It took 18 years for Jennifer Johnson and her husband, Ben, to determine exactly how they should update their historic Virginia-Highland house. They both started their careers as attorneys, and, according to Jennifer, the decision to open restaurants (which include the General Muir, West Egg Cafe, the Canteen, Fred’s Meat & Bread, and Yalla) was just as carefully considered. “We really do prefer to think things through before leaping into all our life decisions,” she says. “For the house, we talked and sketched and planned for so long before the renovation to make sure we got it right—just like with the restaurants.”
Flashback to 1997, when the newlywed couple discovered this two-story, circa-1916 house for sale. It was charming but a bit rundown: Asbestos siding covered the original exterior, and the interior was divided into a duplex. The couple bought it and installed a better kitchen and central air conditioning, but then life got busy with two children (Marcus, 14, and Max, 8). “A lot of the impetus for a renovation was about the kids,” says Ben. “We needed a place for all their stuff.” The main living room was full of toys, and the couple found it easy to avoid entertaining because there was just too much clean-up.
In 2015—just in time for the 100-year anniversary of the house, notes Jennifer—the Johnsons pulled in architect Mark Arnold, a like-minded neighbor who specializes in historic houses. Jennifer and Ben identified several key areas to change, starting with the single bathroom. “For all these years, we shared one bathroom for four people,” says Jennifer. To gain a master bathroom, Mark designed a bump-out addition that added a master suite on the second floor and a spacious dining area and mudroom on the main level. Arnold and contractors Phoenix Renovations also created a playroom in the former attic.
But perhaps no change was more significant than the kitchen, the heart and soul of any house—but even more so for this food-centric family. They never hired an interior designer (“We had enough confidence after all the restaurant designs to do this ourselves,” says Ben). The original Shaker-style bottom cabinets were repurposed with a coat of Sherwin-Williams “Iron Ore,” and a cobalt-blue island is topped with Georgia marble, the locally sourced, honed version seen at West Egg as well as other restaurants. “It’s working-class marble,” says Jennifer, “which is one reason we like it.” Ceiling-high subway tile and open shelves are other looks borrowed from restaurant decor, along with practical space planning that included two dishwashers, a separate beverage station, and a beloved combi-oven (steamer and oven combined).
Family life thrives in the new space; the large, custom dining table often becomes a makeshift homework destination, and the oversized island is the spot for morning cereal while the kids watch ESPN’s SportsCenter. “We’re definitely ‘home’ people,” says Jennifer, “and it was about time that we made this the home our kids can enjoy.”
Architect Mark Arnold, markarnoldarchitect.com
Contractor Phoenix Renovations, phoenixrenovations.net
Living Room Artwork above fireplace: Molly Rose Freeman, mollyrosefreeman.com. Artwork on right: Anna Hepler, annahepler.com. Rug: Scott Antique Market, scottantiquemarket.com. Den Sofa: West Elm, westelm.com. Chairs: Industry West, industrywest.com. Acrylic tables: CB2, cb2.com. Light fixtures: Apparatus Studio. Wallpaper: Phillip Jeffries, phillipjeffries.com.
Powder room Wallpaper: Abigail Edwards, abigailedwards.com. Sconces: Visual Comfort, visualcomfort.com.
Kitchen Perimeter cabinet color: Sherwin-Williams “Iron Ore,” sherwinwilliams.com. Stools: Rejuvenation, rejuvenation.com.
Dining room Table: Lostine, lostine.com. Light fixture: Apparatus Studio, apparatusstudio.com.
Teen bedroom Chair and ottoman: Urban Outfitters, urbanoutfitters.com. Wood cinderblocks: We Are Always Moving Industries, waamindustries.com.
Master bedroom Bed: West Elm. Bedside light fixtures: One Forty Three, onefortythree.com. Master bath Light fixture: Jones County Road, jonescountyroad.com. Floor tile: Traditions in Tile, traditionsintile.com. Wall tile: Builder Depot, builderdepot.com.
This article appears in our Fall 2018 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.