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Interior Designer Julia Buckingham’s Style is as Colorful as Her Personality

2022 MASTERS of the SOUTHWEST Award Winner - Julia Buckingham

With a keen eye and a unique perspective on all things style—is there anything this Renaissance woman can’t do? Julia Buckingham

By Carly Scholl | Photography by Werner Straube

“We’re so inundated with what we think Phoenix design should look like,” explains interior designer, author and retailer Julia Buckingham. “We think of adobe, terra cotta, Santa Barbara or Tuscan style as being our identity. But what I see is this huge outburst of color, antiques, midcentury modern touches and boldness. Arizona is getting its own style.”

If anyone has the chops to talk about style, it’s Buckingham. The designer’s love of fashion dates back to her childhood, as she recalls growing up in a stylish neighborhood of Chicago and recognizing early on the power of presentation. “It was apparent to me that my mom, who was a fashion lover, loved dressing me up. In grade school, I had a yellow dress printed with all these different girls’ names in script. My gym teacher said everyone whose name is on there can leave early. It made me realize that what you wear matters.”

Later in life, Buckingham studied fashion merchandising at University of Arizona and, after graduating, began work at Neiman Marcus, even helping to launch their Michigan Avenue store in her home town.

Though she enjoyed a successful career in the fashion industry, Buckingham’s foray into the world of interior design and retailing began as a hobby. “When my youngest kid was in grade school, I started helping my mom put on yard sales. We loved looking for antiques together.” A short time later, she and a neighbor decided to travel around the world to find vintage pieces to sell. “We ventured all over to such places as the Portobello Road Market in London and Clingancourt flea market in Paris. We’d line the garage in burlap to hang up our antiques,” she remembers. “It wasn’t long before we had 2,000 people on our mailing list for these garage sales. With no training in interiors, we printed business cards and started going to markets.”

In 2007, Buckingham started her own design firm in Chicago. “I had two showrooms and 13 designers,” she notes. “We went hell’s bells and had 35-40 projects going at the same time all over the country.” She quickly became known for her entirely unique design style—full of color, texture, pattern and story. Austere antiques mingle with eccentric relics from the 1980s, and reclaimed architectural pieces find new life in a living room or kitchen. A Julia Buckingham-designed home is akin to that ultrafashionable friend who—somehow, some way—can pull off any look; it’s confidence and creativity that gives ultimate freedom of expression.

In the music room of a Chicago home, interior designer Julia Buckingham combined numerous colors, textures, patterns and aesthetics in order to merge the personal styles of the homeowners—a traditional Midwesterner and his Southern belle wife.

Following the success of her interior design work, Buckingham became a multihyphenate talent, venturing into speaking engagements, licensing deals and designing signature lines for major retailers. “Julia has super unique ideas of what she wants her work to look like—both her interiors and her product designs,” explains David Gebhart, CEO of Global Views, for whom Buckingham has created five lines of product. “Her ability to mix antique with modern aesthetics cemented her reputation in our industry as a leader and unique thinker. The unexpected became the norm when working with Julia. She has a wonderful personality and an extraordinary point of view.”

This daring, delightful style that is so undeniably her signature is described by Buckingham as “Modernique.” “Trademarking that word was a big moment,” she recalls. “Defining the concept was the heart and soul of all my work.” In 2017, she published a book by the same name, which took readers through some of her favorite projects and encouraged them to be bold in mixing different aesthetics.

1. With Parisian sophistication as the guiding inspiration, Buckingham transformed this dining room in a pre-war Hyde Park apartment into a sumptuous fête of warm wood tones, curvaceous furnishings and a hint of glamour. But the effortless appeal of the room was not achieved without some elbow grease—“We had to install the dining table with a crane and lift it through the windows,” the designer recalls. 2. The airiness of this glass-walled conservatory is highlighted by the cloudy blue hue of the ceiling and pendant light fixtures scattered like stars in the sky. But Buckingham balances out the effect with a textural table base and modern chairs that both ground and add dimension to the enchanting space. 3. Anchored by one of Buckingham’s signature designs, the “Wiggle Chair,” this nook takes global inspiration. “The wallcovering feels and looks like the wall of an old French building, but the mirror was found during my travels in Morocco,” explains the designer. 4. “I wanted to create a ‘room’ full of design elements, all in a very small space,” recalls Buckingham. With a table, stools, light fixtures, art and a rug, she managed to make the petite entryway feel complete. 5. Buckingham thinks of this powder room as the “jewelry piece” of the home. Hints of gleaming metallic stand out against the palette of black and red.

These days, with a long list of illustrious achievements under her belt, Buckingham is in a different stage of her career. “I’m keeping it small and much more hands-on,” she explains. “The relationships with my clients weren’t as close when the firm was bigger. I love the interpersonal stuff and finding the perfect piece myself instead of delegating to other designers. And it’s not even so much about the project itself—it’s the feeling of leaving knowing you made an impact on someone’s life. What matters is a successful relationship as well as a successful design.

“For me, it’s all about the story your house tells,” she continues. “And here in Phoenix, I want the homes I design to break out of the old boundaries and bring something new to the table. This city is not just cowboys and horses—there is life, growth, color, beauty and history here. We’re coming of age.”

1. As deftly as she can mix hues from across the color spectrum, Buckingham is just as gifted in creating vignettes with a limited palette. Here, another richly appointed nook features layers of monochromatic gold, offset with earthy leather tones. 2. Though this home was a new-build, Buckingham and her team worked to achieve an aged look. In the dining room, traditional moldings created nooks and crannies for a textural wallcovering and art pieces. “The gold head chair is a big statement here, because it is paired with more subdued side chairs,” says Buckingham. 3. One of the designer’s favorite pastimes is accessorizing her projects. In this living room, she filled the built-in bookshelves with objects in all different colors, sizes and origins—including the “Walking Man” sculpture on the mantel that Buckingham created for Global Views. “This room has lots of movement,” she says. “The chair feels like a comfy catcher’s mitt, and I love the stool that swirls with leather fringe.” 4. “This solarium is on fire with color,” Buckingham notes. “There are so many modern and vintage elements playing together, and they create a multidimensional space and help bring a human scale to the height of these ceilings.” 5. For ultimate drama, Buckingham lacquered this entire study in a deep oceanic blue. Muted furnishings, subtle curves and a rich hardwood floor create a moody scene.

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