by Brendan Blowers
Photography by Emily Bolt
After her daughter goes to bed, designer Taylor Johnson heads to her sunroom studio to sift through fabric swatches and images and consult paint schedules. The floor will be covered. As the owner of Taylor Johnson Interiors, she loves the messy part because she says that’s where her creativity comes from. Suddenly, a color or an object will catch her eye and become the anchor that pulls a whole room together.
“I’ve always liked interior design. It lights me on fire,” Johnson says. What started as a side hustle in the summer of 2018 became her full-time business in 2020. No more time wasted doing things she didn’t love. “Once I had my daughter, I realized how precious time was.”
While Johnson juggles being a design-entrepreneur with motherhood, another family, Kim and Ed Brakmann are enjoying the novelty of being empty nesters. Returning to Greenville after living in Atlanta, the Furman alums sold their family-functional 90s-era traditional home and downsized back to the Upstate. The Brakmanns bought a 2,700 square foot, 1935 bungalow off Fairview Avenue. They can walk downtown or sit in their bright and airy three-bedroom home filled with less stuff, but more character.
It’s a new lifestyle for the Brakmanns. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” says Ed. For years, they were in go-mode, with furniture pieces and a decorating style selected around the needs of raising two daughters. They knew they wanted to invest more in interior design but didn’t know where to start. Then Kim discovered Johnson on Instagram, “She seemed to use a lot of clients’ existing furniture but had some really updated looks.”
The Brakmanns sprung for a “decorator for a day” service and quickly realized Johnson was the resource their home needed. It started with a simple questionnaire, including things like ‘what colors do you like?’ and ‘are you an animal print person?’ For the record, Kim marked ‘no’ for animal prints, but ended up with some in the final design, an element today she really enjoys.
The Brakmanns had hired Josh Carter of Oasis Custom Homes to make some renovations; he opened up the kitchen and added some cabinetry. Carter also updated the master bath, added bookshelves and more cabinets in the dining room and refinished the hardwood floors. The home’s previous owners were a family with kids. While the house had great bones, it needed cosmetic change to feel fresh and updated. For once, practicality could go out the picture windows; it was time to prioritize aesthetics.
A powder room off the kitchen was eliminated. Johnson suggested excising the heavy legs of the kitchen island, extending its countertop and adding contrasting paint (Wolf Gray by Benjamin Moore). She then turned her expert eye to plan paint colors for the rest of the home. “Usually when you’re decorating, paint comes last, but they wanted to get move-in ready, so we used paint as a baseline,” she says.
The initial two-hour consult evolved into a multi-stage design/build plan with full participation of designer, contractor and homeowners. “We wanted this to reflect us. It was a fun project,” says the couple adding that Johnson’s warm and friendly demeaner makes her especially easy to work with.
The living room holds just two yellow upholstered chairs and a circular ottoman in front of the fireplace. “Some people would say, yellow chairs that’s too much,” says Johnson, using it as an example of something the couple wouldn’t have chosen on their own, but now embrace.
While the Brakmanns were excited to start fresh, a few sentimental pieces remain such as the antique chest of drawers in the living room, a fifth-generation family heirloom. Johnson believes that part of client-centered home design is taking what people love and elevating it.
The dimensions of a family den proved challenging– the room is long and narrow, and a previous owner raised the ceiling height to nearly double the rest of the home– but maneuvering cardboard cutouts of furnishings on the floor revealed the best arrangement. The solution was scale and performance; two high-backed swivel chairs were selected for either side of an ideally sized couch and everything was upholstered in performance fabrics, durable enough for the Brakmann’s dog, Sawyer, to hop on and off. “You can do that today and with really gorgeous fabrics. I want to make houses that are everyone proof,” Johnson says.
It was at this point that Johnson called in Everett King Waldrep, owner of King Consulting, to curate a collection of local art for the Brakkmann’s new aesthetic. “She is so knowledgeable of the artists in Greenville,” says Johnson. “She lives and breathes local art.”
