Keyshawn, the aesthete

Times Staff Writer

KEYSHAWN JOHNSON is not at all pleased with his grill -- not the cooktop, but an unevenly painted heating duct in a zebrawood-paneled wall of his Westwood condo. The 34-year-old Carolina Panthers wide receiver and celebrated USC alum prowls his 3,300-square-foot pied-a-terre, chugging bottles of water while an NFL official sits in the sleek, white marble kitchen waiting for a urine sample as part of the league’s random steroid testing. At Johnson’s side is Christos Joannides, a principal of Idea Space Design, the Beverly Hills firm that crafted Johnson’s swank quarters.

“Where are the toe kickers?” the football star asks, noticing missing baseboards. Joannides dutifully scribbles it on his ever-expanding to-do list.

“When you’re an athlete, most people think you don’t know or care anything about design,” Johnson says. “That’s like saying all actors are on drugs and crazy.”

Having invested in spec homes and decorated personal residences in New York, Florida, North Carolina and multiple spots in L.A. since he went pro in 1996, Johnson has become as confident in a furniture showroom as he is on the gridiron. He developed an interest in design when he first became a homeowner, he says, and life experiences have since shaped his tastes.

“I’ve stayed in some of the best hotels in the world. I read House & Garden and Casa Vogue,” says Johnson, adding that he’s a fan of Fendi’s and Armani Casa’s home collections. “I spend hours at Hennessy + Ingalls in Santa Monica looking at architecture books like some weirdo.”


Richard Landry, a Los Angeles architect working on a mansion for Johnson in Calabasas, refers to his client as not just an athlete but an aesthete and an entrepreneur, one who has a solid understanding of how design can enrich lives and bank accounts.

“Keyshawn can actually read architectural plans and see the finished work,” Landry says. “He strikes me as a guy with a vision who is open to the process.”

Other athletes may invest in cars, clothes and diamonds, but Johnson has developed a real estate portfolio -- and acquired a hands-on education in design along the way. Whether he is building a Mediterranean mansion, as he is doing in Calabasas, or collaborating on the interiors of a modern high-rise, Johnson has a sensibility informed by two elements, Landry says.

“He thinks about what his family needs as well as his own style, which is clean and uncluttered.”

JOHNSON has long lived that way. Growing up in central Los Angeles, near USC, he recalls that his room was small but efficiently organized. Though he had Michael Jordan posters and a dartboard on the wall, his space was uncommonly tidy for someone his age.

“I was different,” he says. “I don’t like clutter. I try to have everything in its place. I don’t want to walk around trying to figure out where my things are.”

That room was a far cry from the new Wilshire corridor tower that Johnson and his fiancee, teacher Kristen Coleman, now call home. She lives in the condo full time while pursuing a master’s degree in education at Loyola Marymount; Johnson also owns a condo in Charlotte, N.C., where he lives during football season.

The three-bedroom unit here cost $2 million when Johnson bought in 2005, before developers broke ground. The elevator rises from the swank lobby and opens directly into the couple’s foyer.

In the entryway, defined by a shimmering gray Venetian plastered wall and limestone floors, guests are asked to remove their shoes. Despite the natureinspired serenity of the setting -- a cantilevered glass-and-wood console shelf is filled with black river rocks -- the lose-your-shoes requirement is not a Zen thing.

“In most of my homes, I have a basket out front with a bunch of footie socks,” says Johnson, who is in stocking feet himself. “I don’t want dusty shoe prints.”

With floors made of 5-inch wide planks of oak stained a deep espresso, coffee tables topped with glass and other furniture made from exotic hardwoods and sumptuous fabrics, Johnson has good reason to fret over the pristine condition of his interiors. Nevertheless, the condo exudes luxurious comfort rather than uninviting grandeur.

Gizmo, Coleman’s fluffy white Shih Tzu, has free run of the house. Maia, 11, and Keyshawn, 8, Johnson’s daughter and son from a previous marriage, have their own rooms for when they visit.

“My kids enjoy it here,” says Johnson, who conceived a queen-size trundle daybed for his daughter, so she can host sleepover guests. “They think it’s cool.”

Oh, it is. Johnson’s design concept was influenced by his travel-packed schedule as a professional athlete.

“When I come home, I want to feel like I’m chilling in a W or an Ian Schrager hotel,” he says, adding that the look is purposefully restrained. “We’re not trying to be Louis XV here. I need a place where I can wake up in the morning and just go.”

With its honed limestone tile hearth of Johnson’s design, the living room is for relaxation. It’s a place where he and Coleman can curl up and watch “24" or where he can watch sports with friends and serve drinks from a built-in bar next to the 65-inch flat screen. Music is piped through the house without any visible components; an entire hall closet is devoted to the sound and home theater system, iPod dock included, of course.

“People who travel understand this aesthetic and want this kind of clean contemporary design,” designer Joannides says, noting the style was inspired by the architectural silhouettes of the Bauhaus movement, the midcentury French designer Jean-Michel Frank and contemporary Italian furniture.

Custom cabinets, tables and chairs seem to float, speaking in a vocabulary of rectangles and squares cantilevered from walls or perched on alder wood X-shaped bases and thick U-shaped pedestals in stainless steel. Glass tabletops and Lucite legs on furniture further reduce visual clutter. Hefty carved wooden bowls and weathered driftwood create an organic counterpoint to the sleek furnishings. “It is an earthy and calm environment, sculptural and textured, with no bright colors or froufrou,” Joannides says.

