Like many interior designers, Josh Johnson believes the chief goal of his job is to craft comfortable spaces. It just so happens that, for the Nashville native, comfort means big blond hair, a rhinestone belt buckle, and interiors dripping with crystals, done up in mirrors, and topped off with metallic accents and feather plumes. Johnson's southern charm, well-coiffed Fabio-esque locks, and penchant for razzle-dazzle once landed him a spot on HGTV's Design Star, but these days he's crafting awards show greenrooms and interiors for his Nashville clients. Dubbed "Sparkle Josh" in 2007 by the HGTV production team—the other "Josh" on that season was nicknamed "Organic Josh" because of his passion for eco-friendly design—the monicker has stuck, thanks to Johnson's inclination for opulent touches. High-backed chairs? Check. Twinkle lights? Done. Chandeliers? Does such an obvious question even deserve a response? Here he talks about his interior design work for the Tony's and what exactly he would put in his hypothetical dream room. Read on, his answers may surprise you.
These days, Johnson's home base is West Hollywood, Calif., though many of his clients still hail from Nashville. While his "day-to-day clients aren't super affluent," he says, many seek him out for his signature over-the-top interiors. "They just want a little sparkle in their lives," he says, adding that some of his repeat clients span generations of one family. "For me that's the beauty of it, this big conglomerate of elements that effect people's lives. It's intensely personal."
So why the L.A. home base? The last two years, Johnson's been contracted to craft backstage greenrooms, erecting monochromatic jewel boxes for the Tony's, the Video Music Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, and more. Though each space bares the mark of Sparkle Josh, the design is meant to be signature to the event; while last year's Tony's greenroom featured a velvet sofa and avant garde silver seating, his Teen Choice Awards room was decked with "huge Mad Hatter chairs with rhinestones in the tuft." For the 2012 Writer's Guild Awards in Hollywood (below), Johnson hung black-and-white paintings of chandeliers, and filled red lacquer vases with silver reeds and fluffy white plumes.
When asked what sort of room he would build if money were no object, Johnson replies, "ethereal," "beautiful," and "serene." The color palette would be simple and monochromic with scores of metallic furnishings. "I'd have a lot of textural elements too, whether it will be mohair or furry pillows or lush carpeting."
But that's not all: "And as far as personal things go, I like the old Pizza Hut glasses, the ones we grew up with? I like those kinds of things, that's comfort and home to me," he says, adding, "There would definitely be a place where food would live. I'm from the South, so there needs to be a casserole, you know, nearby. It would need to be home and it would need to be calm."
If achieving calm is one of Johnson's main design goals, why all the glitz? He grew up in Nashville—with "church and child pageantry and all that"—as part of a family of musicians. "The rhinestone quotient was at the very, very top," Johnson—who himself has debuted a music video that is well worth checking out—says. "I come from a long line of women with big blond hair, always having to be dressed up to go to the gas station and the drug store ... Those things are always engrained in me. I grew up with that."
Still, he's quick to concede that his utmost tastes are not for everybody, and says only about 50 percent of his interiors clients come to him looking for that feel. "Being a good designer is just being a good director, a tasteful director. Not everybody's going to want a chandelier in their broom closet like I would," Johnson says. "I sprinkle my personality in, if they want it."
And the other 50 percent? "Those people are generally risk-takers," he says. "What would be considered be over-the-top by some—or by most—they like that. They're drawn to that. We have a bond at the beginning."