Swing Into ‘Jungalow’ Style

Author Justina Blakeney shares her 4 essential tips to add a natural touch to indoor spaces.


Designer and author Justina Blakeney coined the term jungalow by combining “jungle” with “bungalow” – in this case, a 1926 home in L.A. Blakeney used the term as the title of her blog, The Jungalow, where she shared her personal style with the world.

She is also the author of the 2015 book “The New Bohemians: Cool and Collected Homes” and the forthcoming “The New Bohemians Handbook: Come Home to Good Vibes,” out this fall from Abrams Books.

Looking at her books or her blog, it’s easy to see why she chose those words. Blakeney’s bold, international style combines an abundance of vibrant colors with heavy use of plants and greenery (both inside and out), maximalist patterns and textures, global accents and bohemian elements such as rattan furniture and handmade items. Blakeney is personally inspired by tropical motifs like leaves, trees, flowers, and palms, but as she explains, personal style can be drawn from any environment.

Blakeney shared these tips for bringing a more natural look into your home:

1. Choose your “spirit environment”home_jungalow3

If you’re familiar with a spirit animal – the creature that embodies your particular personality – Blakeney suggests taking things one step further to consider the physical environment that speaks to you best.

Blakeney says she loves tropical leaves and plants, pops of color, smells and even the moisture and the warmth of the jungle. Others might be drawn to beaches, grasslands or even desert landscapes.

“In being able to pinpoint which of the environments calls to you, you’ll be able to take elements from that environment and decorate,” she says. You can then take color palettes, scents or textures from this environment to introduce into your home.

In her new book, Blakeney explains how the design of her master bathroom was inspired by a vacation at Lake Tahoe. “The lake was so blue and so invigorating, so I wanted to lend that spirit to my bathroom,” she says. She chose a deep blue tile design to capture that feeling.

You’ll probably find you have more than one spirit environment, Blakeney says. “Maybe your bedroom wants to reflect the desert and that feeling of warmth and dryness, and you want your living room to feel more beachy and free.”

2. Go bold with colorhome_jungalo3

Choosing an environment helps with her next step – choosing strong, vibrant colors for your space. “You won’t feel so paralyzed about painting something a bold color because you’ll realize that every time you’ve been in a place that’s bright green you’ve felt invigorated, or whenever you’ve been a place that’s vast sand looking out in the desert you feel at peace,” she says.

You also should rethink the conventional wisdom about specific colors automatically inspiring specific feelings, Blakeney says. It’s one thing that gets under her skin as a designer.

“No one can really tell you how something can make you feel,” she says. “You have to discover it for yourself.”

Blakeney suggests asking yourself what emotions you want to feel when entering a room of your house, whether it’s the kitchen or the bedroom. Once you’ve answered that question, you can find colors from your own experiences to express those feelings, just as she did with her bathroom and Lake Tahoe.

Blakeney adds that people often are worried about choosing bold colors because they’re worried they’ll get tired of it after a while. “I look so much toward nature in my design work,” she says. “In nature, there’s so much bold color. There are moments of quieter color, but ultimately color is everywhere.”

3. Consider how you arrange your furniture

home_jungalow_mainIn her new book, Blakeney encourages readers to rethink how they’re using their existing spaces. Often times, a whole new set of furniture isn’t necessary to breathe new life into a space. The solution can be as simple as rearranging what you already have.

“Sometimes people just kind of get stuck thinking about the way things ought to be,” Blakeney says. You might not even think about what room gets dedicated to what function when you first move in. The room by the kitchen is the dining room. The bigger bedroom is the master. “You don’t even try sleeping in all the different rooms in the house to see which one provides you with the best sleep,” she says.

“I think people are paralyzed about doing things to their home because they think it’s going to be expensive,” she says. Instead, think about using what you have already. Maybe you’re just in the wrong room. “There are so many ways to experiment with what you have,” she says. “Maybe you need a new coat of paint on the walls, or on a table.”

Here’s a simple exercise: try moving furniture around in a room, from one wall to the next. It’s something she tried in the new book. “Not every position of the furniture is going to work for you, but you might discover something you never realized is a huge game-changer,” she says. You never thought about putting the bed under the window in your bedroom, but you might discover it helps you sleep better. “You might discover that this side table looks better over here, or you never thought to put this reading chair over here but it works way better,” she says.home_jungalow4

4. Add houseplants

Incorporating plant-like motifs and houseplants themselves into room design is a huge part of the Blakeney’s jungalow look. She says they add an important element – life – to a space. “Adding something that’s alive to your home, whether pets, plants or people, is what makes a house a home – it’s what’s alive,” she says.

Aside from breathing life into a room, houseplants also are a special décor trick. “If you have an awkward corner, you can put a big plant there,” she explains. “You can’t lose.”

There’s also an aspect of personal wellbeing that comes with having plants in a home.

“Caring for plants and caring for them is something that’s good for the soul,” she says. “And it’s something that’s been proven time and time again. We’re meant to be with nature. Bringing nature to the home is a beautiful way to live.”


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