Shop talk with Sally Hughes Johnson of Willow Mercantile
By Katherine Nettles
Local interior designer and home goods curator Sally Hughes Johnson has seen many sides of decorating in Crested Butte. Originally from New Orleans, she brought a love of color with her when she moved to the mountains 30 years ago, and has been helping clients refresh their homes by encouraging personal touches and a vibrant palette. That approach works well in this colorful town with its mix of multi-hued Victorian homes, refurbished miners’ cabins and the current trend of mountain modern style.
Although Johnson offers kitchen, bath and interior design services out of her design studio/furniture showroom on Belleview Avenue and often works with clients of her husband’s construction company, her favorite place to be is in Willow Mercantile, her Elk Avenue retail shop.
Johnson hand picks every item she carries, and painstakingly creates every display throughout the shop. She says she has found a way to channel her love of shopping into the space, where it can be productive instead of overflowing in her own home.
“I literally have about 50 different sources,” she says of her wide collection of textiles, lamps, art and shelf-worthy collectibles, as well as clothing, accessories and party favors. “My favorite thing to do is put things together and to create the whole effect,” she says.
Most of her wares are nature inspired, including popular animal figurines, artwork and textiles. She says people often wander in hoping to do an easy update to a living room, but it takes more than a couple of throw pillows to make an impact.
“A lot of people don’t know how to put things together. It’s not just some new pillows. It’s adding a throw blanket, some candle, and a new lamp can go a long way too. The key is to add things that are personal, rather than shying away from it to have more of the catalog look of magazines,” she says.
Johnson will sometimes even lend items from the shop to clients to try out, just to make sure it all fits well.
“I love to tell someone, show me a picture of your sofa and we can go from there,” she explains.
To avoid the catalog or an impersonal look, she encourages people to choose things that they like and put those in their homes rather than trying to follow current trends or perceived rules.
“If you love orange, or you love animals, then decorate with those things. It’s your house,” she says.
She encourages people to continue using gray and white for walls, cabinetry and other hard surfaces, despite that scheme being so common. But then she encourages people to add flair.
While she has seen a lot of the heavy-handed mountain motifs of previous decades get toned down in favor of more modern finishes, she emphasizes the eclectic to add coziness and soften things a bit.
“People are craving color,” she says. “I think color is happy. And it’s already gray and white enough around here—especially in the winter.”