Los Angeles interior designer Justina Blakeney has built up her following—1.4 million on her largest Instagram account alone—through an exuberant embrace of color, a love of foliage and natural materials, and by opening up about her life experiences as a Black woman. She’s the author of three titles (Abrams, all): 2015’s The New Bohemians, 2017’s The New Bohemian Handbook, and as of April, Jungalow, named for her lifestyle brand. She spoke with PW about the ways in which the pandemic has changed what people need and expect from their homes, and how that shift is helping feed the democratization of the design industry.
What are your readers seeking under the current circumstances?
The way we’re living during the pandemic is so intense and difficult, and we’re using our homes in very different ways. Right now, I’m in a makeshift home office in the TV room. In the evenings, I close my work area down, which is an important marker. We need our spaces to be multifunctional; you might need to turn your living room into a yoga studio or have an impromptu dance party with your kids. Flexibility is key.
You devote an entire chapter to bringing the outdoors inside—why is that important now?
Reconnecting with nature is a big part of my brand and ethos. All the things I already felt—we should invite nature into our homes more, we need more natural light and fresh air and plants—are exacerbated in the context of staying home. It’s more important than ever to create a home that feels healthy and supports wellbeing, whether it’s through bringing in houseplants, or textiles that give the sensation of the calm rhythm of the ocean—these can regenerate you in the same way going into nature can.
What are some common stumbling blocks to creating a more livable space?
I see people struggling with home decor; we were all sick of our homes before and now we’re staring at the walls and can’t leave. I also recognize that people become paralyzed when it comes to home decor choices. They don’t want to buy the wrong sofa because it’s an investment of thousands of dollars. But you can restyle a bookshelf or switch out a sconce. If you’re bored, try putting the sofa on a different wall—it’ll change the view, and you’ll notice different things out the window. There are so many things you can do to change the way a space feels.
Do you see this DIY ethos opening up the design industry?
The design industry has historically been exclusive and snobby, which is a barrier to entry. Sure, you can get a beautiful home if you’re wealthy, but you can also learn by trying, observing, spending time in a space. You can pick up a book to hold your hand through the process. I felt like an outsider in the design industry for so long—being a woman of color and navigating so many spaces where there were no other POC in the room. I hope telling my story might inspire people to dig into their own roots as well, to think about how to design their homes, find their histories and lineages, using their homes as a way to connect with family and ancestors and memories.