Design Disruptor: Justina Blakeney

Live wildly.

Justina Blakeney
Photographed by Maria del Rio for Lonny.

Leave it to Justina Blakeney to turn a hashtag into a full-blown interiors movement. The blogger and New York Times bestselling author is responsible for coining the Instagram hashtag #jungalowstyle, which has over 200k tags and counting. She is easily one of our favorite plant-loving thought-leaders in the design space. We dig her unapologetic adoration of prints and color, and, of course, aspire to decorate with her "more is more" approach on the daily.

Give us the short story on how you got your big break in the design space.

"My sister and I started a business in Italy designing a line of purses after we graduated from fashion school. We stumbled upon a very small, cheap space and we decided to open a shop with vintage and upcycled wares along with things  our friends had made.

"We also started cutting up the t-shirts ,which flew off the shelves. It was then that the idea for a t-shirt cutting manual was born. Faith and I, along with some friends from fashion school, took turns (wo)manning the shop, drawing, cutting up shirts, writing the instructions, and scanning in the projects until 99 Ways To Cut, Sew, Trim, And Tie Your T-Shirt Into Something Special was born. We started with a local publisher, but after several features in Italian magazines and getting  constant inquiries from far-off places my sis had the brilliant idea to get an agent.

"With so much happening with the book and after almost seven years in Italy, I moved to Williamsburg and was shocked and excited to find a huge DIY movement blossoming in NYC. There was Etsy and Readymade Magazine and tons of shops so similar to ours in Italy, and BLOGS! After several jobs, which included freelancing as a DIY editor, working on more books, multiple graphic design jobs, collaborating on a clothing collection, hosting workshops at Etsy and Madewell — I moved back to LA. Soon after, the blog was born."

What do you offer that other sites don’t?

"I often find that people take design and home decor a little too seriously. At the Jungalow we have a lot of fun and encourage experimentation and playing to achieve a look that is vibrant and jungalicious."

What’s been the most rewarding project you’ve worked on to date?

"The New Bohemians. It allowed me to combine my skill-sets and interests, and enabled me to reach a lot of people — encouraging them to live wild and creatively. Plus, it was a ton of fun to work on!"

Tell us about a recent challenge and how you worked through it.

"We often get approached to do social media partnerships that aren’t quite in our wheelhouse. Especially when funds are tight it can be tempting to take on this kind of work, but over the years I’ve learned that it’s not worth it to compromise my integrity and the integrity of the brand for financial gain."

What’s one thing about the design industry you’d like to change?

"Hands down it would be the issue of diversity. For instance, the other day my team and I googled the top interior designers and the results were rather homogenous. The talent is out there, but it often goes unacknowledged."

On the flip side, what do you find really refreshing about the space?

"I think in many ways I am in uncharted territory. Normally only traditionally-trained interior designers get to do what I am doing right now. We’ve developed our own style that is proliferating around the world and the internet has democratized design and we’re loving it."

Justina Blakeney
Photographed by Maria del Rio for Lonny.

Do you have any pre-work rituals and if so, what are they?

"My pre-work rituals tend to change seasonally, but walking or biking to work gives me a moment to clear my head before starting the day."

How would you describe what you do to someone who's never seen your site?

"The Jungalow is the name of my home, design studio, and blog that celebrates color, pattern, and plants."

I often find that people take design and home decor a little too seriously.

What other professions did you consider and why?

"When I was in high school I wanted to be a singer. I also wanted to be a journalist, a diplomat, a teacher or work for a fashion magazine. I knew I wanted to work in the arts, and I knew I wanted to travel — but I didn’t know much else."

What advice do you have for people trying to enter the design space?

"First and foremost I'd say find your voice, find your vibe, and discover what sets you apart. Next I'd say do more listening than talking — the answers are all there if you're listening for them. Be open to new and different opportunities, take risks and do not fear rejection. If people say 'no' then take a deep breath and move on to the next thing. It's their loss. Ask for what you're worth, do your homework, be honest, be raw, be real, and be nice to people — and remember, what goes around comes around."

Is college needed — yes or no?

"Honestly, I just tell people to start doing it! Sure you can get an internship, or you could assist with someone, but if you want to, say, be a prop stylist, just start shooting pretty vignettes. I started getting requests to design homes because people saw the way I designed my own home and loved it. Plus, you get better by doing not by watching. Practice practice practice. Once you get good, add those hashtags. People will find you."

What’s next for you?

"There is a lot going on here at The Jungalow. Our team quadrupled and we are looking for a new studio space, we are launching an e-commerce shop later this month, The New Bohemian Handbook is going to be released later this year and more projects will soon be revealed."

 See the full list of Lonny’s design disruptors here.

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