When you pull into the northwest Sioux Falls neighborhood of Shaun and Mary Johnson, it’s hard to miss their house. The ultra modern, flat-roof abode is 2,300 square feet of personal touches and love with their daughters Katarina (Kat), 10, Genevieve (Gigi), 7, and Serafina (Fina), 18 months. 605 had the chance to walk through their home before Shaun took off on tour with his musical group Tonic Sol-fa (who will be performing December 1-2 at the Washington Pavilion and December 5 at the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City).
MODERN DAY LOVE AFFAIR
Shaun and Mary Johnson officially made Sioux Falls their home two years ago and moved into a loft downtown.
“We loved our loft,” said Shaun. “Honestly, we probably would have stayed there if we didn’t have a third child on the way.”
Looking for a modern home that could be seen in places like Los Angeles, the Johnsons searched everywhere.
“We were looking to build all over Sioux Falls, but everywhere had covenants,” Shaun said. “There was nowhere that we could find to build a flat-roof, modern house.”
Cue owner and general contractor of EPIC Built Construction, Aaron Junck. Shaun said this lot was one of three that Junck had found that allowed the type of design they were longing for.
Knowing their style, Junck called them up to check out the nearly-completed project that was being shown as part of the 2016 Parade of Homes.
Mary recalled, “As soon as we pulled up, we thought, ‘That is our house.’ It was exactly what we were looking to build. We really hit the jackpot.”
The outside alone sealed the deal with the custom cedar and architectural metal exterior with a glass garage.
“The neighbors all thought it was a gas station,” Shaun laughed.
Since it wasn’t totally finished, the Johnsons got to customize some of the finishes, like the new flooring in the basement and the modern fence surrounding the home. Mary’s father, Joe French, built the fence himself over several weeks, and matched the wood and metal to the house.
“He’s a master craftsman. He was here almost every weekend… I mean, the mathematics of this thing when you’re putting this together is crazy,” Shaun said.
Making their house a home in the last year has been a team effort. Mary, a commercial interior designer for Banner Associates, Inc., brought her expertise to the table, while getting advice from her spouse.
“It’s nice having a partner that’s interested in design and has a good eye, because people think as a designer I know everything,” she said. “I prefer to work as a collaborative party. It makes projects that much better to bounce ideas off each other, so to be married to someone where we can design space together is great.”
Their next big project?
“You can put a deck at the top of the roof, so that’s a project for next summer,” Shaun said.
The photos leading downstairs were either taken by Mary, or are special prints from life moments.
“This is actually my dad’s workbench growing up, and her dad retrofitted it into a dining table.”
As we made our way down the hallway entrance, we entered the open kitchen and living room, filled with natural light from the large windows.
Mary stopped us and pointed at a framed piece of paper.
“This is Shaun’s writing from when he was 9, and we recently found it. He wrote, ‘If I could be any person in the world, I would be Elvis Presley, because I love singing.’ We put this here because not many people grow up doing what they wanted to do when they were that young.”
Shaun revealed he had just gotten back from Memphis where he performed with his other group, the Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience, on the same bandshell where Presley did his first paid performances.
“She framed this and gave it to me right around that time, so it was pretty neat,” he smiled.
As we walked next to the kitchen island, Mary explained their aspiration of living a minimalistic lifestyle, especially with Shaun traveling often.
“One of the things we loved about the house was that we really wanted everything to be open,” she said. “We like spaces that are smaller, because we like rubbing elbows and bumping into each other and being with the kids. This is the area we’re really in
She continued while rubbing the countertop, “The kids are always up here and having snacks, and when I’m cooking it’s nice, because we’re all interacting and Shaun’s helping. It’s an oasis away from the
“And everything we surround ourselves with has meaning behind it, for the most part,” Shaun chimed in.
One highlight is a Nashville sign, which is where Shaun lived previously and where the couple got married. All of the listed places have a special memory.
Another sign sits on a shelf above the fireplace with the line, “She’s whiskey in a teacup.”
“We first held hands in a place called Whiskey Kitchen,” Shaun explained.
The fireplace was created by Junck, and it has custom plug-ins built in for media. Since the Johnsons only have the occasional “movie night,” they wanted to find a solution to cover it.
“Her dad hand-crafted a shelf and hung it up,”
Mary added, “And it’s magnetic, so we didn’t have to drill any holes to the metal of the fireplace.”
