One Style, Two Busy Brains

By Lisa Boone
Los Angeles Times.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Interior designer Johanna McElfresh brings us into the home she has shared with her husband of 24 years Andy. While Johanna is “officially” the professional in this relationship, her husband has always added his design ideas into the mix too! PS…..We love women in business who are willing to take risks and have fun!


Johanna and Andy McElfresh are the kind of couple who work well together.

She admires the way his brain works. “Fish (Andy) is really about the process and I’m all about the look,” she says. “He gets great joy from figuring stuff out.”

He admires her artistic vision. “I would never be able to think up the things she does,” says Andy of his decorator wife.

When Johanna grew exasperated trying to paint a blue-and-yellow chevron pattern on the uneven stairs of their Mid-Wilshire home, it was Andy, a comedy writer, who figured out a way to paint the V-shaped pattern. He created a plastic stencil with his laser cutter, taped it to the steps and painted the staircase in two days.

Their first DIY collaboration began in 1989 when they met at a party at her place in New York. Andy remembers being wedged in between massive football players. Johanna says she asked Andy to fix her broken stereo.

“It was dark in my apartment,” Johanna recalls. “I held a candle next to him so that he could see what he was doing.” His assist came with a price. “I ended up lighting his hair on fire,” she adds with a laugh.

Married 24 years, the couple continue to work on design projects together in their 1933 Mid-Wilshire home, although with less incendiary results.

They moved to the romantic Mediterranean from Park La Brea in 2002 after Johanna got homeowner’s fever.” Fish had a solid job writing for ‘The Tonight Show’ and we finally felt like we could buy a house,” she says.

After years of decorating, the result is a glamorously eclectic home featuring 20 years’ worth of Wertz Brothers antiques, an intense color palette and an assortment of decorative objects, many of them, such as a collection of hand-blown eggs, designed by Andy.

The home is a comfortable, family-friendly place for their children Dashiell, 19, and Daisy, 16, yet also presents an outrageous personality that feels distinctly their own.

Sophisticated? Yes. Over the top? That’s the point. “I don’t do subtle,” says Johanna.

At the McElfreshes, less is clearly not more. “Just call us the Maximalists,” Andy jokes as he glues a sparkling spiral on top of a ceramic head bust in the living room.

Case in point: Johanna’s office, which she describes as her “ode to Kelly Wearstler.” Here, bright yellow lacquered custom cabinets and walls mix with a leopard print rug, black-and-white striped daybed and coral-colored chandelier.

Andy’s office, by comparison, is located in a closet off of the master bedroom. The juxtaposition is not lost on the comedian who uses the closet to host a weekly “Edumacation” podcast during which he tries to teach indie filmmaker Kevin Smith about science. He recently posted a photo of the tiny space on Twitter that got a lot of laughs, complete with a detailed list of 46 items including “Aeron chair bought in tech bust for $100” and “registration for home-built boat.”

But humor isn’t everything. Much of the home’s pulse comes from the artworks the couple have amassed over the years. Every wall in every room is covered with pieces of art, many of them inexpensive paintings found at flea markets. In between paintings, Johanna has inserted ceramic plates, medals, guitars, crucifixes and mounted bullhorns. There is art in the kitchen, art in the bathrooms. A double-height wall in the entry features a portrait wall hung salon style. Even the exterior patio wall of the five-bedroom, four-bathroom house is decorated with a painting from the Santa Monica antique market as well as an Italian sunburst Andy made using Pepakura software.

The dining room, which is furnished with French antiques, is punctuated with Christopher Hyland wallpaper in a palm frond motif, a Chinese Deco rug and a sparkling crystal ship chandelier from Z Gallerie. Surprising details include mirrors placed on top of mirrored walls (the wallpaper was discontinued) and a swinging door upholstered with slick green vinyl and elegant nailheads. Johanna prides herself on mixing high-end pieces with affordable accessories. When pricey white coral wall sconces from Currey & Co. arrived looking “too new,” she added coral sprays and glittering napkin rings from Z Gallerie to give them a Tony Duquette-inspired update. “I walk a fine line between elegant and tacky,” she says of the never-ending decorating process.

“We’re like the Winchester house, but with rearranging,” Andy explains before thinking of a funnier line: “Our home is like the Rubik’s Cube of decorating.”
Mirrors, fabric, art and horns
By Lisa Boone

Johanna McElfresh offers tips on creating an eclectic style at home:

Mirrors: “Mirrors are a game changer. They are like giant windows. They are especially wonderful if you put them opposite a window.”

Wallpaper: “If you want to save money on retiling a bathroom, use wallpaper instead. It adds a lot of drama and takes the eye away from dated tile.”

Ceilings: “People forget ceilings. A painted ceiling adds interest. My eye always goes there. It’s pretty when people add color or shine there.”

Details: “I love plates and small circular objects that fill in space. I place them on top of doorways, entryways or add them above a painting. I always put horns over doorways.”

Art: “Art is personal to me. It’s really about what you like. Most of my art is from flea markets. Estate sales are still a good place to find good artwork. I’m so color-oriented. Can art just be beautiful in terms of color? Of course!”

Fabric: “I’m cheap but I will spend money on quality textiles from the Pacific Design Center and reupholstery.”

Color: “I gravitate to color. I like to paint foam boards and place them on different walls to see how it looks. Brown is a great grounder. It makes everything look better.”

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