JOHNSON met Joannides a few years ago when Idea Space Design created the interiors of a retail store on Robertson Boulevard for Johnson’s then-wife.

“They are easy to work with,” Johnson says. “Although I am a little more polished than most of the guys they work with, in terms of knowing exactly what I want, not what they want me to have.”

Joannides and his twin brother, Stefano, picked up the condo project in its initial stages. Johnson was an early buyer in the building, which was developed with so much luxury in mind that it missed its targeted opening date by 18 months. “I prefer new construction,” says Johnson, who was nonplused by the delay.

The slow construction allowed Idea Space Design to study plans and maximize the light that flows through the nearly 8-foot window bays and a long terrace with ocean-to-mountain views.

To delineate the living room from the dining area, the design team conceived a floor-to-ceiling screen made from stainless steel beams and panels of glass sandblasted to diffuse light. The room divider echoes the lines of the condo’s window frames and the high-rise architecture of the neighboring buildings. The center panel, located at Johnson’s eye level, is left clear, allowing the man of the house to watch TV at the pickled rift-cut oak dining table.

The designers’ concept called for lengthening the leather and linen sectional sofa and changing the seat height and depth on a cubist swivel lounge chair to accommodate Johnson’s 6-foot-4 frame. In the kitchen, a low and sleek custom banquette was planned to create a refreshing antidote to the overstuffed, over-furnished great rooms in vogue these days. Flanked by Eames wire chairs and Philippe Starck’s polished steel stools, the breakfast counter’s river-rock-under-glass design echoes the foyer console.

By the time all these details were completed and the condo was ready for occupancy, Johnson was deep into the season that just ended.

“From July to January I am only occupied with football,” he says. “I don’t want to be listening to you tell me that the painter didn’t do something. If you can’t tell me how to win a game, there is no need for you to call me.”

THE Joannides brothers were given the keys to the apartment and 30 days to take it from approved sketches to a furnished home.

Half a dozen variations on gray, greige, taupe and military drab green comprise the color palette. The dining room’s eye-catching accent wall is paneled in a grid of striped zebrawood. The Macassar ebony furniture pops against these dark neutrals, as does the soft, organic appearance of shag rugs and sisal carpet, leather, zebra-printed cowhide, faux suede and silk upholstery.

“There is nothing in this house that doesn’t have texture,” Stefano Joannides says, pointing out a double-drum lighting fixture with burlap shades. “Mixing the smooth and the rough, the industrial and the organic is what we’re about, and Keyshawn, the warrior athlete with sophisticated taste, embodies these contrasts.”

In the master bedroom, a white curtain drapes one wall, adding a softness and intimacy that is simple yet formal, like the folds on a pleated tuxedo shirt. It reflects Johnson’s design ethos: an elegance that is comfortably masculine.

“Once we add plants and paintings and put our photographs up,” Johnson says, “it’ll feel more homey and lovable.”

Coleman says she is still surprised by her fiance’s eye. “You don’t meet a lot of men who can really put things together,” she says. “My taste is cutesy. His is sexy and hot.”

Having witnessed the convergence of sports celebrities and furniture manufacturers (think John Elway’s mass-market collection for Bassett as well as Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf’s modern designs for Kreiss), Johnson believes that he too can become a tastemaker. Following his collaborations with Landry and Idea Space Design, he is talking about developing a boutique hotel in Southern California.

“I wouldn’t mind being in the home furnishing business with my own signature collection one day,” he says.

“I believe I have the eye to be able to show people what sophistication looks like without trendy, gaudy or blingy,” he adds, surveying his tastefully appointed domain. “Just looking nice.”



Short path from plans to completion


The master bedroom looks slightly different from the sketches. Here’s how -- and why -- the room evolved.


HOW does an initial concept become a finished room? Christos Joannides of Idea Space Design in Beverly Hills credits Keyshawn Johnson’s decisiveness for allowing the process to unfold quickly.

“He is not one to mince words,” Joannides says. “If he doesn’t like something, he just says so.”

Presentation boards with room renderings and samples of materials helped the designer and client finalize the look and the budget. Though there were compromises, the finished master bedroom shown here is remarkably similar to the rendering. Among the changes:

Because the remaining bedrooms are dedicated to Johnson’s children, he and Joannides added a work space with a desk and a reissue of the 1969 Eames Soft Pad chair made of polished aluminum and upholstered in black leather.

The headboard was drawn with leather upholstery set into a chocolate-stained alder frame. “It was conceived as being much taller than the height of a traditional headboard to emphasize the 10-foot ceiling, which is not the norm in newly constructed condos,” Joannides says.

At Johnson’s request, the finished headboard was scaled down significantly.

Johnson also declined to add the bench drawn at the foot of the bed -- a piece that the design team had suggested for laying out bedcovers or a change of clothing.

Though the drawers on the night stands echoed the zebrawood paneling, Johnson nixed drum shade pendant lights over each table that mimicked the fixture in the dining room. He opted for carved wooden column table lamps instead.

“We designed the pendants with separate dimmers and switches that could have been wired into the wall or nightstand, so that each person could control the light on their side of the bed,” Joannides says. “Keyshawn didn’t want them figuring into his budget. Everybody draws the line somewhere.”

-- David A. Keeps