PROFILES: Meet Ottawa’s internationally renowned design blogger

A self-professed design junkie, local blogger Kim Johnson has attracted a devoted international following of like-minded souls who share her passion for all things beautiful around the house

Photography by Dwayne Brown

Kim Johnson calls it her creative outlet. It’s also her way of trying to inspire the world — one room at a time — to celebrate beautiful design. The Centretown resident is co-founder of the traffic-heavy blog Desire to Inspire She and her blogging partner, Jo Walker of Ipswich, Australia, are both self-confessed “interior design junkies” with an uncontrollable urge to share their common passion. Since launching their blog four years ago, the two women have posted countless photos of delicious home designs (including their own), cool products, and their respective pets, along with commentaries on all of the above.

By day, Johnson is a web-development supervisor for the federal government. But after work, she immediately gets online to check out the latest in interior design and decor from around the globe. “Before launching the blog, I used to see pictures of a neat carpet and I’d have to buy it. Then I’d get tired of it. Now I have so many visuals that I can just stare at the photos and it eases my urge to buy.”

An ultra-pink bathroom for a girly pad; gleaming white kitchen appliances when everyone else is aboard the stainless-steel bandwagon; a rich photographic tribute, including link, to a British architectural firm: it’s nifty items like these that have Johnson trolling design, product, and photography websites for up to four hours a day. (Though, she swears, “I really do have a life.”) The result is a site brimming with entries in 200 design categories. Whether it be wall-mounted antlers (a short-lived craze, Johnson predicted earlier this year), lofts, stripes, or window seats, Johnson has an opinion on the trend and a photo or two to share. Her collaborator, Jo Walker, chimes into the conversation via email: “Our readers come to see the big, fat, juicy photos. Room porn, we call it, so we keep the copy to a minimum and let the images do all the talking. Readers don’t need us to dissect a room. They want to drink it in themselves.”

Those readers are dedicated, yielding up to 70,000 page views every day. They chime in when a reader seeks Johnson’s or Walker’s design advice, sometimes disagreeing with the duo’s suggestions. For reasons that elude Johnson and Walker, Brazil boasts an especially large readership.

The women, who have never met face to face, discovered each other in 2006 through a group on the photo-sharing site Flickr. They got such positive feedback from other site visitors that when the Flickr group collapsed, they started blogging together. A single email to their raft of Flickr friends was all they needed to promote their start-up blog.

Johnson, says Walker, has a casual style that her fellow Aussies swoon over. “She has great taste and unerringly picks just the right room or house to share. They also love her home. It suits the laid-back Australian way of living, and they are always amazed at how much punch she packs into such a small space.” That space is indeed compact: a little over 900 square feet, which she shares with her husband, Jeff Jenkins, and their seven cats.

Take a seat: Johnson’s living room has a bohemian vibe. She excels at blending the occasional higher-end item with recycled, thrifted, and found materials. Photograph by Dwayne Brown

The couple plans to expand the house, they explain, as we sip coffee in their cozy, recently remodelled kitchen. It’s a wildly eclectic room. Here, Johnson has teamed Asian-themed wooden cabinetry with a white-quartz countertop, what she terms “bad reproductions” of mid-20th century Eames chairs, and three industrial-themed overhead lamps shaped like giant incandescent light bulbs. The adjoining living room, meanwhile, has a bohemian vibe. There are always at least a couple of cats sprawled on the low-slung homemade couch. “I don’t like rooms in just one style,” says Johnson, laughing at herself for stating the obvious. Her husband nods, clearly content, after nine years as her companion, to go along with her inclusivity.

Johnson, who delights in showing off her ideas, blends the occasional higher-end item with recycled, thrifted, and found materials. Upstairs, a limited-edition Eames Hang-It-All clothes/hat rack — a playful concoction of steel rods and maple balls — graces one wall of their sprawling clothes closet. On the opposite wall is a pegboard in an ornate gold picture frame (total cost $50), the perfect showcase for Johnson’s collection of necklaces. Back downstairs, an inexpensive wooden change table from Ikea has been sawn in half lengthwise. One two-legged half is secured to a wall below a window, giving her cats a comfy spot from which to monitor the outside world. The other half serves as a funky little display area in the living room. With creativity like this bubbling over, why doesn’t Johnson pack in the government job and, while she’s still in her 30s, become a designer?

“I like stability, even if going to work isn’t always exciting. Also I like the fact that people ask me for advice, but I’m a little timid in giving it because I don’t really know the rules of design [she studied psychology at university and computer science in college]. I prefer to slap up photos and leave it up to readers to offer input.

Also a lot of interior designers just go with a couple of styles. It’s kind of their brand. I don’t know if I could do that.”