Midcentury A La Mode
An interior designer’s colorful Central Phoenix dwelling is anything but ordinary.
By Katherine Adomatis | Photography by Michael Woodall
Visit interior designer Julia Buckingham’s Biltmore-area home, and you can instantly see fashion’s influence. A vintage poster of Audrey Hepburn for Blizzand raincoats by renowned fashion illustrator René Gruau hangs in the master bedroom, while a quartet of framed antique swimsuits in the living room attests to more modest times. Even Missoni’s vibrant signature stripes make an appearance in the form of a bedside table and wall tiles. Furnishings are a mix of high- and low-end, new and vintage, sparked by such fun accessories as a fuzzy llama sculpture and an orange hand-shaped stool that are sure to be conversation-starters. Mixing colors, patterns and unique objets d’art are part of her eclectic style. “I studied fashion at the University of Arizona and started my career at Neiman Marcus,” says Julia, who had a few occupational twists and turns before launching her eponymous firm, which is based in Chicago. “That always influences my interior design.”
The path to the Phoenix home that she shares with her husband, John Edelmann, the founder of an innovation consultancy, also had a few twists and turns. “We’ve had 15 homes that we’ve renovated and restored,” says Julia. “Our last house in Chicago was a Victorian farmhouse. When we decided to relocate our primary residence to Arizona, we wanted to find a midcentury modern abode.”
The couple, who have three children, were about to close on another house when they stumbled upon this benignly neglected, three-level hillside gem, built in 1956. A melding of midcentury ranch, desert cabin and Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert masonry styles, the 3,800-square-foot house was designed by architect Mel Ensign for his neighbor, Frank Wallace, a contractor who excavated the petrified wood and stone that figures prominently in the home’s details, inside and out.
Even though you’re in the city, it feels isolated up here—and the views are great.
—Julia Buckingham, homeowner and interior designer
“We loved the house immediately,” recalls Julia. “Even though you’re in the city, it feels isolated up here—and the views are great.” The interior? They didn’t love that as much. Dark brown cabinetry and finishes lent a gloomy quality, and those great views initially seemed secondary, despite ample windows.
Without changing the home’s footprint, Julia worked with Gilbert-based builder Ron Barney to open up the kitchen, redo the bathrooms and replace flooring. They also whitewashed the walls and tongue-in-groove beamed ceiling to reflect more light into the house, creating a simple backdrop for a collection of furniture, art and accessories. In addition, the builder and designer transformed the home’s original lower-level garage into a casual game room that opens up to the pool patio via glass garage doors.
When it came to furnishing the renovated dwelling, Julia brought in pieces from her Chicago residence, mixed in some vintage finds and added new elements to create her hard-to-define, eclectic and unique look. “I enjoy mixing things and changing pieces around,” she says. “I like old and new—furnishings and art that have stories.”
Indeed, most of the things in the couple’s home have tales to tell. A massive and weathered ship’s anchor chain that Julia discovered at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago was twisted and transformed into a 1,500-pound living room table base. The kitchen’s freestanding island is fashioned out of an old wooden table that used to sit in the couple’s Chicago home. “It was turquoise,” Julia explains, “and we used it for family dinners outdoors. I had taller legs put on it and painted it a pearlescent white for this kitchen.” The rustic feature is illuminated by a pair of ’60s-style resin pendants, flea-market finds. “I had them rewired,” she adds, “and the guy also cleaned off decades’ worth of nicotine from the shades. They must have hung in a bar somewhere.”
Julia also brought home a vintage console from a flea market, only to discover the top drawer was still filled with the original owner’s dinner place cards. “Dorothy, apparently, got invited to dinner often. Her name is on a lot of those cards,” she says with a laugh.
For the game room, the designer relacquered a French outdoor seating set and had the cushions reupholstered in a mod purple pattern. The grouping provides a place to watch guests play pingpong on a concrete table that doubles as a bar and buffet when the net is removed. In the upstairs master bedroom, Julia updated an ornate French headboard with white paint and then added an element of vivid color by draping a Moroccan wedding blanket across the foot of the bed. The textile, a treasure found during a trip to Marrakech, is bedazzled with intricate patterns comprising sequins and yarn.
Swapping pieces out and redoing display on tables and in cabinets keeps things fresh.”
—Julia Buckingham, homeowner and interior designer
A common thread in the interior is the color orange—Julia’s favorite—which pops up on a campaign desk in a guest bedroom, on the master bedroom’s ceiling light fixture, in a piece of metal art that hangs above the living room fireplace and in a group of Milo Baughman chairs that encircle the dining table. “I like using color,” she says, “and orange makes me happy.”
The couple’s house is never static. Not unlike changing her wardrobe seasonally, the designer enjoys moving things around (except, perhaps, the weighty anchor chain table), swapping pieces out and redoing accessory and collectible displays on tables and in cabinets. “It keeps things fresh,” she says.
Despite the regular flux with the home’s furnishings, the house itself is rock-solid—literally—a characteristic Julia and John appreciate. “Look at this piece of petrified wood,” Julia exclaims, pointing at a spot on a stone column. “Obviously, people don’t build their houses with petrified wood anymore, but think about how old this piece is.”
That’s one detail that will always be in fashion.
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Check out this exclusive video for a closer look at the most unusual and cherished chairs in Julia’s home.