In Johnson's apartment, Mid-Century art and first-edition modern novels are displayed against an industrial backdrop.
A contemporary sensibility prevails in the kitchen.
In the entry, a bench is covered in metallic Lee Jofa fabric.
A vintage table shares space with circa-1920s chairs from an Adams Morgan antiques store in the living room.
A grouping of art on the wall includes a 1920s starburst mirror from the Paris Flea.
A vivid abstract canvas hangs above a bedstead from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
A twin of the chair in the living room is tucked into a corner of the bedroom.
Mike Johnson poses at Lori Graham Design + Home where he works.

Vintage Style

Designer and curator Mike Johnson elevates collecting to an art form in his Florida Avenue apartment

To step into Mike Johnson’s downtown DC abode is to breathe a sigh of contentment. The not-quite-gentrified neighborhood outside recedes, replaced by comfort, refinement and a sense of harmony. Johnson—a senior designer at Lori Graham Design + Home on 14th Street and the owner and curator of Sixteen Fifty Nine, a now-shuttered venue for Mid-Century Modern furniture and art—has showcased his own personal collection in a space that perfectly reflects his taste and style. 

This magical, one-bedroom apartment was not so easy to come by. In 2010 when Johnson was looking, there was very little inventory in DC and virtually everything he saw was a disappointment. When a new high-rise came on the market in Shaw, Johnson investigated, discovering a more vibrant area than he had remembered from his last glimpse years before. And when he saw the sleek, modern building, he knew right away. “It was exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “I wanted something a little more modern, open but not too industrial, with a lot of light.”

Johnson promptly purchased the 750-square-foot, eighth-floor residence, which encompasses an open kitchen/living area, a bedroom with an adjoining alcove, a walk-in closet and a bath. The living area and bedroom afford expansive views of the urban scene below through large, industrial-style windows, while a narrow balcony extends the living room space. The clean-lined, convenient kitchen, with dark-stained wood cabinetry, thick Silestone countertops and GE Profile appliances, occupies one end of the room. Ceilings of raw, exposed concrete are juxtaposed with smooth, light-stained bamboo floors. 

The designer made a few changes prior to moving in. He delineated the entry by embellishing the walls in a woven wool fabric from Rose Tarlow. He installed a glass-tile backsplash in the kitchen and replaced the light fixture over the square island with a globe-shaped fixture by Y Lighting. He added track and recessed lighting throughout the apartment. And he painted and re-carpeted the bedroom and expanded and heightened the doorway to the closet area to create an alcove papered in grasscloth by Phillip Jeffries. 

Johnson moved into his new home bearing an array of art and vintage furniture from the 1920s through the 1960s. “Most of what I had was from my previous house, collected over years,” he says. “When I was buying for Sixteen Fifty Nine, every now and then I’d come across something I just couldn’t part with, so I would keep it.” To showcase his collection—which also includes 20 years’ worth of first edition modern novels by authors ranging from John Steinbeck to John Irving—he installed built-in bookshelves along one wall. The plan was to place them between two existing posts in the wall, but he ended up adding a third post that differentiates the kitchen from the rest of the room while supplying space for valuable extra shelving. “I had all these books and no place to put them,” he laments.

The shelving also beautifully accommodates Johnson’s growing collection of industrial, black-and-white etchings from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. “One of the things that happened when I moved here was I had a lot of very colorful art on the shelves but didn’t really love how it looked,” he explains. “I’ve begun collecting a lot of [Depression-era] WPA etchings, little by little replacing what was there. 

“When I buy for myself I don’t look at price as much as I do when I buy for the store,” he continues. “Buying for myself, I look more at what I love.”

Johnson cleverly mixes vintage furnishings with attractive, practical pieces such as a sectional sofa from the now-defunct Storehouse Furniture and a bar cart from Crate & Barrel. Baker ottomans coexist with 1920s dining chairs from an Adams Morgan antiques store, while black-shaded table lamps by Hinson sit atop original marble occasional tables by Eero Saarinen. Circa-1940s club chairs have been reupholstered, one for the living room and one for the bedroom. Behind the sofa, a wrought-iron-and-glass console—a knock-off of a piece by Jean-Michel Frank—from Pottery Barn holds a vintage marble sculpture Johnson picked up at the Georgetown Flea Market, while a shelf above it is the perfect perch for an abstract composite resin sculpture made in 1969.

 Surrounded by his very personal treasures in a light and comfortable home, Johnson is happy with his choice. “I love the space,” he says. “When I first looked at this place, I knew exactly how it would be to live here.”

Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.

INTERIOR DESIGN: MIKE JOHNSON, lead designer and showroom director, Lori Graham Design + Home, Washington, DC.