As at a modern art gallery, the polished concrete floors and bone-white walls of the downtown Birmingham shop Still Johnson purposefully keep the focus on the installations—or in this case, a stunning selection of home goods and decor from Southern makers. The abstract shapes of a Natchez, Mississippi, artist’s jet-black kinetic mobile, for instance, spin lazily in lavender-perfumed air courtesy of Hazeltine candles, poured in New Orleans. Vintage teak dining chairs gather around a sleek ebonized-oak dining table fashioned by Birmingham furniture maestro Michael Morrow. And drop cloths splashed with Pepto-pink and highlighter-yellow paint by the Florence, Alabama, artist Cullen Stewart hang across from Nashville photographer Tim Vogelaar’s tranquil but powerful black-and-white nature scenes.
Backlit by the plentiful sunshine that streams into the shop, the owners, interior design partners Marguerite Johnson and Anna Still, elaborate on their aesthetic. “It’s kinda edgy-classic—traditional, but with something unexpected,” Johnson says. “It’s this,” she continues, her arm gracefully arcing to indicate the handmade Southern furniture, art, and accessories carefully placed around the space, which also contains their studio in the back. “I’d always envisioned a storefront we could fill with the things we love,” Still says. “It lets us show potential clients who we are without saying a word.”
She and Johnson started their company last year, after establishing an easy rhythm working side by side under another interior designer. “I’ve always been into art and studied it in college,” Still explains, “but Marg is formally trained in interior design. She’s so talented, with unlimited creativity, while I think in spreadsheets.” Johnson jumps in: “We complement each other.” The shop’s offerings mirror that yin and yang. In their designs, “we want depth,” Johnson says. “You get it mixing eras and styles, and you get it with handmade things; they have a story.”
At the beginning, they sourced some of Still Johnson’s goods from far-flung locales. But as they mingled items, an epiphany hit. Plates depicting a stylized cracked egg—a dollop of pistachio melding into a moss green in one version; a sky hue bleeding into a vibrant royal blue in another—by Jackson, Mississippi’s Pearl River Glass Studio were holding their own visually next to handblown glassware from Italy. The matte-finished neutrals and asymmetrical shapes of Birmingham’s Civil Stoneware felt equally at home cozied up to tableware from a Brooklyn maker. “We loved that these local and regional creatives stand up against some ‘bigger’ names,” Still says. “It was never supposed to be a Southern store, but the items with that authenticity we’re passionate about turned out to be Southern. It organically grew into a place that celebrates them.”
Johnson finds herself particularly drawn to the rippled forms of the hand-thrown vases by the Farmstead pottery in Oxford, Mississippi, but also to their function. Farmstead acts mainly as a flower farm, “and that informs the design,” she says. “They know how flowers sit in a container.” Still praises Morrow, the shop’s exclusive furniture supplier (aside from antiques). “He’s been making custom pieces for our clients, so it felt natural to have him make a line for the store,” she says, including a trestle table and dining chairs in a variety of finishes.
And Cullen Stewart owns both of their hearts. “His paintings are raw and a little chaotic,” Still says. “This is the edge we want over that traditional chest. We just can’t get enough of him.” In mid-October, Still Johnson is hosting a Stewart show. “He’s a bit of a recluse,” Still says, “but we’ve had such an amazing response to his work, and we want people to meet him.”
Relationships like those, forged through the shop, bring rewards both professional and personal. “Because we’ve gotten to know these makers, we can collaborate to create items,” Still says, such as the platters Johnson recently designed with Pearl River. “There’s so much craftsmanship and talent in the South,” Still adds. “I just soak that up.”