Going Boldly: Jungalow Founder Justina Blakeney Shares Her Signature Home Style Lessons
Artist, entrepreneur, and travel enthusiast Justina Blakeney believes every room needs three things to reach its potential (and help you reach yours): plants, pattern, and color. In her third book, Jungalow: Decorate Wild, she teaches how to layer those elements like a pro. Start here with a few of her style—and spirit-freeing—lessons.
When I started Jungalow over a decade ago, I had just moved into a 1920s bungalow court (multi-unit housing that surrounds a central courtyard) in Los Angeles. After my 10 years of living with the cobblestone and concrete of Florence, Italy, and Brooklyn, front-door access to a little bit of sunshine and greenery was a welcome change.
I felt revived by the sight of fluttering butterflies; the sounds of singing birds; the scent of citrus trees, lavender, and rosemary; and the feel of the warm sun on my face as I sipped my morning chai on the front porch. I invited these outdoor feelings inside by bringing in bamboo shades, botanical wall coverings, and lots and lots of plants. I converted those 500 square feet into a creative laboratory. It was the first time I had ever lived alone, and I leaned into the freedom of not having to compromise with parents, roommates, or boyfriends about my design choices. I furnished it with reimagined curbside finds and embarked on a series of DIY projects that turned the space into a spiraling kaleidoscope of color and pattern. It was wild.
For me, Jungalow represents the idea that a home is not just for living, but a place for making and doing. It's like a garden. It must be cultivated to create the conditions for healthy growth. Now, perhaps more than ever, it's so much more than a place to keep your belongings and take shelter. It is a sanctuary, a school, an office, a studio, a gym, a spa.
Like plants, we are all anchored and nourished by our roots. I'm Black and Jewish, or "Blewish," as I like to say. My childhood home in Berkeley, California, reflected my parents' different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Mezuzahs and menorahs mingled with West African masks. Havdalah candles and challah plates were proudly on display, and above the fireplace mantel hung a giant surrealist painting from Ethiopia. At home, our "mixed-ness" was all I knew. It was comfortable, fun—beautiful, even. But outside in the world, things were different. People tried to categorize me and wanted me to categorize myself. Looking back, I can see that I was born of repeated blendings of ethnicity, class, and culture. It's essential to who I am, and I am not alone. People and practices mix all the time. And I believe that we are better off because of it.
My experiences have formed me just as much as my parents' influence. I will be forever grateful to my grandmother Bette, a travel agent who proselytized travel to any willing ear and organized elaborate trips for me and 22 of my closest relatives. I never lost the adventure bug I got from her. I lived in Italy for seven years during and after college, and ventured through Europe from there. By the time I turned 30, I had spent time in Madrid and Marrakech, Copenhagen and Córdoba, Jakarta and Jerusalem. Because of my heritage and travels, I've always felt at liberty to experiment with home décor. I believe that's what creativity is all about. In these lessons, my aim is to help others find their own magic in the mix.
Blakeney's third book, Jungalow: Decorate Wild ($28.49, amazon.com), is out now. For more inspiration, follow her on Instagram: @justinablakeney, @justinablakeneyhome, and @thejungalow.
Excerpted from the new book Jungalow: Decorate Wild, by Justina Blakeney. Published by Abrams. Text © 2021 Justina Blakeney. Principal photography by Dabito.
Forage for Colors
To home in on a palette for a project, I like to go on a walk and collect items based on their color. Pick up a full rainbow, or a few hues that capture a feeling. Back at your place, arrange everything on a solid-colored surface, and remove any pieces that stand out in a bad way. Then look for themes. Do any hues look particularly good together? Add some metallics—a brass bangle, a copper dish—to see which finishes work well. Once your mood board is complete, take a photo, and use it as a guide when picking out paint or shopping for rugs, furniture, or that perfect duvet cover.
Bring the Outside In
Plants are not simply beautiful, natural forms—they are fellow living beings. Visiting botanical gardens is one of my favorite pastimes, but you don't need to travel to get inspired. Scouting for plants at local nurseries and in your neighborhood helps you identify not only which ones you like, but also which might thrive at your home. Tune in to the happiest plants when you're out in the world, and take note of their lighting and moisture conditions, as well as their containers. Inside my home, spear-like sansevieria and vivid croton thrive in areas with indirect light, like this corner of my office under my mood board.
Let Travel and Culture Inspire Your Décor
In the entryway of the L.A. home of Dabito, the photographer for all three of my books, a ceremonial headdress called a juju (or tyn), worn on special occasions by chiefs of the Bamileke people in Cameroon, hangs over a canvas with a carved wooden face from the Philippines. The Wallshoppe wallpaper is a Chris Benz design inspired by indigo-dyed fabric from Mali. Dabito bought the spoon in Cape Town, South Africa.
Mix Styles You Love
Some of my apartments in Italy were modern, and some were downright medieval, but I loved how they all used natural materials like stone, marble, granite, travertine, limestone, and wood. I also adore tropical environments I've visited, like the Indonesian rainforest. To combine these styles in my L.A. design studio, I used pieces like this modern hardwood coffee table, with inlays reminiscent of pietra dura, a popular 16th-century Italian mosaic technique that spread to India, where it even decorated the Taj Mahal. It's a great example of how one item can contain ideas and materials from diverse cultures.
Pro tip: Do you like the look of graphic tile, but installing it right now just isn't going to happen? Emulate the effect with a large rug in high-contrast colors.