Trust Me When I Say: It’s Time to Catch Up With Betsey Johnson

Betsey Johnson Malibu Home tour

As with clothes, the way you decorate a room expresses your personality. In its most ideal form, it signals to guests how you interpret yourself. In this round of Real Cool People, Real Cool Apartments, we check out the Malibu home of Betsey Johnson, the founder behind her namesake fashion line. Our intentions behind the creeping: to learn what she’s all about.

Neighborhood, # of rooms:

My home is a trippy little trailer park house. It’s in a charming storybook neighborhood — great vibes and young surfer dudes. Sexy, young, hip, hot. I love it! I have four-and-a-half bedrooms and two bathrooms (one is a adorable outside bathroom with a bathtub). When I’m home alone, I like to see all my tchotchkes. It’s like a real house. It’s cozy and wonderful but set up as vignettes — like a theme park. I also have a great little backyard.

How long have you lived here?

Surprisingly enough, three years have gone by like three months. My boyfriend remembers we met in a coffee shop three years ago. I can’t believe it’s gone by so quickly.

What made you want to leave New York City?

I didn’t have my own company anymore. I realized I could work for my brands — Steve Madden and all my 15 licenses now — from anywhere. I’m on the road to do appearances. It hit me and it hit my daughter, and then it hit her ex-husband and the kids: We’re freezing cold and we’re getting the fuck out of here. That was three winters ago.

I’m building my daughter Lulu a house, her ex-husband rents an apartment and I didn’t know where I was going to live. Long story short, there are 250 houses in this great area next to a great restaurant. It’s called Paradise Beach Cove and it’s a trailer park. I painted my house pink and there are great neighbors, great privacy, great views and great beaches and golf carts. No regrets that I didn’t leave New York any earlier because that’s the way it was. I knew about Malibu because Lulu’s ex-husband grew up in Malibu. But I moved because it was cold and because I could: the two C’s.

How has the neighborhood influenced your overall aesthetic?

I only wear my moccasins and flats. I don’t wear anything like what I used to make—a lot of chiffon dresses. My daughter and I have totally changed our style. I used to wear makeup. I do only when I have to be photographed now.

When do you have people over?

My home is very personal, I will never throw a dinner party. I’ll have the neighbors by, but I’m not an entertainer. The only one who comes over to my house is my boyfriend one great day a week. One day is just perfect.

Do you use your home as a workspace?

Yes, my kitchen a lot. I do a lot of drawings on my kitchen table. I spread things all over the place. My other work is appearances, phoning, texting and communicating.

What was the decorating process like?

There’s no process. I just do what I love. That’s what’s great about it. It’s the freedom of doing what you want. No decorator, no stores to look at. I would never hire a decorator or listen to a magazine. I think people should only do what they want in their house but a lot of people are very scared to do that. What can I say? You can’t be scared to play and make mistakes. I only buy things I love. If you love something, it’s never a mistake, except for a husband that you can hopefully divorce.

There’s my yellow room. It’s all yellow and it’s acid yellow. There’s my front porch — a little English terrace outdoor patio room. There’s old-fashioned, there’s classic, there’s everything. My little backyard is very Beverly-Hills-Hotel patterned. My backyard has all banana trees and Birds of Paradise. That’s that. It’s a dollhouse. Tiny and all mixed up.

What’s the best thing about your home?

I have everything I’ve ever collected in this house. It’s my life brought inside my home. It’s just my little jewel box. I’m on the beach, I’m in Malibu, I have my golf cart, my family is nearby. There’s practically nothing in that house that I haven’t lugged around with me for the past 100 years. There’s a story to everything in there. I have enough room to keep everything I have. I didn’t have to part with anything because I’m a hoarder. I will make anything fit. I know exactly how much space I have left for rugs and more things on the wall. It’s not a buying thing, it’s a more of a feel that I need to live with these things.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve kept?

A Statue of Liberty with little cutouts that Lulu made me in kindergarten or first grade. Everything on every shelf is my favorite object. I’ve collected paintings of ladies over the years. I only have ladies in my house, no men. These three paintings of three ladies — I call them my sisters: they’re by the same artist, the most money I’ve ever spent on art. I found one, then another, and then another. I also have an old, original Pucci rug which is a favorite of mine and an original Eero Saarinen womb chair from the 50s. I got the rug in a vintage store upstate. Everything is funky, cheap. I never go shopping on Madison Avenue for furniture. I love my shell and bamboo Suzie Wong curtains. And my tchotchkes. My boyfriend calls himself my tchotchke. He thinks of himself as one of the tchotchkes on my counter.

Where do you shop?

My rugs usually come from Sante Fe, but anywhere and everywhere. You have to go where the spirit takes you. Don’t think about what you want, what you need and what you’re going to buy. Think about what you love and that works with anything for your home and anything for your body.

What’s everything a home should have?

It should have a person in love with their home. My biggest passion is that I must have fresh flowers in my home. Even if I pull over by the road and steal them. I keep a pair of scissors in my car. I have to have fresh flowers. I have them in the hotel room and I just planted a couple rose gardens. They’re scary; they’re on steroids and Miracle Grow and in all my favorite colors: lavender, white, yellow. Never daisies and never a flower that’s pointy.I use fake flowers too and nobody knows. Give me any kind of house, just put a bouquet of flowers in it and it greatly improves the person in the house and the spirit.

Photos by Maggie Shannon.

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