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Peek Inside This Connecticut-Inspired Traditional in Highland Park

By incorporating antiques and nods to the New England beaches of her childhood, designer Sara Johnson transforms a 1930s Highland Park home into a charming East Coast–inspired abode.
| |Interiors by Sara Johnson; Interiors photography by Nathan Schroder; Styling by Jenny O’Connor; Florals by Haile Wossen; Tabletop design by Emily Miller Decor
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Office: The oceanic hues in Johnson’s office nod to the Connecticut coast. “I wanted a blue and green combo in this room,” explains Johnson. “I pulled out some of the green in the wallpaper on the ceiling.” Nathan Schroder

Peek Inside This Connecticut-Inspired Traditional in Highland Park

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Designer Sara Johnson had but a few requirements in her search for a new house: enough square footage for her family of five and loads of character that only a well-established home can exude. “We have always loved older homes,” she says. “They have charm and feel cozier.” 

The family found their perfect fit in a circa-1933 property just about a mile away from their previous house in Highland Park. As it was in need of a refresh, Johnson got to work extensively renovating and decorating all 4,576 square feet as an ode to a place of particular personal importance: the East Coast. Johnson’s family now vacations in Nantucket, not far from where she spent her childhood summers. “My mom is from Stonington, Connecticut, and all of my fondest memories are from there,” Johnson says. 

Happily, each room now has a touch of that idyllic coastal aesthetic. Take, for instance, Johnson’s office. The room is painted in Sherwin-Williams’ “Underseas,” a bluish-green hue that hints at the ocean. A nautical-inspired round window looks out from the room, while mementos from her travels line the bookshelves. 

In the dining room, Johnson cut down and resized a Baccarat chandelier that had hung in her grandmother’s Connecticut home and paired it with a stunning hand-painted Gracie wallpaper and an antique table and chairs. Off the dining room is a bar with leaded-glass cabinet fronts Johnson commissioned as an homage to her past. “My grandmother has [leaded-glass cabinets] in her home, and I thought, ‘Well, I have to do it in my house, too,’ ” she says.   

To fine-tune her East Coast–inspired style (she lists New York designer Ashley Whittaker as one of her muses), she pays close attention to the details. Shutters throughout the home, a custom Dutch door, and stenciled floors by artist Missy Vento in the entry all nod to New England. But Johnson also masters her updated traditional aesthetic by mixing antiques and heirlooms with contemporary pieces, like in the living room. “I love mixing old and new, like this very traditional secretary with a modern sofa,” she explains. “This coffee table is vintage. The mix makes it interesting.”

One of Johnson’s biggest design tips: If you like it, buy it—even if you don’t have a place for it yet. (Her husband, Matt, lovingly refers to their house as a “test kitchen” for items she’s yet to place with clients.) She recently traveled to the Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta and came home with a slew of finds, most of which don’t have a purpose quite yet. “I’ll end up thinking about them and wondering why I didn’t buy them [if I don’t],” she says. “You can always find a spot for an antique.”

“I love mixing old and new…The mix makes it interesting.” 

 When clients enlist Johnson to replicate her blended aesthetic, she stresses that achieving it is a slow and steady process. “I really try to collect when I’m traveling,” she says. “If something catches my eye, I’m going to grab it.” She smiles when she points to a painting of a Nantucket ocean scene hanging in the kitchen. “I saw that painting in a store in Newport Beach, and I was like, ‘Wow, I have got to have it,’ ” she says. 

Like how the charm of historic homes must be earned over decades, the patient practice of collecting pieces over time is something Johnson feels is worth the wait. “That is what makes a house special,” she says. “It’s what tells a story.” 

Powder Bath: Johnson covered her under-the-stairs powder bath in a vibrant pattern for a whimsical moment. Wallpaper: Anna Spiro; sink skirt: Chelsea Textiles; mirror: Facebook Marketplace find

History Repeating

Sara Johnson would often accompany her grandmother to tag sales in Connecticut, where she learned to bargain hunt and dig for antique treasures. She shares her favorite Dallas spots to pick up a unique find.

Benny Jack Antiques

“Each dealer has a unique look and price point,” she says. “It’s a great place to find variety.”

Lots of Furniture Antiques Warehouse

“It’s literally a maze that you must walk through multiple times,” she says. “Last time I was there, they had a great collection of blue and white.”

Antique Row

“This is a more curated collection of antiques,” Johnson says. “My friend [interior designer] Lindley Arthur has a booth there. I recently went on a buying trip with her, and she found the most beautiful pieces to sell.”


“I recently found this store,” she says. “I was able to find the most gorgeous set of five Charles Edwards brass wall lanterns that were taken out of an estate. There are lots of treasures to be found here.”

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