Waldrep is the daughter of a builder and a curator. As a child she would walk around the Columbus Museum of Art after school and have conversations with the staff, “It was one of the most special moments growing up,” Waldrep says of her childhood in Georgia.
She worked in marketing and sales for pharmaceutical compounding, but three years ago the timing felt right to segue her art consultation into a full-time career. “I found such joy and excitement every time I thought about a piece of original art going into someone’s house,” she says.
Waldrep visited the project and met the Brakmanns. She emailed them photos taken from gallery and studio visits of local artists and brought several different styles of paintings for the couple to experience. Ed liked the abstracts. Kim leaned toward florals. “This is where it gets fun for me,” Waldrep says, “I tell the homeowners, don’t give me too much feedback. Marinate on each piece and then let’s talk about it.”
Waldrep describes the Brakmanns as easy-going and their home as a light-filled and joyful space under Johnson’s tutelage. “I wanted to carry that onto the walls as well,” she says.
They looked at the art together. Waldrep has learned to watch clients’ facial expressions; when they smile, she knows she’s found the right piece. She believes what goes on the walls of a home can make everything come alive. Waldrep also selected pillows for the family room’s wingback chairs by textile artist Teresa Roche and ceramics by Darin Gehrke that are peppered throughout the home. Ultimately, some rooms feature work by as many as eight regional artists.
Several existing pieces found their way into the collection as well, including two watercolor prints that Kim gave Ed as a wedding gift and a pair of Japanese prints that had belonged to his grandmother. “With reframing and rematting she pulled them into the aesthetic we were going for,” Ed says.
As Johnson began the finishing stage of design, centered around the art procured by Waldrep, she pulled in hardware, draperies and fabrics to compliment statement pieces by each local artist. “Working together was organic. We communicated a ton. We were very respectful of each other’s jobs and purpose,” Johnson says.
Taking time to layer each room in stages allowed for serendipity. At Everett’s suggestion, the Brakmanns commissioned Jean Wilson Freeman for a quad of watercolor and graphite on paper florals in stylized bamboo gilt for the living room. They would frame the antique bow-front chest and complement a large oil painting of birds by Joseph Bradley hung over the fireplace. Waldrep felt these were apt acquisitions for the front facing room.
“After a long day, I want my clients to sit down and stare at art-filled walls and know that there are stories, emotions and connections between each piece.” Waldrep says.
The Brakmanns also met artist Laurie Buck at her studio and purchased two vibrant works in blue that hang on either side of the large dining room window. A third painting of Buck’s, 60-inches tall, is the star of the family room, installed over the couch. “It tied everything together,” Johnson says, who incorporated floating shelves to the left of this, a design element Waldrep likes. “It gives division to the room and makes each spot its own cozy area.”
The final room they worked on together was the Brakmann’s bedroom. Johnson employed calm greens in the room with bed pillows and window dressing. They wanted something special for over the bed. Waldrep found a painting by Asheville-based artist Cheyenne Trunnell, known for creating ethereal landscapes. The Brakmanns wondered if it should hang in a higher traffic area, but Waldrep interjected. “This is your special quiet place, you go to bed looking at this painting, you wake up looking at this painting,” she says. “It brings you peace and calm. This is the right place for this piece.”
The joyous interworking of designer, curator and client was a hard project to bid goodbye. As they prepped for commercial photographer Emily Bolt to capture the completed home, Waldrep recalls texting Johnson: This photo shoot means we are wrapped with this project. The Brakmanns consider the cadre of experts, new friends. “These are bright, talented people,” Ed says of Carter, Johnson and Waldrep.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. “I’m on a weekly Zoom meeting with a Bible study and one of the participants wanted to know who my decorator was, she could see my background. I thought, I need to be going to different rooms to show off more of the house,” Kim says.
Most importantly, the Brakmanns love their new lifestyle. They were challenged to get out of their comfort zone, be more intentional with the home design and in doing so, discovered more about themselves. Kim says, “It feels like it’s us. That’s a great way to have it end up.”