Since Shaun’s holiday tour begins early November, the Johnsons decorate their Christmas tree in October.
“It’s a little cheesey, but Mary calls me her ‘songbird,’ so she found that print with the bird with glasses and gave it to me.”
Right off of the living room is the master bedroom.
Eyes are drawn right to the electric fireplace, but it’s hard to ignore the Emmy displayed casually on the shelf above it.
“I didn’t put the Emmy out, that’s Mary,” Shaun said bashfully.
“He had that down in our closet, and I’m sorry, that needs to be displayed,” she said. “He hates that it’s out, but it’s a huge accomplishment.”
The framed print next to it is of a ferris wheel with a sun-kissed sky in the background. Shaun explained that it was just a random print, but they purchased it because of how it made them feel.
“We liked that because we travel a lot as a family, and I think it reminded me of places we’ve been,” he said. “We’re going to London soon, and we recently went to Las Vegas and Phoenix. We like exploring Sioux Falls as well. We just want to expose them to as many experiences as possible.”
Mary explained the design inspiration behind where they rest their heads. “When we’re in larger cities, we like finding more off-the-beaten path and boutique-style hotels, so we wanted to create our room like some of those places that we’ve stayed.”
Several journals sit on the bedside table. While most can vouch they hardly write in journals they buy, Mary said they actively use them to communicate and show small signs of adoration.
“Since Shaun travels so much, we have these running mini journals,” she said. “If he leaves at 4 a.m., I’ll wake up and find one somewhere in the house with a little note from him. They’re by the bed often, because when he’s gone, I’ll jot some things down and leave it somewhere for him to find.”
She continued, “Our relationship started as friends and being pen pals, so writing has always been super important in our relationship, and we keep that theme going.”
Boxing gloves hang in the couple’s bedroom from a band photoshoot.
Last, but not least, is where the (music) magic happens.
“This is where Shaun does a lot of his work when he’s working from home,” Mary said.
“This is for demos, and we sell songs for other people,” he said.
With over 2 million records sold, and the Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience blowing up, he’s most definitely keeping busy.
“They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum with all vocal with Tonic Sol-fa, and then all of the instruments you can fit on the stage with Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience.”
More songwriting awards are tucked away in the home office, including the induction into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.
“It’s whatever,” he waved away, flustered by the attention.
As we walk out to the area that must be where “movie night” takes place, the couple chats about the open possibilities of what they’ll do with their new space downstairs.
“As we go, we’ll figure out what to do,” Shaun said.
The four bedroom, three bathroom house is continuously growing as they finish the basement.
“We haven’t really gotten to this because we just put the floor in,” Shaun said.
What is most definitely finished is Kat and Gigi’s room. Any child would be jealous of their large space, which includes a bunk bed, art center, and play area.
“With the two girls sharing, we wanted to make sure this room was really nice and big for them, because we didn’t want them to be jealous of their baby sister’s room,” Mary said. “Since they’re so close in age, we really wanted them to have fun sister time.”
The art center was a must for the couple, since they have both utilized that in their careers.
“With Shaun in music and me in design, we really wanted to make a space for creative work. The arts have really helped mold us,” Mary said.
Kat walked over to their shelving in the middle of the room. “On the shelves we have some chapter books of series, and we like playing with Legos, so we have some Legos.”
The Lego sets are meticulously assembled, including a tour bus and sailboat.
Décor strewn throughout is from all over.
“We’re big on if you find something you really love, grab it, and don’t just try to fill space and shelves,” Mary said.
“This is our cactus, Rose,” Kat said in reference to one shelf.
Gigi corrected, “This is Rose Number Three.”
Kat explained, “We had one that we watered too much, so it died, and the second one we accidentally dropped and it splattered, but we’re hoping this one is safe.”
In the corner is a chalkboard with the line, “You are loved.”
“Mary always does that,” Shaun said. “When we were in the loft on Phillips, she had this in the living room, so when we would come home, there would be a message or art to greet everyone.”
Now with Shaun fully in tour mode, it reminds them of why they chose their modern utopia.
“We like not having a lot of things and clutter, the girls not having an overabundance of toys,” Mary said. “I think with Shaun’s crazy schedule and after we’re all finally together, we want minimal upkeep to just enjoy each other.”
For more information on Tonic Sol-fa and to reserve your tickets, visit tonicsolfa.com.