Justina Blakeney is a life-long traveler. Growing up, she and her parents often traveled far from their home in Berkeley, California, to destinations like Mexico and Israel. When she was 13, they lived in Switzerland for a year. And following college, she spent seven years in Italy.
These experiences influence her approach to decor, both in her home and with her lifestyle brand, Jungalow. In the months since the pandemic took hold in March, she’s had to stay put. A lack of travel has left her feeling a bit claustrophobic. But it’s also ignited a deeper appreciation for home.
“I’ve always really appreciated my home and put a lot of love and energy into it, because that’s sort of my vibe,” says Blakeney, an artist, interior designer, and entrepreneur. “But, I will say that I am surprised that I’m not more tired of my home. You know how if you wear the same thing every day you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m tired of this outfit?’ I’m not feeling that way about my house. I’ve sort of been just tickled pink about how fun it is to be home.”
Blakeney’s 2015 book, The New Bohemians: Cool and Collected Homes , is centered around the idea that a home serves many different purposes. “It discusses how all of a sudden your home is an art gallery, or it’s a pop-up restaurant, or it’s a home office, or a nursery school,” says Blakeney. “And now I’m looking back and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, now more than really ever before, people’s homes have really become so, so, so multi-faceted.’”
At about 1,000 square feet, Blakeney’s home is relatively small. But that’s been more than enough space to live comfortably with her husband, Jason, and daughter, Ida. “It’s been a wonderful little sanctuary for us in this time,” says Blakeney. “I recognize my privilege in this scenario: We’ve got a beautiful little garden and an outdoor shower, and I’ve got these simple pleasures that are bringing me a lot of joy. I’m extremely grateful for that.”
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How Justina Blakeney turns a house into a home
“I think of home as an extension of myself in so many different ways,” says Blakeney. “As someone who’s always gravitated toward all different fields in the creative world, where I live and my environment greatly affect how I am in the world. Home is just such a natural place for me to express my creativity.”
In addition to her travels, her multi-cultural heritage inspires much of her approach. “It’s important to draw on inspiration from so many different cultures around the world because I grew up in a very mixed household,” she says. “In learning about my own heritage and the power of my Black ancestry and the power of my Jewish ancestry, that has fostered so much self-respect for me, and a sense of respect for other cultures, as well. As we learn about our own heritage, that can easily bleed into learning about others, and hopefully foster more intercultural communication, interpersonal communication, and a healthier environment and a healthier society where there’s mutual respect.”
Blakeney always makes sure to bring something home from her travels, whether it’s ideas and inspiration or physical objects. “I collect art from every location that I visit in the world,” she says. She credits a trip to Indonesia, when she was 10, for her love of textiles. “I got to visit batik factories and see people making textiles,” she says. Morocco is a place she returns to again and again for inspiration. And earlier this year—pre-pandemic, of course—Blakeney visited India for the first time. There, she fell in love with the Rajasthani miniature paintings, which have been informing her work, whether she’s designing wallpaper or doing the painting herself.
Blakeney’s Bohemian aesthetic may draw influences from all over the world, but she’s careful to credit the cultures that inform her style. Presenting rattan baskets and tasseled poufs without greater explanation or an appreciation of their history is a form of cultural appropriation. Using “boho” as a catchall phrase for anything “ethnic” erases a lot of cultural history, she says. That’s why Blakeney, who studied world arts and cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, looks at art and design through the lens of sociocultural anthropology.
“Half of the beauty of a room or a place that you’re going to create is the stories that its objects hold,” says Blakeney, who makes a point of learning more from the vendors and artists she buys from. “I love buying handmade art, and I have collections of watercolors from different countries around the world. These kinds of things, it’s not just art. It’s a story, it’s a narrative—and that holds so much beauty.”
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Justina Blakeney’s tips for getting the most out of your home decor
Blakeney says that too often people view their homes as a static places. But they don’t have to be. “To me, a home is really a dynamic place that is living, and breathing, and growing with you and your family,” she says. “Once you can start thinking about home in those terms, it frees up that feeling of being locked in somewhere.”
Shake things up with your decor
“Allow yourself to make changes,” she says. “Move your furniture around, switch a room. We’ve switched rooms several times in our home since the pandemic started.” Her home office has shifted from her garage—or casita, as she calls it—to her TV room. “My husband and daughter wanted to practice their instruments [in the garage] during the day, and we only watched TV at night. So, I moved my office to the TV room, and it’s amazing how just shifting the room where I’m working has completely revitalized me. It’s a very different temperature in there, a very different light. It feels like I’m in a different space.”
Make your space feel alive by filling it with plants
“Our edible garden has been an incredible way for us to witness the magic of Mother Nature this summer. And watching our tomatoes explode overnight, it’s just so exciting,” she says. “Gardening is an activity where your hands are in the soil, and you’re going outside. So, even if you just have a small balcony or a small patch of outdoor space, or all you’ve got is a little window, you can still bring a plant into your home and foster well-being that way. Plants are living and growing, so they bring a different energy into the home than a fake plant or a sculpture.”
Curate your home to reflect the kind of life you want to live, not just your current habits
“Since I have begun working from home, my screen time has totally skyrocketed. I mean, I was already tied to my screen, but working from home has made it way worse,” says Blakeney. “I’m making a conscious effort to turn off my phone, to move my plugs into strategic places in my home, that sort of thing. It’s so important to design your home around how you want to feel and how you want to be. And now I feel more connected to my own creativity than I have in the past, because I’m drawing and I’m painting every day. I’m writing, I’m reading.”
Transform your home into a space that you love, and the benefits are endless
“When your space really supports you, it’s like being in a healthy relationship,” she says. “You can be in a relationship with a person who listens, who supports, who understands, who grows with you, and you know the value that that relationship can bring to your life—the same is true for your home.”
A space like that can help support your dreams, whether that means creating the perfect writer’s nook or a jewelry-making station. “Do I think you can succeed in life without having a home that does that for you? Sure, but it’s harder,” she says. “Home is another tool to be able to create a space that really fosters your well-being, that supports your dreams, that supports your daily routine and the activities that you want to facilitate throughout the day. And it makes your life better.”
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