There are few American ventures more prized than ownership of a professional football team, and businessman Jimmy Haslam joined that elite club in 2012 when he bought the Cleveland Browns. Financially, he’s had success. On the field, the team has struggled. Change was in order. And in the executive suite of family-owned sports teams, that often means more family.
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The Johnsons quickly bought a 1927 brick house—nine bays wide, with seven bedrooms and nine baths—on two acres in Shaker Heights, an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, and enlisted Suzanne Kasler, the noted Atlanta-based decorator. Like her clients, Kasler is not orthodox; in a single room, she can combine periods and produce striking wall treatments that are, above all, comfortable environments. In the Johnsons’ new home, she found a house that had been “gracefully updated,” allowing her to focus on a master plan.
The dining room was close to the entrance, and it was the room you walked through to get to the living room; it would, she sensed, work better as a family room, so she used a hand-wash to tone down the yellow wallpaper, and it looked as if it had always been the most welcoming room in the house. The living room was huge, ideal for the entertaining that the Johnsons planned to do. Kasler chose white sisal carpet and childproof fabrics, “but if something spills...well, rooms get better with age.” She created a library that JW has commandeered as his office, and she lacquered a closet and made it a bar. Upstairs, she added a very welcome laundry and expanded a closet for Whitney. “We wanted to make the house younger and more stylish,” Kasler says, “and we did.”
The test of a family home is in the living, which, in this case, never stops. (“School is over by June, football starts in July,” Whitney notes.) Each boy has his own bedroom, but they prefer to sleep in the same room. “They really are like triplets,” Whitney says. “Putting them to bed is never a one-and-done. It’s a process every night.”
“Whitney keeps a pristine, edited, tailored house,” Kasler says. Yes, to a point. Cleveland winters can be long. Happily, so is the foyer, which serves as a “sports hub” for Nerf football and Nerf dodgeball and a construction zone for Lego towers and castles. There is a playroom in the basement that was intended for these activities, and the boys do use it, but “there’s nothing nice about it,” Whitney says.
She still works at Pilot Flying J; she is also involved with the team. Her husband is now deep in the business side of the organization. The Johnsons remain jugglers, but the absence of planes and separations gives them time to make a real contribution to the Browns. “We spend our days thinking about new ways to have success on the field and off,” Whitney reports. It is still an uphill climb—the Browns have never been to the Super Bowl. But the Johnsons declare victory every night when they come home.
This story originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Decor