Waterleaf Interiors’ Jill Johnson Opens Her Coastal Brownstone for the Sandpipers’ 30th Anniversary Holiday Homes Tour

Home for the holidays.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Darren Elms
  • Photographed by
    Samantha Klose

Twenty-five years ago, Jill Johnson wrote a letter to the owner of a home she admired saying she would like to buy the property if they ever wanted to sell. It wasn’t until 2018 that a friend mentioned the home was finally on the market.

“When I contacted the owners, they remembered me and actually had been searching for the letter I wrote them,” Jill says. “They were happy to sell it to me, and I was excited to renovate the existing home.”

But she soon realized that a renovation would be tricky, as the existing structure was built on the property line. Undaunted, Jill decided to start from scratch. 

It helps that Jill is a seasoned interior designer. She and Suzanne Ascher founded Waterleaf Interiors in 2006 and showcase their coastal style at a shoppable studio in Manhattan Beach. For designing her home, Jill wanted to start with elements that drew her to the property in the first place.

“What I loved most about the original home was the large yard with lots of sunlight,” she says. “To keep as much of the backyard as possible, I kept the footprint of the house to a minimum and added a basement. It was really important that I had a decent amount of space in the back to have a pool, pool house, pingpong table and enough grass to have a small volleyball net.”

As an admirer of East Coast brownstones and London townhouses, Jill wanted the home, which she shares with her two teenage sons and the family’s dog, to have a city feel but blend effortlessly with the style of Manhattan Beach. “We call the house the Coastal Brownstone,” she says.

Jill incorporated many of her favorite design elements throughout the home using a variety of colors, patterns and textures to create a warm, inviting feeling. A wide array of wallpaper is also used throughout the home, including grass cloth, delicate block print, sepia surf photos and fabric. The trim is painted in different colors to coordinate with the wallpaper and fabrics in each room. “My custom front door is tall and narrow with brass hardware and numbers centered on the door just like a London townhouse,” she reveals.

Jill acknowledges the challenge of designing your own home when it’s also your business. “With clients I trust my gut instinct, and my first choice is usually always the right choice,” she says. “Unfortunately, with my own space I tend to rethink and play with many different ideas before settling on the final look. I torture myself.”

In the end, Jill and her team accomplished a space that’s not only personal but also beautifully crafted and curated. She notes that the front music room is a family favorite. Cabinetry, trim and a beadboard ceiling painted in Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy mingle with wallpaper, a leather sofa, a vintage rug, zebra stools and Jill’s treasured fiddle-leaf fig to create a cozy, warm feeling.

“My sons and I like to play music—either guitar or piano—in this room, and it’s often the place where we end up at the end of the night with friends,” says Jill. “It is also the perfect spot for my dog, Wilson, to sit and look out the window and bark at other dogs.”

Jill’s home will be part of the highly anticipated Sandpipers Holiday Homes Tour, December 2-4. “I am a huge fan of the work that Sandpipers does for our South Bay community and am honored to be a part of the 30th anniversary tour,” she shares. “Selfishly, it also motivated me to finish my home. I am always so busy with our clients, and joining the tour gave me a little push to get my house finally completed!”


Reserve tickets for the tour to see Jill’s home in person at sandpipershht2022.eventbrite.com

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