Coffee With: Johnny Youssef

Johnny Youssef is the Swiss Army knife of home renovation. We spoke with the investor, renovator, and designer about how he got started, his travels, and finding your rhythm.

Q&A With Johnny Youssef

Casaza: How did you get your start?
Johnny Youssef:
During my first semester in college, I realized how much I will pay in rent over the four years of college. I convinced my parents to co-sign for me to buy a home near campus and rent out rooms to my friends. That got me into real estate investing as I quickly learned property management; in a few years, I was managing several properties around campus. Despite it being profitable, I got bored with spreadsheets and I found myself online looking up interior design ideas and styles. Shortly after, I started purchasing properties in bad shape and renovating and designing them!

C: How would you describe your style?
I tend to be drawn towards a mixture of modern and mid-century. I love how the contrast between new and old goes well together. It is both comforting and sophisticated to have vintage elements in a clean and modern space. I have worked on unique houses that vary from new construction to 150-years-old. My approach is to learn as much as possible about the history of a home, from how old it is to the architectural style. From there, I like bringing a modern twist without ignoring the story and the original elements of the home.

Sitting room and dining room Design by Johnny Youssef
Design by Johnny Youssef

C: Where do you get new ideas and inspiration?
Mostly through traveling! I travel a lot and I love it because it takes me out of my familiar places and it gives me a fresh look at design and ideas. I recently went to Egypt, where I am originally from and walking through a historical neighborhood has given me some ideas that I would love to execute soon. There is something so powerful about stepping back and looking at inspirations from different cultures and eras and bringing it back from a modern viewpoint.

C: Favorite room in the house?
If the front porch is considered a “room,” that would be it for me! There are two big reasons for that. First, it’s the first impression for visitors, neighbors, and those driving see. It’s the equivalent of meeting someone for the first time in a stunning outfit. A well-designed front porch has the ability to tell outsiders they are welcome and it can tell them more of who you are and what it’s like to join you.

Secondly, some of my dearest memories happened in porches on nice nights out. Whether it’s a late night porch hang with parents in Cairo or making new friends on a hostel front porch in Barcelona, a front porch is where some of the best memories can be made.

Living room Design by Johnny Youssef
Design by Johnny Youssef

C: Design rule you don’t subscribe to?
I don’t like the idea that you should not use dark paint or wallpaper schemes in small spaces because they make the space look even smaller. Most of my favorite bathrooms have been dark and bold and in some ways, that made those rooms feel grander.

C: Recent project that inspired you?
It’s happening right now and it’s my personal home! I bought a home in a neighborhood that justified being generous with the budget. On top of that, knowing that it’s my future home, I had more freedom to choose bold styles without having to think about pleasing other owners or renters. It’s a mixture of modern with a hint of traditional Mediterranean. Looking forward to finishing it!

C: Favorite texture/pattern/color?
I love Herringbone pattern; it has a timeless and clean look. That being said, I have lately been working with arabesque patterns and Spanish tiles because they make bold statements that are attractive. White is always my favorite and I like to have it with a contrast of either black or muted blues.

Kitchen and bedroom Design by Johnny Youssef
Design by Johnny Youssef

C: What is “good design” to you?
A good design is a space that makes you want to stay and helps take off some of the daily pressures outside of the home. It gives you space to relax, daydream, and gather. A huge priority for me in a good design is the practicality of it. Anything that adds anxiety, whether it’s a high-maintenance plant or an oversized vase that can tip over easily, are not things I would want in a room.

C: Pack your bag! You’re moving into a famous home. Whose is it?
I’m not sure how famous this home is but I have literally been obsessed with it since I was a child. Near my family home in Cairo, there is a famous palace that was built by a Belgian developer who purchased acres of desert land in Cairo and turned it into one of the most beautiful areas in the city. The Baron Empain Palace was designed by a French architect in 1907. It is a perfect hybrid of Western and Eastern architecture. Sadly, the palace has been abandoned for over 50 years, and as a home renovator, I would absolutely love to own it and restore it and move to it!

Baron Empain Palace in Cairo

C: What’s your rule when entertaining?
This will probably make other designers cringe but here it is: Keep it sloppy! I personally get stressed out when a host is running around organizing and making plans. It makes me feel like a burden. For me, I only make sure that my place is tidy and that I have some suggestions for the guests. That’s it. I like to be spontaneous and let the night flow on its own. If the guests come in and they are hungry, I order food. Wanting to play some games, I have that too. If we end up on the porch just chatting, I let it happen. Just no agendas.

C: Best advice for DIYers?
The best way to learn is to go for it. I see DIYers with the mindset that they need to have more money or more experience in order to step out but for me, I just went for it and learned in the process. Don’t overspend on time or money. Take steps and you will naturally find your rhythm.

Dining room Design by Johnny Youssef
Design by Johnny Youssef

C: Best advice for those hiring a pro?
I learned the hard way by quickly trusting and agreeing with those I hire. First, make sure you see their previous work, if not in person, online. You have to like what they do. Secondly, get references if you can. A word of mouth is the most powerful way to know what to expect. Thirdly, make sure to discuss the expectations clearly. Some pros expect you to be more involved and others can be an opposite extreme. Finally, just because they are a pro, doesn’t make them always right. If you don’t like something, express it but stay open to ideas.

C: What is one design trend you are most excited about this season?
At first, I was resistant to wallpapers but I love that they are making a comeback after a long time of very neutral designs. The great thing about this new movement is that, unlike the past, the wallpapers now are easy to remove without damaging your wall. This provides the flexibility to update your home as many times as you want while staying cost effective.

C: How do you take your coffee?
I mix it up. Drip coffee, Americanos and lattes depending on the mood. When I am traveling, I make sure to order the local options; Turkish coffee in Turkey and Cappuccinos in Italy.

Bedroom and mirror Design by Johnny Youssef
Design by Johnny Youssef

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