Seeking Sleek

Designer Kristy Johnston looks for cutting-edge products and ideas


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It was her childhood home that shaped her love for contemporary, says interior designer Kristy Phillips Johnston. The architect-designed, mid-century home still stands out in its traditional neighborhood.

“My parents were ahead of their time,” she says of her artist/musician mom and furniture manufacturer dad. “Nobody else I knew grew up in a house like that. It was this wild, modern house with terrazzo floors and flagstone. It opened up our world because it was so different.”

It opened up, in fact, the world of design and a career for Johnston who has been in the field for 28 years, including 11 as the principal of her design firm, Two Girls and A Design. Creating contemporary, exotic, light-filled places is her first love, and while she credits her upbringing for exposing her to mid-century modern, she continues to find inspiration overseas, having traveled extensively in Europe and Thailand. “Traveling opens your eyes to design,” Johnston says. “You see how differently people live and can appreciate and take away little bits of the culture.”

Research is an integral part of the design process for Johnston, who spends a considerable amount of time sourcing the most advanced, cutting-edge products and ideas for flooring materials, wall products and treatments, countertops, furniture, lighting, paint colors, textiles and more.

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“I love to seek out the newest, latest, sleekest thing,” she says. “I look for the most functional and design-oriented piece. I like every project to have something different. Nothing is the same in every house.” She often works with local artisans to create one-of-a-kind details for a project, such as the beveled stainless steel fireplace surround she recently designed. “Research is one of the most time-consuming parts of design, but also the one that pays off the most with the end product,” she says.

Two Girls and A Design offers services from planning and design to selecting furniture, finishes, lighting and accessories. The company has tackled projects across the residential and commercial spectrum with most work coming from referrals. “Kristy has a talent for pulling a room together through her choices of color, rich textures and elegant lighting,” says client Carla Richardson.

In the Miller’s home in Mt. Pleasant, which features an open, loft-like great room, Johnston helped define spaces with color and furniture placement. “The beautiful glass tile and stainless steel fireplace surround that Kristy designed is the focal point of the room,” say Reyne Miller. “She also created a beautiful tile work design in our master bath, including a waterfall effect in the shower.”

When the Millers couldn’t find the headboard they visualized for their master bedroom, Johnston “combined all the ideas we liked and made it into a focal piece,” says Miller. Johnston adds, “I custom-designed it to incorporate the night stands and to reflect the linear window that was above it.” She also sought out an artist to create striking pieces of original art and sourced the dining table from Italy.

For another project, Johnston created a relaxing, colorful and exotic lounge area for entertaining and enjoying drinks on the rooftop of a Mediterranean-style home in I’On.

“I like it when clients are interactive and get jazzed during the process,” says Johnston. “There’s always something to work around, but as you go through the design process, it naturally works itself out. I see it as a detour to another idea, which stretches us all and makes us grow.”

M.S. Lawrence is a Charleston-based writer.

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