Stina M. Johannesen

Johannesen, Stina M.

(1903 – 2001)

Married at the age of 16 to builder William H. Johannesen, Stina M. Johannesen holds the distinction of being one of the first female interior designers to make a name for herself in the Puget Sound region.  

She was born Stina Marie Holmberg on April 23, 1903 in Seattle and began her career by helping her husband and his brother, John, with their construction business. At the insistence of her husband, Stina learned interior design on-the-job, from the ground up. She initially helped the Johannesen Brothers’ Realty Company with color palettes and cabinet layouts, and then moved to material choices, fireplace planning, wall coverings, and wiring and plumbing layouts.

To improve her skills during the Depression she took every course the W.P.A offered that revolved around construction and design. Her talents were quickly recognized and soon she began to be hired by other builders to help them with their projects.

Despite no formal training, by 1959 dwellings across Seattle were being advertised as having been decorated by nationally acclaimed interior designer Mrs. William “Stina” Johannesen. Known projects include twelve model homes in Laurelhurst Park for developer Gordon Johnson (1960); the Jess Klinker House (1963) in Broadmoor; the Cecil Gray House (1964); a home at 138 N 130th St (1950); and the Douglas Schindele House (1956).

Often the Johannesens built and lived in the homes they planned to sell at a later date for a profit. By 1957 it was reported that they had worked on and lived in ten different houses in the 18 years. Their homes fell in the $85,000 to $100,000 bracket, the higher end of the real estate market at the time, and most were designed in an Early American and traditional motif.

Back in 1927, the Johannesen Brothers firm had joined the Seattle Master Builders Association, and Stina was recorded as the first woman to attend one of their meetings. Within a few short years she became heavily involved in the organization, particularly the Seattle Home Show. She founded the Seattle Home Builders Association Women’s Auxiliary in 1949 and then became active in forming other woman auxiliaries in other states. Under her leadership the National Association of Home Builders Women’s Auxiliary was formed in 1954. She became their second President in 1956. 

After being asked to redecorate Top O’ the Town Restaurant at the Hotel Sorrento in Seattle (1952), Johannesen was hired as the main interior designer for the Doric Hotel chain. She took on the monumental task of designing guest rooms and public areas for a variety of their projects including the lobby, dining room, and coffee shop at the New Washington Hotel; the Mayflower Hotel; Bellingham Hotel’s new Copper Room restaurant; a remodel of the dining room and lobby of the Waldorf Hotel (1957); and the Doric Motor Hotel in Portland (1963).

She worked with Doric for 11 years, then decided to open her own interior design studio on Capitol Hill. Later she moved the business (called Stina’s Décor) to Pioneer Square, one of the first tenants in the rehabilitated Occidental Square (303 south Occidental Ave). Then in the mid-1970s she moved the retail shop back to Capitol Hill and operated it with daughter Thelma.

After her husband passed away in 1966, Johannesen continued working. Notable later projects include Miss Burnadette’s School of Charm & Modeling (1967); the Richmond Beach Townhouses (1967); the Fontanelle Townhouses in Bellevue (1969); the Park Ballinger Townhouses in Edmonds (1969, with architects Lawrence & Hazen); her own apartment within the Sam Hill House (1970); and a remodel of the third-floor ballrooms at the Washington Athletic Club (1974).

Johannesen was a frequent lecturer, offering her thoughts on good design to numerous organizations. She was a featured speaker at the Pacific Northwest Home Builders Convention (1956), and lectured numerous times at the Business Management Conference for the Home Builders’ Association of Greater Seattle (1960, 1961).

She was a member of the Washington State Chapter of the National Society of Interior Designers and served as President to the Washington State Chapter of the National Society of Interior Designers (1969-70). As Co-chairperson, she brought the West Coast Regional Conference for the National Society of Interior Designers to Seattle in 1967. A strong supporter of the Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony, she often helped them with their annual fundraiser, “Designer Show House,” and more than once opened her own apartment, within the former Sam Hill Mansion, for tours.

Johannesen actively worked into the early 1980s and later in her career collaborated closely with fellow interior designer, Barbara A. Sauerbrey. 

Remembered fondly for her love of elaborate hats and dresses, Johannsen passed away in Seattle at the age of 97 on April 7, 2001.

– Michael C Houser

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