Johnson Hartig, the designer behind the inventive fashion label Libertine, has always loved dioramas—a fascination that he tracks back to the kitschy panoramic Easter eggs of his childhood, their peepholes offering a glimpse of a sugary scene inside. “I ultimately want to live in some sort of a diorama, so I’m always trying to create them around myself,” he says. From his Los Angeles home, dubbed “Basketcase,” he shares five decorating principles that define his singular approach to creating wondrous, self-contained worlds.
Paint With Light
“People are going to think I’m crazy, but I just love nighttime rooms,” says Hartig, who describes himself as fanatical about lighting. He’s been known to wrap “50 to 80 percent” of a lightbulb with black or yellow gaffer’s tape—the chosen adhesive of cinematographers everywhere—in order to achieve a moody, low-wattage look without the risk of melting plastic. His obsession even extends beyond his own property lines: Identifying an opportunity for a more charming view after dark, he asked his neighbors for permission to install a lamp in their upstairs window that turns on via timer each night.
“I think green-and-white rooms are just about the freshest rooms around,” says Hartig, who deems green the most calming color due to its verdant associations. Various shades appear throughout his house, from the bathroom’s glossy handmade Moroccan tile floor and his own Le Grand Tour wallpaper in English Green, to the adjoining bedroom, wrapped in a scenic wallpaper depicting trees—he even had a faux painter continue the trees up onto the ceiling.
Temper the High With the Low
“If everything in a room has the same level of good taste, it can be incredibly static and boring,” Hartig declares. “Bring in something plastic from the 99-cent store, or kitschy tourist ceramics from your travels.” Borrowing a dictum from Diana Vreeland, he insists that “the eye does have to travel—and it needs a rest stop at some junk once in a while.”
Don’t Be Shy About Displaying Collections
An unbridled and masterful collector, Hartig has created a Russian-doll effect of dioramas within the diorama that is his house: “I have, I think, the largest collection of antique American and English ship dioramas in the country, which I’ve collected over 25 years,” he notes. Hartig recommends dedicating an entire wall to a collection—or an entire ceiling, as in his basket-covered kitchen.
Anchor With Antiques
Hartig believes that each room needs the right antique centerpiece to properly ground it. “The rustication and patina and age and glow from an antique just can’t be replicated, and it immediately brings a depth to the room that nothing else can,” he says. “Everything can be built around that.”