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Ready for Its Close-up

Vignettes of perfect imperfection tell a photo stylist’s story at her 150-year-old house in Buchanan, Michigan

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A small red-and-blue area rug and a velvet-upholstered fainting couch provide color on the upstairs landing.
A small red-and-blue area rug and a velvet-upholstered fainting couch provide color on the upstairs landing. See more photos in our gallery below.

Johanna Lowe loves many things about her 1,300-square-foot Greek Revival house: its location, just steps from the charming downtown of Buchanan, Michigan; its small-paned windows and vintage woodwork; and even its worn and paint-splattered wood floors, which proudly show their age (the house was built in 1857). But it was the spacious corner bedroom on the second floor that really caught her eye when she first toured the place in early 2009.

“My jaw just dropped,” says Lowe, a photo stylist who arranges food and accessories for Crate & Barrel, The Pampered Chef, and other catalogs. “It was that room that made me want the house. The light was really incredible.”

Lowe’s design for the bedroom takes advantage of its southern exposure. Pale walls, floor, and draperies make the room practically glow. A zebra-print rug and a bold red wicker chair liven things up. Lowe uses accessories in similar shades of red to inject energy and warmth throughout the house. “Not a glam red, but a warm, rich red that’s a little bit tending toward pink,” she says.

The bedroom was Lowe’s retreat from dust and debris when she knocked out a wall to expand the tiny kitchen downstairs and replaced the cabinets with open stainless steel shelving. Lovely-in-their-own-right mortars and pestles, honey drizzlers (used to make food glisten), and other food-styling tools are within easy reach on the butcher-block countertops. “If I’m testing an idea or working with a photographer at home, I can see everything right there,” Lowe says.

An open-front cabinet purchased at an estate sale—one of Lowe’s many antique finds—holds vintage glassware, crockery, and books. She describes her style as “Bloomsbury,” a reference to the group of bohemian writers, artists, and intellectuals who lived in London in the early 20th century.

“The style in which they decorated their homes and the way they dressed and their general approach to life were eclectic and slightly exotic,” says Lowe, who grew up in Richmond, a London borough. “That’s my approach, too.”

From the black-and-white photos casually pinned to the wall above a buffet in the living room to the vintage white dress hanging on the upstairs landing, Lowe’s house is full of unconventional design choices and unusual pieces, many of which she values both for how they look and what they say. Or at least what they suggest. A favorite example is the large enameled-metal ampersand—a bit of vintage signage—that hangs on the wall between two windows in the living room.

“There is always something that comes after an ampersand, and that something could be anything you like,” Lowe says. “It somehow just evolves and comes together.”


Photograph: Matthew Gilson

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