Join me as I get up close and personal with Julia of Julia Alexander Interiors as she spills the beans on what makes her tick and some expert tips for the interior designer on how you can de-clutter your home. Julia also reveals her success at home staging and where she gets her inspiration from. Read on for the big reveal!
When did your love for design and interiors begin?
At Primary School, the art teacher really nurtured my love of art and drawing; that was the starting point. I was always found drawing and designing as a child. Art sparked my imagination, which then evolved into a love for interiors and design. When I saved up to buy my first flat (many!) years ago, I remember being mesmerised by an article in a magazine (in the pre-historic day before Instagram) where a designer had made a DIY mirror by gluing feathers around the frame. I got very busy creating my version of the mirror. Although my visitors politely complimented my masterpiece, it looked more like an accident with a duster and some glue! DIY is not really my strength, but it did unleash my inner designer.
What inspired you to set up Julia Alexander Interiors?
After many years in the corporate world, I was made redundant at the start of the banking crisis in 2008. It gave me the push I needed to re-train and follow my creative passions. Several moves later, designing each of my properties, which were always doer-uppers, led to helping friends and family (funnily enough no-one commissioned a feathered mirror) which in turn led to more requests for design advice and sourcing. I was always really keen to make interior design affordable and accessible for all, and that definitely inspired me to set up my own business and try and change people’s views on interiors.
Is it possible to add a touch of luxury to a home on a budget?
Absolutely and possibly one of the challenges I enjoy most! It’s more about style, colours, layout and how you put it all together. The finishing details are so important too and where many people struggle. We have so much choice on the High Street now. If you source from as many different brands as possible, your home looks more luxurious and gives the impression of being curated over time. However I also really love hunting through charity shops and house clearances. Older pieces are usually well made and have interesting shapes, plus they give your home so much character. Personally I quite like some of this furniture as it can be contrasted with modern pieces. However, if it’s not your style, it’s very easy to pick up bargains and up-cycle them. There are plenty of ideas on Instagram and blogs on DIY projects.
Tell me more about the services you offer?
I’m based in North London and I offer a whole host of services for all budgets, in and around London. These range from design consultations and sourcing (eg lighting, furniture, accessories) to managing design projects and bringing in trades people. I also specialise in home staging – doing up properties for sale or rental on a minimal budget, to attract the right target market and make maximum returns. I work with the residential market and property developers. When I first began offering home staging, it wasn’t even classed as a service in the Yellow Pages (yes that’s how long ago it was and we’re talking paper version). In California, where home staging is said to have originated, most homes are staged before being sold. It still isn’t as widely practiced in the UK yet, but it is a rapidly growing market.
What advice would you give to someone looking to de-clutter their home?
De-cluttering is a really emotional process; it’s a bit like counselling! There are so many reasons we hold onto pieces, which explains why we resist doing it. It was a “bargain”, someone we love gave it to us, “I might use this one day”. One of the best pieces of advice I learnt from a Feung Shui expert was you should not hold onto a gift or inherited item out of obligation, if YOU don’t love it. Once someone gifts it to you, it’s yours to do what you want with it. Also don’t underestimate the power of de-cluttering. In Feung Shui, it is said that if you want to bring in new clients, clear your filing system to allow new ones in.
The key questions to ask yourself honestly when you are decluttering are:
“Do I love it?”
“Do I find it beautiful?”
“Is it useful – when was the last time I used it?”
If you really struggle, de-cluttering experts are amazing and can be very affordable. They put a long term solution in place to help you maintain an organised home.
What are your top tips for making a house look more presentable?
I always begin with layout – it’s the key staple ingredient. On most consultations, I can be found moving furniture around and away from walls! It’s amazing how even small tweaks change a room and give it a totally different feel. Experiment and try and review your layout with fresh eyes. Put furniture at angles. Layer up your design, clients are always worried about having too many pieces of furniture and keeping a home clutter-free, but it’s about the pieces you use and how you arrange them. Once you know where the sofa and seating is then you can look at finishing touches, like what sized rug is needed and where accent lighting should go.
Is it important for a room to have a personality?
The finishing details are usually the easiest way to make it your own. Artwork, accessories, rugs and shelfie décor! Where possible don’t rush it, live in your home for a while to work out the best layout for you or your family and curate it over time. Whatever your style, I recommend adding a vintage piece or up-cycled piece to every space. It adds so much personality and you can always find something that works for all design styles. It could be as simple as a framed vintage print. Styling can make all the difference to a room, too – I really enjoyed working on this room-set for Rockett St George. This was for another business I own called Alex and Bro where we ran a recent workshop for their fabulous team. However, I’ve got more to reveal on Alex and Bro later!
