Justina Blakeney is a California designer and artist who celebrates the joy in bold color, pattern and nature in her brand, Jungalow.
The author of the best seller “The New Bohemians,” Blakeney believes in self-expression and creativity, and the magic of plants. Her latest book, coming out in April, is called “Jungalow: Decorate Wild” and it will show how personal items from your own life can inspire a unique style. Blakeney says it’s OK to break the rules to come up with your own layered look based on your heritage and travels.
Blakeney joined The Washington Post for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: What do you do if you want to go a bit wild in your home style, but your partner is a bit of a stodgy traditionalist?
A: I can relate to this question, because my husband’s style is not quite as wild as mine. I like to find some common ground to start with; ours is plants. Next was homing in on colors we both love. We each gravitate toward blues and greens, so we agreed on a green kitchen backsplash with Moroccan zellige tile, but the rest of our kitchen is more neutral. Focus on places you love to travel to together. Zero in on what you both love about those places, and bring details from them into your home.
Q: Any tips for decorating a coffee table? I’m tired of the usual books and candles. I’m looking for something more creative and fun.
A: When I’m decorating, I first think about the activities I want that place to facilitate. What, ideally, would you like to do while sitting around your coffee table? Perhaps you like to play games. I’ve seen some beautiful game sets that are fun but can also be beautiful accent pieces. I love to include botanicals on my coffee table, because they bring me joy. We sometimes keep drawing supplies on our table, including a cup of colored pencils and pads of paper, to encourage creativity while we’re hanging out.
Q: I just bought my first place, and I now feel ready to make some decorating decisions. I love the idea of wallpaper and/or fun tile in the bathroom, but I’m not sure I’m ready to incur the cost and involved installation yet. What are some changes that make a big impact but don’t break the bank or involve major work?
A: Wallpaper used to be very involved and expensive, and, in most cases, required professional installation. But now there are many incredible options. Peel-and-stick varieties are affordable and easy to install on your own, especially if you pick a pattern with a forgiving repeat (where the pattern hides the seams). There is also Sure Strip wallpaper, which is installed with water instead of wallpaper paste; it’s easy to do it yourself, and the wallpaper comes off in one piece if you decide you want to switch things up. Textiles can also have a big impact. In a bathroom, a bold shower curtain and fun, colorful towels (I love Turkish fouta towels) can do a lot to enliven a space. Plants can also help. A big statement tree will make all the difference in a bedroom or living room.
Q: What’s your process for making final decisions about the pieces you’ll have in your home and committing to colors, materials and textures?
A: I start with material boards. I pull paint and wallpaper swatches, tile, hardware finish colors and more all together on a big whiteboard. I do one board for each room. I allow myself some time to play with the materials and experiment with different combinations of colors, textures and finishes. Once I’ve found a combination I like and my husband signs off, I pull the colors and materials into Photoshop and create a rudimentary rendering of the space using a photo of the room. I mock it up to get a sense for what the “after” will look like. This process takes time, and I often go through dozens of combinations before finding the right ones, but it’s also really fun.
Q: My bedroom is really boring. Please give me some ideas on how to get a bit wild in there.
A: Start with some fun, colorful bedding and a few colorful throw pillows. You can also drape pretty fabrics over your headboard for an instant jolt of color. I love suzani quilts, for example. Funky bedside lamps and plants at different heights (floor, table, ceiling) will do wonders to make your space come alive.
Q: I love your aesthetic. I’m also a world traveler, and I’ve picked up many one-of-a-kind items. I’ve also inherited items from family members, which means I have too much stuff. How do you manage potential clutter/having too many things? How do you store items for rotating displays?
A: This is an ongoing struggle. I’m pretty ruthless about editing and keeping the “flow” of beautiful pieces coming in and going out of my home. I remind myself that passing items on to people I love brings me equal amounts of joy (and sometimes more joy) than keeping them for myself. I have a few items I plan to keep forever, but otherwise, I am always editing. I like to think of my home as ever-changing and evolving. Pieces come and go, and I enjoy them until someone else gets a chance to enjoy them. We have put in lots of built-in shelving for storage. We use wall space to create niches with added storage, and floating shelves can also be helpful. Where there’s a wall, there’s a way.
Q: Where can I find interesting textiles? I’d like to order some items to layer on my sofas.
A: I love Etsy, eBay and Chairish for fun, vintage textiles. Learning the names for different textiles from around the world can help with your search; it’s wonderful to learn more about the people and histories behind the textiles. My favorite keywords include Dogon indigo, kantha, suzani, Otomi and Hmong embroidery.
Q: How do you organize caring for your indoor houseplants? I’m sure some have to be watered weekly and others more often.
A: I don’t follow a schedule when it comes to my plant-watering regimen. I’m in constant communication with my plants the way I’m in constant communication with my cat, Cous Cous. If I notice a plant is looking wilted, I’ll stick my index finger in the soil. If it’s dry, I give it a drink of water. This way, I’m watering a few plants every day instead of watering plants with wildly different needs on a set schedule. This practice helps ensure the plants don’t get overwatered, because that’s often the death of houseplants.
Q: Your shower curtains are amazing. What an inexpensive way to brighten up a boring white bathroom! Where did your inspiration come from for your prints, and will you have more items with Target?
A: My inspiration for prints comes from many different places. I collect vintage books and magazines, and I keep a travel watercolor set in my purse in case inspiration strikes when I’m on the go. I glean tons of inspiration from nature; Los Angeles is a wonderful place to live for this. As for more items from Target, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Q: Do you have any ideas for unconventional artwork over a bed?
A: I love to hang textiles, wall hangings and colorful baskets over a bed. African baskets from Burundi are some of my favorites.
Q: My living room desperately needs a makeover. Do you recommend starting with painting, wallpaper and textiles before furniture? Or can a sofa, for instance, dictate the rest of the style? Like you, I also love color and texture.
A: I recommend starting with one item you absolutely love that’s staying in the room and building off that piece. It could be a rug, art, a paint color, a sofa, anything. You can use that piece to inform the overall style or feel of the space, and colors will build from there.
Q: A neighbor’s large, lush tree blocks our southern exposure in the summer. It hangs over our fence line, onto our property. Because of the location of the tree to both homes, and a community fence, it’s not financially feasible to trim it back. Is there anything that can be done? I keep a plant light on at night, but that doesn’t seem to do much.
A: When I’m trying to bring more sunshine into a space, I like to hang mirrors to help reflect light. Stringing cafe lights on or around the tree would bring a fun sparkle at night.
Q: I love houseplants, but I have cats that will ruin them. What should I do?
A: Hang the plants where the kitties can’t get to them. Stay away from plants that spill over the edge of the pot, and try structured, hanging planters that can keep the plants out of reach. Cactuses, with stones covering the soil, can also be an option; be sure to check the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’s website (aspca.org) to make sure the plants you choose aren’t toxic to cats.