For gallery owner Chandra Johnson and her husband, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, creating a comfortable home for their two young daughters and busy lives did not mean slouching on style. They’re one of the chicest couples in the South, known for their genuine warmth and generous spirit, and they’re constantly on the go, but are devoted homebodies at heart. So they needed a space that could reflect and make room for that all. Enter decorator Barrie Benson, the maestra of mix-master style.
When former model Chandra Johnson wed superstar NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson just over fourteen years ago, the couple snapped up an almost finished “builder home” in a leafy neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina. Chandra had not yet become the serious collector she is today, and the space was decorated for the newlyweds in a matter of months.
About six years in, Chandra, who founded SOCO Gallery, a hub of Charlotte’s burgeoning art scene, and who also runs the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, which focuses on assisting children and schools across the country, began to get a tad restless in the formal and mostly monochromatic house. By then, she and Jimmie had picked up some treasures on their many travels, they’d started a significant art collection and were planning a family.
They’d also established a certain yin-yang groove to their lifestyle: They were regulars on the red-carpet circuits, but also loved to kick back and spin records from their stash of vintage vinyl. They were relaxed and gracious hosts who frequently entertained, but they also cherished their private time. Any renovation would have to accommodate these dualities.
For a redo that played out in three phases over the course of several years, Chandra chose close friend Barrie Benson, an interior designer known for her fresh, deft layering of eras and styles. Benson calls the Philip Johnson-designed Menil house in Houston, in which Dominique de Menil blended fine antiques with remarkable, mostly midcentury furniture and a storied art collection, “my Bible.” Her cosmopolitan Southern sensibility was just right for the task at hand.
Another good friend of the couple, architect Perry Poole, made significant contributions to the project, not least of which was helping to source some of the fabulous midcentury furniture and lighting. (His wife, Laura Vinroot Poole, happens to own Capitol, the ultra-chic women’s store where Chandra procures many of the pieces for her divine wardrobe.)
The redo began with a rather modest expansion of Chandra’s impressive closet in which Barrie installed a pair of exquisite handpainted wall panels. Jimmie, Chandra jokes, was jealous, so he got a new improved space too. “We started rolling from there,” Chandra says.
The next phase included the home’s public spaces. In the living room, a pair of Gio Ponti chairs are parked opposite a long pink velvet sofa, ample seating for the room Chandra says the family hangs in constantly. Above the fireplace is a painting by Joan Mitchell (“I really wanted a strong female artist to be the anchor of that room,” Chandra says), and adjacent hangs a Hunter S. Thompson photo of the Hell’s Angels. The photo has a dual appeal: Jimmie’s first passion was motorcycle racing, and Chandra, whose serious interest in art was first sparked by the work of Irving Penn, loves that the Angels only allowed two photographers—Thompson and Penn—to shoot them.
The couples’ deep appreciation for art is evident throughout the house. In the dining room, the walls are covered in a slubby pale-aqua silk, the perfect foil for Jimmie’s favorite piece by Donald Judd. The ceiling is painted by the artist Damian Stamer, one of Chandra’s artists at SOCO, and is meant to lend the effect of looking up toward a forest’s canopy.
For the project’s final phase, the team tackled a guest room and pretty side-by-side bedrooms for daughters Evie and Lydia, both of which boast drawings by Elliott Puckette, whose work Chandra has also exhibited at the gallery. Before the overhaul, the house “was too put together,” says Chandra. “But now I can have a Twombly on one wall and also hang my children’s art nearby. Now the house is filled with all the things I love, and it’s a reflection of who Jimmie and I are as a couple.”
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