Tell me about some of your most successful projects?
I truly enjoy every project and the variety of my work. I love coaxing clients to try something different and bold that still works with their own style. To see someone go from shocked and hesitant at an idea to telling me once they have gone with it that they love it, is very rewarding!
A great example of a successful project was a family who asked me to stage their property for sale in order to get the best return possible to finance their next home. The property was tired and cluttered, the layout needed reassessing and it cried out for artwork, plants and accessories. We spent two weeks and about £5,000 doing it up, de-cluttering, painting and styling it for sale. Three estate agents valued the property at the same selling price before we worked on it, then two weeks later they all valued it at £100,000 more, after it had been staged. My client was delighted. The property sold promptly and I helped her design her new home. She then recommended me to some of her neighbours. I ended up working on properties on that street for a while afterwards!
Do you have any interior style don’ts?
When I work with clients, it’s about helping them find their style rather than imposing my design style on them. Part of the fun is getting to understand what they love and encouraging them to go for it. I’m a chameleon really. It means my work is incredibly varied in terms of styles and budget. From luxury town houses with lots of golds, indulgent materials and neutrals, a 1960s pad where the owners were keen to keep the original features and incorporate a nod to the 1960s, to country homes with dark décor and vintage pieces.
With regards to “interior don’ts” – I actually think there shouldn’t be too many rules as sometimes the most interesting designs break the traditional design rules and design is all about experimenting.
Having said that…short curtains and TVs over a fireplace are a no from me!
Tell me more about your workshops?
Well, I’ve already mentioned I have another business. This is with my business partner Tamara and it’s called Alex and Bro. We’re always asked if we are a man and his brother – the name actually comes from our surnames Julia ALEXander and Tamara BROido!
We run hands-on interior styling workshops where we give you some golden styling tips before providing a selection of homewares to style with. Then you get to have a go at being a designer. It’s very relaxed and fun and we keep the group size small to make sure participants get the most from the workshop. The workshops usually run in our homes, but we’ve also customised workshops for clients wherever they are based. This included the recent workshop we ran for the fabulous Rockett St George team. Our next workshop is 10-1pm Saturday, November 3rd in Muswell Hill. Get in touch with us if you would like to join us!
What are your thoughts on greenery?
Greenery is timeless, I love it and it can suit any type of decor. I’m not averse to the faux variety either! Especially for more oversized plants to add a bit of drama. Generally I tend to mix faux and real. My tip for faux is to stick to the leaves and plants which tend to look more realistic at all price points, also putting them in a different pot (to the one it comes with) or inside an interesting basket can make them look more realistic and fabulous. I also love collecting glass jars, bottles and vessels and adding in leaves and foliage from the garden; it’s such an easy affordable way to add in greenery and accessories to a room.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Instagram is great for ideas, I try and follow accounts with completely different styles and outside interiors to get different perspectives and inspiration. For example, artists are a great sources of ideas. I find it useful to look at homes designed in different countries too. Commercial design – restaurants and hotels are fabulous as they often are much bolder and dramatic schemes. which can be translated to suit your own home. It’s all about constantly training your eye, being open and taking in everything around you.
What are the latest trends to look out for in home interiors?
Trends are always interesting and fun, and it’s good to know what’s going on in the interiors world. Jewel tones and dark décor don’t seem to be going anywhere for now, but hues may get brighter with electric blues, mango hues and reds spotted in Milan this year, plus pastels as neutrals. 2019 is also set to welcome more matt black as a trend. Browns are back and pattern (like Chinoisery, Japanese designs and other global influences) are already appearing in new season designs. There is definitely an embracing of vintage and a nod to retro 1970s design. However for the homeowner, it’s more about whether or not you love it and can also live with it for a little while! Essentially – does it make your heart sing? Just look at this gorgeous trends shot from home and garden website brand @italianbark on Instagram for some inspiration.
Which projects are on the horizon?
I’m always busy with various client projects and I’m also working with a couple of property developers on their developments – it works really well when clients bring me in early to discuss architect’s plans so we can work out layouts and lighting decisions early on. At Alex and Bro, we’re focusing on developing our Interiors’ Workshops further. I really enjoy speaking and training and am hoping to do more of that. What I’d also love to do is more work on our own house, which needs a total revamp. Designer’s homes are always the last to be done!
How can I find out more about your work?
We have another Instagram account for our workshops @alexandbro where we share styling tips from our workshops. Or come along and learn to style yourself at the next workshop!