Justina Blakeney has always embraced the “magic in the mix.”
Her father is Black, her mother is Jewish. This cross-pollination of ethnicities and cultures were reflected throughout her childhood home in Berkley, California, where West African masks and Ethiopian paintings coexisted with havdalah candles, mezuzahs, and hallah plates.
“When I started to write this book, I really wanted to get to the bottom of why I feel good when I’m in spaces that are decorated in a particular way,” she tells me from her Los Angeles home.
“It’s really about tapping into your roots, heritage and travels—the things that have inspired your journey along the way—taking note and then bringing those elements into your home when you’re ready to decorate.”
In her latest release, Jungalow: Decorate Wild, the New York Times best-selling author illustrates how influences from every person’s life can be the catalyst for unleashing their individual style.
Before we get into your latest release, Jungalow: Decorate Wild, which is absolutely gorgeous, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, how are you really doing Justina?
Justina Blakeney: Gosh, you know, it depends on the day. Today, I’m feeling really blessed. I definitely have been busy and I like being busy, it keeps my mind off of everything that’s going on in the world, which sometimes is necessary. I’m trying to stay positive.
How’s the new crib #JungalowByTheMountain coming along?
The house is fun. We’re waiting on permits to do the major remodeling stuff, everything is really backed up in L.A. due to COVID. So in the meantime, we’re doing the things that don’t require a permit. It’s going to be a long road. My husband and I have a mantra that we say together when we’re talking about the house, just to remind us that we’re not in a big rush. So we’ll just look at each other when we’re feeling stressed and say, “slow roll.”
To be able to buy a fixer upper and turn it into our dream home is exciting. I really want to luxuriate in the process and enjoy it.
Smart approach. Now, back to Jungalow: Decorate Wild, which is part design guide/part memoir, how is this book different from your two previous titles?
An easy way to explain it is, the first book, The New Bohemians, lays out the what’s. What’s the aesthetic? What’s the style? The second book, The New Bohemians Handbook, addresses the how’s. How do I do this? How do I get this look? And Jungalow: Decorate Wild is about the why’s.
When I started to write this book, I really wanted to get to the bottom of my own style and why I feel good when I’m in spaces that are decorated in a particular way.
It’s really about tapping into your roots, heritage and travels—the things that have inspired your journey along the way—taking note and then bringing those elements into your home when you’re ready to decorate.
When I was thinking about the way I decorate, I distilled it into color, pattern, plants and natural materials. In the book, these are referred to as wild imagination, but what it really means is that anything can be material if we drop the context with which we look at objects and start thinking about how these objects can serve us in some kind of way.
Ahh, Justina that’s good! When you individualize the process, it becomes less about trying to copy and paste someone else’s style and more about honing into your individual journey and brining those stories into your living space.
That’s it, you hit the nail on the head! That’s exactly what I wanted this book to do. It really isn’t about, here’s how you should decorate, it’s more, here are some things you can think about to help you reflect your own personality and heritage into your home.
Where would you advise readers begin?
In the Wild Imagination chapter, we talk about foraging in your own home. Think of it as kind of like shopping your closet and wearing stuff that you haven’t worn in a while.
As a collector, sometimes I want to bring out pieces that I haven’t enjoyed in a minute.
Additionally, collect items that are inspiring to you in the moment. I’ll go for nature walks and pick up stones, leaves and flower petals. When I get home, I’ll arrange them and create different mood boards with color inspiration. This gives me a jumping off place to say, these are the colors I want for this room, these are the colors that I’m drawn to when I’m out in the wild.
Maybe I’ll take a leaf to Home Depot to color match or maybe it’s more abstract and I’m creating this collage and when I’m shopping, I’m thinking, I want the deep red of this leaf and I want to combine it with this rusty orange that I found.
Quiet your mind and think about the last time that you felt at peace or really invigorated. When you connect the color to these emotional experiences, it makes for a more beautiful and authentic space.
You’re an advocate of self-expression. Have you always been confident and expressive, or did you have to work at that?
I really believe confidence takes practice. It’s not a binary. As I continue to practice things, I get more confident with them.
If you’re trying to make more bold decisions with your home decor, I think it helps to start small and see what really brings you joy. Switch out the throw pillows on your sofa or hang different art on the walls and see how it makes you feel when you pass by throughout the day. Tune into your emotional responses and adjust the dial accordingly.
But you’re not going to really know until you live with it for awhile, It’s like a new boyfriend. You gotta try it out.
Hahaaa! Very true. So, we must take a moment to highlight the book’s principal photography, which is exclusively by Dabito, correct?
Yes! He’s such an incredible talent. Dabito is my work husband and one of my best friends. We’ve collaborated for a decade on creative projects. I’m so lucky to be able to work with him and grow together in the home decor world.
Most of the travel photography is mine, but all of the interiors are his work. His home is actually featured in the book as well. He’s such a gift.
It’s so visually stunning and stimulating. It’s hard to stop turning the pages. Everything is a moment, even the chapter breaks, which is rare.
That means so much to me! Thank you so much, Metanoya, for getting the book. That was my hope. Once ‘Rona hit, I really wanted to be able to take people somewhere, transport them, so sharing that means a lot to me.
Of course! Ok, let’s shift gears for a bit. Given you’re one of the most influential women in modern bohemian design, what are you top Boho Essentials for outdoor patio vibes this summer?
Outdoor rugs are a must! I love bringing them into a patio or a backyard because it creates an outline of a room. If you have a larger yard and you’re trying to create a seating area, they create intimacy immediately.
Cozy furnishings that are lightweight and easy to move are key too. With social distancing, you might want to reconfigure your outdoor spaces depending on who’s coming over.
The easiest way to really create magic in your backyard is with twinkle lights—wrapping them around trees creates an instant vibe.
I love delineating outdoor spaces with plants, which is a really great way to create sort of visual barriers between places. If you want to create a kid zone, you can delineate the area with potted plants.
And finally, outdoor games, like a fun bowling set or different activities that adults can enjoy too.
When we last spoke, we touched on the lack of diversity in interior design and envisioned a future that was much more inclusive. Following the racial uprisings of 2020, it seems like the spotlight is finally on interior design talent of color. How do you feel about the long overdue paradigm shift?
Listen, I’m excited. I’m seeing meaningful steps being taken by designers, retailers, TV shows, producers, magazines, effort being made in a way that I’ve never seen before. There has sort of been a fog lifted and this feels like an exhale.
There’s still a really long way to go but I do have a window into the corporate environments in the design space and change is happening. Hiring a black model is great, but we also need to be creative directors, art directors, behind the camera and in the creative rooms. I’m starting to see that happen and it’s a relief but we must keep fighting.
Metanoya Z. Webb is a multi-hyphenate creative, former lifestyle director at Essence, and an avid traveling mom who has visited more than 50 countries. Find her on Instagram and on her website.