In an age when minimalist, all-white, hygge-inspired home decor means that you’re on-trend, designer Justina Blakeney is bringing a different style to the table: bright colors, loud accents and plants galore.
“I consider my designs joyful,” Blakeney said in an interview with Know Your Value. “I can totally get behind minimalism, but it’s not the only style that’s chic and fun, and it’s not for everyone.”
Blakeney built a home design empire through Jungalow, where her small, all-female team sells her designs and sourced products. The Los Angeles-based brand is self-described as: “the one-stop-shop for bohemian-modern home decor and all things colorful, patternful and jungalicious.”
“My joy and fun is what made my brand successful,” Blakeney said. “My job is to get you decorating for yourself and what lights you up, not what’s on trend or what on TV. I get so many emails and DMs from people who thank me for giving them permission to express themselves the way they want to.”
Blakeney’s signature style is an apt metaphor for her career. When the world went left, Blakeney went right. Jungalow is only the latest stop for Blakeney.
“Enjoying my life is always a north star for me,” Blakeney said. “Whenever I feel like a job isn’t fun, I just need to pivot.”
Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Blakeney said her city’s hippy culture helped foster her artistic expression. Her parents were also extremely supportive.
“My parents were developmental psychologists and they understand the spirit of the artist,” Blakeney said. “I was allowed to paint murals on my walls growing up. I sewed my own curtains. We were allowed to move furniture around our house. They were always encouraging us to try things out, experiment and not to be afraid of what failure looks like.”
Her parents’ encouragement extended to Blakeney’s biracial identity; she is half-Black, and half Eastern European Jewish.
“Diversity, black is beautiful, all of that stuff, I sort of grew up knowing that already,” Blakeney said. “Being a person of color, being a woman, I never thought of it as something that was holding me back. I always thought of it as an asset. I think the world is catching up to that, slowly.”
Blakeney, 40, graduated from UCLA knowing that she was going to work in the arts somehow. She landed in Italy, where she studied and worked in fashion. It wasn’t for her.
“I loved the creativity around concepting a collection, surface pattern design, the production around a fashion show, pulling together a photoshoot to tell a story around the clothing, but I really was nauseated by the industry and I sort of realized you can’t escape that,” Blakeney said. “I thought, what else can I do that has the sort of things that light me up, but where it’s not in the same universe?”
Blakeney spent two years in New York, then relocated to L.A., where she remains today. She released three books about sewing and upcycling. Slowly, Blakeney started to catch the interior design bug.
“People started reaching out to me to design their homes. Never one to shy away from a fun challenge, I would tell people ‘I’m not really an interior designer, but if you’re down to experiment with me, I’m down to try it.’ It snowballed from there,” Blakeney said.
Blakeney launched Jungalow in 2009 and developed a following on Instagram. For years, Blakeney worked for clients directly to redesign their homes and offices.
“I hated it,” she said. “It wasn’t creative anymore. I felt like I had a boss and my boss was my client and I never wanted to have a boss….I don’t like being beholden to a particular industry.”
Blakeney pivoted one last time (maybe), and devoted her passion to the Jungalow brand, where she can create designs, act as an influencer, and work as creative director. Jungalow offers tips and sells products that include Blakeney’s designs. She has six employees.
Blakeney has also written more books, including the 2015 New York Times Bestseller, “The New Bohemians: Cool & Collected Homes.”
Blakeney’s disruptor qualities delight her fans. Sometimes, however, the established home design industry raises its collective eyebrows at her very existence, she said.
“There are these established channels, and I’ve defied all of them,” Blakeney said. “I’m not trained. I don’t even call myself an interior designer. I’m a designer and artist. Everything about the way I came up in this industry is non-conventional.”
Unfortunately, Blakeney finds that in her industry she’s often the only woman of color in the room.
“It’s getting better, but home design is still homogeneous,” Blakeney said. “I am very light-skinned. I’ve been at dinners at industry events when people are being blatantly racist and they don’t know I’m black...It’s very exhausting. I feel a lot of little microaggressions when I go to events, people touching my hair, asking something inappropriate. I get tired.”
However, she encouraged women of color to get into home design, citing recent developments like the formation of Black Interior Designers Network.
“The landscape and the culture is changing really fast, so I wouldn’t let any of that inhibit you from your dreams,” she said. “My heart goes out to women of color in this space because we’ve been ignored for so long and there’s so much talent.”