Story by Lia Aprile and Photography by Claudia Lucia
I am a little bit in love with Justina Blakeney.
Not only is she a fierce interior, textile, and furniture designer with a huge following (side note: she just published a follow-up to her New York Times bestselling book, The New Bohemians, titled: The New Bohemians Handbook; Come Home to Good Vibes, which I can not put down) she is also the kind of woman who is unapologetically herself. She is magnetic. Her colorful dynamic designs and her zest for life are always inspirations. Whenever I feel I need a jolt of excitement, I head over to her blog, "The Jungalow."
- Rachel Pally
Part of what you're known for is your "you-ness." You’ve described it as your "Justina-ness." Is that kind of self-expression harder to maintain as you get more well known?
I actually think the opposite. It's easier to maintain, because the more well known I become, the more it validates my feeling confident about my "Justina-ness." It's a lot easier to be insecure when your shit's not going well!
I did a little bit of modeling, for example, in college. I found myself feeling insecure, trying to change my body type, trying to be someone who I wasn't. But I think what saved me was my cultural background. I'm half-black, half-Jewish, and both of those cultures have a slightly different outlook on body size than the dominant culture does here in the United States.
I was thinking about it this morning, actually, about how Black and Jewish cultures name women who are I guess we would call it "curvy.” In Yiddish, the word is "zaftig" which translates to "juicy." In Afro-American culture it would be something like: “thick.” Which is not really something you hear a white person say: "She's thick."
But those names aren’t offensive. They have a positive connotation.
I think seeing someone standing confidently in their own skin allows those witnessing to do the same. Do people respond to you in that way?
Absolutely. I think the quality that resonates most for other women, is my confidence. I've thought quite a bit about where it comes from, because when I look around I see so many women who are so hard on themselves. Even with my girlfriends, I look at them and think, “You’re beautiful, you’re successful, you’re an amazing mom...you're all the things that you are!” But instead of focusing on that, they focus on the things they aren’t as thrilled about.
It just doesn't seem productive to me to be that way.
You’re like the Beyoncé of interior design.
That's not the first time I've heard that! [Laughs]
You also talk about cultivating “wildness” in your design and in your life. I think a lot of women have their wildness tamed at some point, and I'm wondering how you avoided that?
I don't think I did. I think I'm managing to avoid it more and more.
Most of my all of my success, really is due to how my parents raised me, and how they let me be me. They're also both developmental psychologists, so they have an unfair advantage!
There’s also an element to the way I look that has always made me seem wild. I look wild on the outside. I have a white mom, and she did not know how to deal with my hair. And I never really learned myself! So I’ve always had this unbridled wild hair. And because I'm really tall and thick, or "zaftig" or whatever you want to call it, I come across as one of these exotic “wild” women.
I think a lot of people imagine that they are or could be good at decorating their own home, but they don't know where to begin. What do you tell people in that position?
What I've discovered over the years of doing this work is just what you said: people don't know where to start. They get very overwhelmed by choices. I've decorated a lot of people's homes where I walk in and there's just a mattress on the floor and all white walls. I’ll ask, "Oh, you just moved here?" And they’ll respond, "No, I've been here for two years. [Play screams] " “Ahhhh!”
There really is a paralysis that can set in.
I wrote my new book with that problem in mind. I wanted to give readers more help, to help them unpack what their vibe is. “Vibe” is a very ephemeral thing when you think about it in the abstract. It's different for everybody, and I reject the way that some designers have a formulaic plan for how someone is going to live well. It's really up to you to learn your habits and your rituals, and then you can design around them.
That doesn't mean that you can't have help from a designer, but ultimately I feel like you have to get to know yourself in order to figure out how home décor can help you live your life.
How does décor do that? How does it affect your life?
Regardless of whether you realize it, what you're surrounded by affects your well-being and your quality of life. It can happen on a very conscious level, and it can happen on a very subconscious level. Once you are in a place that lights you up and that makes you feel good...your whole life becomes better.
Now I'm just going to ask you some quick and dirty questions.
Go for it.
What is your favorite thing in your closet right now?
It’s a Rachel Pally jumpsuit. It’s my travel uniform, and it’s the most comfortable thing I own. It has pockets, and when I put it on I feel instantly comfortable and instantly chic.
I’ve been wearing Rachel Pally for 15 years. I was wearing one of her pieces on the cover of Sunset Magazine last year. I’ve had the pleasure to wear her line during a lot of meaningful moments in my life.
Do you have a morning ritual?
People always ask me that, and I think the most honest answer is, "Not really." [Laughs] I mean, my morning rituals change so much depending on the different stages of my daughter's life. I'm also not a very ritualistic person. I'll start something and like the idea of doing it, but it just won’t happen every day.
What if I ask it this way: do you have a touchstone? Something you have to check-in with in order to ground yourself in your day?
Coffee! I wish it were more glamorous! I wish I were talking to crystals or something...