Teluna founder Diana Johnson lives in an urban jungle. Each room in her new Reston home has at least four plants. There’s a bird-of-paradise tree in the living room. Her office looks out on a vegetable garden. Her favorite of the bunch? A cactus. “I love having it around the house,” says Johnson, who’s launching tea towels and other goods this season. “If [a plant] is in a print, it’s probably close enough for me to see it.”
Teluna, a textiles brand and design studio, is alive with art, pillows, cards, masks and clutches bearing Johnson’s playful, hand-painted takes on those spiky succulents and other patterns. Her work is inspired by travel and nature, whether it’s here in NoVA or in Southern California, where Johnson has fond memories of visiting her late grandmother, who also had a love of plants and gardening.
The Jacksonville, North Carolina-born Johnson, whose family eventually settled in Maryland, always had artistic inclinations. “When I was a child, I’d paint anything random in the house and sell it in the neighborhood,” she recalls. There were cornhole boards in high school and wine glasses and sorority T-shirts while studying graphic design and marketing at Salisbury University.
After college, Johnson worked at a graphic design firm in Maryland and freelanced on the side. She was intrigued by the idea of going out on her own. “I always knew I didn’t want to work for someone else,” she says. She landed in Arlington about four years ago, and she recently moved to Reston.
She chose NoVA for its network of artisans. “I was worried about not living directly in DC, but … the creative community is so much bigger than it seems.” Small gigs in the region gave her a look at the business side of retail. Teluna stemmed out of that in 2015 as a one-woman outfit. (In Spanish, “Tela” means fabric, and “una” means one.)
Five years later, it’s still a solo venture, but it has grown into a vibrant textile shop and design studio, and its products can be found at Steadfast Supply, Sophie Blake New York and Lou Lou boutiques. “I don’t even sell the products I started with,” she says.
Johnson has long had a penchant for tea towels, and she’s introducing a line of her own—just in time for the holiday season. “They’re good stocking stuffers,” she says. “I buy them every time I need a gift.”
She’s translating some of her prints to the towels, like her hand-lettered Proverbs 24:15 quote. She’ll start with three designs for the products, which are 100% cotton and have a sturdy texture.
Johnson’s also adding pillows in terra-cotta, green, tan and neutral hues to her latest line of products. “I’ve been leaning more toward natural colors and modern, minimalist designs.” She sewed a series of masks, too, crafting about 14 styles from existing patterns and fabric she already had in her studio. “It was easy to pivot,” she says of her mask sales during the pandemic. Because the design flowed from the textiles to the clutches, the masks became popular for accessorizing, she notes.
Her mixed-media pieces bear her acrylic paintings (cards and prints) or drawings done by hand. (She prefers acrylic for its bold color.) The designs are digitally printed using eco-friendly ink by her textile printer out of Durham, North Carolina; the business uses less than a thimble of water to print about five yards of fabric—traditional printing typically uses about 200 liters of water. It’s an important element for her.
“[I’m] an outdoorsy, wilderness-loving type of girl,” Johnson says. “Anything I can do to reduce [my impact], even if it’s small with my own little company, I’ll do it.”
Her digs in Reston put her closer to nature and places like Old Rag, a favorite hiking spot of hers even in the cooler months. This season, she’s also looking forward to experiencing the outdoor greenhouses set up by restaurants in the area.
Beyond that? Johnson hopes to expand into large-scale paintings. She wants to grow her custom design studio by licensing her art and working with companies as a surface pattern creator. She misses the graphic design aspect of collaborating with clients and building a relationship with them through her work. “It makes that person feel special,” she says. We can’t wait till it takes root.