases and my love of travel. I also get inspired by design magazines, which I subscribe to over 10 monthly. They are an indulgence for me!
You lived in New York City for many years, but are California born and raised. What is the best part of living and working in LA?
The design community is very supportive in Los Angeles and I love the casual lifestyle. I love entertaining a lot outdoors and connecting with my clients on all levels. I am after all decorating the interior of their lives, so it is a very intimate relationship at the end of the day.
What do you think is next regarding trends in color, material, style, influence, or historical period?
I think we are headed back to timeless interiors that have staying power. Much like fashion, interior design tends to repeat itself over the years. Because of the economy, I think people are decorating now more for long term than what is currently trendy and fashionable.
How do your clients find you?
My clients mainly find me through word of mouth. There is nothing better than a referral from a past client. The ultimate compliment.
Do you have a favorite fabric pattern or print you return to?
Yes, Peter Dunham's "Samarkand" printed linen. I love the sophisticated yet charming pattern and adore all of the color ways. I use the Red/blue color way the most as it is a great layering print.
What material do you love?
Linen! I use it in every project, in every room. I simply can't get enough!
Where do you shop to get inspired?
Big Daddy's Antiques in Los Angeles. It is simply heaven for me and full of inspiration!
What stores and or resources do you shop in the most?
Mecox Gardens, Hollywood at Home, Harbinger LA, Rose Bowl Flea Market and the Pacific Design Center.
Where are you eager to do a project?
I would love to get my hands on a Southern mansion in Charleston, SC.
Leslie deftly handles blue and white in a fresh living room with classic traditional touches and unexpected materials
The ultimate cozy spot, this Pacific Palisades sitting room is filled with punchy ethnic patterned pillows and a beachy vibe
Mixing wicker and red white and blue, this relaxed space opens up onto a garden. I love how its all-American without being too literal, and the materials are casual yet elevated
The statement-making rope pendant light fixture in this Palisades dining room adds an interesting graphic and playful element. There is an exoticism in the dining chair and print choices that has a transformational effect, making this entertaining spot a place for fun.
Great art and a comfortable place to unwind