The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Justina Blakeney believes that how you decorate your home can impact how you experience your life. As the artist and designer writes in her new book Jungalow: Decorate Wild, named after her lifestyle brand Jungalow, "a home is like a garden. It must be cultivated to create the conditions for healthy growth."
Her book, along with her brand and her incredibly popular Instagram account, showcase that mindset. Amid the popularity of minimalist design, Blakeney has an unapologetically maximalist style, replete with tropical patterns, and design influences from all over the world. "Our homes reflect our roots and journeys," her new book reminds readers. "Bring home art and artifacts that make you think, smile, remember, and connect."
Blakeney spoke to Yahoo Life about the value of creating a home that reflects both who you are and who you want to be. "That's a really important part of home for me," she says. "The way the colors, the sensations, the objects in my home tell the story of who I am."
Your home is obviously very nourishing to you, but do you have other self-care practices that you love?
My big one is water. For example, I had a big interview before this one and then I had this one and I had an hour in between so I took a Jacuzzi. It's one of my big luxuries. We have a Jacuzzi in our yard. And it doesn't have to be a Jacuzzi, it could be a shower, it could be a bath. I keep a spray bottle of rosewater in my refrigerator, and sometimes even just spraying my face with cold rosewater is a way to reset. Something that signals OK, we're taking a minute and it's off a screen and it is engaging with water or some kind of natural something. I think part of the thing that's nice about the Jacuzzi is that it's outside. It's nice to just take a minute and look up at the sky.
Has the meaning of home changed or evolved for your throughout the pandemic?
I'm in my space so much more. So while I'm not sure if the meaning has changed for me — because home has always been so central to my work, my practice, who I am — I am using my home so much more and in so many ways that I wasn't necessarily using it before. Like our kitchen is getting so much more use and our garden has become such an integral part of our routines. We're spending so much more time in our own space. We're using every square inch of our home and all the rooms are kind of double duty.
Can you share a little about your belief that great design can enhance quality of life?
It can be likened to how a lot of people talk about fashion and how wearing a specific outfit can make you feel more confident. That idea I extend to home. When you walk into a place that you really feel reflects who you are, where you want to go, who you want to be, who you want to grow into, it gives you a roadmap to be able to lean in and become that person. Having a home that you feel really great about — that reminds you of your roots, your heritage and helps to support your dreams — can be extremely powerful.
One of the things that often gets lost in today's trendy design world is that objects hold meaning. We can talk about minimalism or editing, but when it comes down to it, we all have things in our lives that when we look at them they bring up associations of people we love, places we've been, stories that we want to cherish.
I can imagine someone reading this interview and thinking, "OK great, I want my home to reflect who I am, but how do I do that?" Do you have advice for how to begin that process?
The approach is going to differ slightly for everybody, but one thing that I think is super-important is to take some time to journal and think about the places that you've been in your life that are special to you and that mean something to you. Or even just a place where you felt really relaxed or you felt really inspired or connected.
I talk about this in the book, but one of those places for me is Morocco. The first time I visited Morocco was the first time I felt like I saw my unique mix of being both Black and Jewish reflected back to me through the culture. Even though I don't have a Moroccan background, that connection that I felt stayed with me, so when I was decorating my home, I took those inspiration points and brought them into my home.
As you begin the process of trying to create a home that reflects who you are and your personality and your family and your dreams, I recommend taking some time to think about the places that you've been in your life that have meaning to you and the feelings that they brought that really connect you back to those places. Think about the colors from those places, think about the textures and the smells, the sounds. Maybe you could even get more specific: furniture, fabric. For example, in my grandparents' home when I was growing up they had botanical wall coverings and sofas and it was all in this one botanical print that stuck with me. I think that's one of the reasons I am so drawn to botanical prints and patterns. I have all these wonderful memories of being at my grandparents' house with my family and and being surrounded by this beautiful pattern.
How do you walk the line of keeping things looking beautiful but also feeling comfortable?
I'm a sucker for comfort. I can't wear heels and I think that extends to my home as well. To me, a chair can't be beautiful if it's not also comfortable to sit in because that is part of bringing beauty home. It's about putting a premium on comfort, and comfort means different things to different people. But for me, I don't want anything to be so precious that I feel stressed about it. I want everything to feel lived in and to be tactile, to be accessible.
I often find one of the biggest reasons furniture and a home in general has a general feeling of discomfort is when the scale is off. Items are too big or bulky to fit in the space and so you're kind of squeezing through small spaces in order to get across the room or you're knocking your shins on things. Thinking about proportion and making sure you have enough space to allocate to different things is a lesson I've learned the hard way. As long as you're not just seduced by how something looks, but you also take the time to make sure that it's going to be comfortable and fit in the space, that can really go a long way to making your home be a place with good vibes.
Do you have a personal mantra?
I follow my heart. If I'm in a quandary about what direction to go in, I just try and listen to my heart.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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