Bohemian style makes a comeback
It may not be a look for all homeowners or even a way to decorate your entire house. But the bohemian style, which first emerged in early 19th century France when artists moved into less affluent Parisian neighborhoods, offers an artistic, freestyle bent, according to designer, stylist, blogger and DIY-er Justina Blakeney in her recently published book, “The New Bohemians” (Abrams, 2015).
We talked with Blakeney from her new home, a Spanish-style “jungalow,” in a Los Angeles neighborhood filled with lush plantings and near the Los Angeles River. “It’s only 1,100 square feet, and all the rooms are small, but it’s my new ‘wet canvas,’ which allows me to add my sense of color, pattern and plants, the three key ingredients for any bohemian aesthetic,” she says. Blakeney shared more about how to achieve the bohemian look in an interview; here are her condensed comments.
Q. Share with us your take on why the bohemian style works for you and may for others in all different locations — cities, suburbs, Paris, New York or Chicago?
A. The point of it is to reflect who you are, and if you’re a person who has a free spirit and consider yourself also to be creative, this allows you to show that in your own home. The reason is that it has no rules. The home is used as a wet canvas, and you decorate more as an ongoing creative project versus decorating with an end goal in sight and looking like X, Y and Z. It’s really about the process.
Q. You divide up bohemian into six different categories: modern, folksy, romantic, earthy, nomadic, maximal.
A. I talk about modern bohemian, and this is really a marriage of clean lines and functionality that a modern person is drawn to, but the bohemian comes through in a level of accessorizing and a love of color. Modern homes, otherwise, can be very stark; this adds a level of hominess.
Earthy bohemian is a big movement right now — I see it online and in magazines. It’s a get-back-to-nature vibe and brought into the home through natural materials like wood and sheepskins and handmade stuff — and, of course, through plants. More than ever before, we’re seeing people fill their homes with tons of houseplants, which reflects the return to nature.
Maximal bohemian is me. I love surrounding myself with artifacts, art, my travels. In the ’90s and 2000s, minimalism was such a big trend in design that this is a backlash from that and all its darkness and a “pathetic aesthetic.” This is about making a space come alive with personality and surrounding yourself with things you love, which is at the heart of bohemian style. Here, it’s all out in the open.
Q. How does a homeowner, without your trained eye and creativity, put together a room or home in one of these styles, yet not have it look too kitschy or stylized?
A. This is something that comes with time and making your home little by little. If you go in and try and style in one fell swoop and put all together quickly, it looks theme-y; maybe, like a Tiki room. Bring things in piece by piece, and (layer) on the items, colors, patterns, textures slowly, rather than get it done in a hurry. This look is not created in a one-stop shop.
Q. What about if tastes change, and someone veers more toward a contemporary classic look or super-traditional and wants to incorporate a very different piece here and there. Can that work? What’s the key?
A. Anything can work in the bohemian style as long as the overarching isn’t too precious or fussy. It’s engaging with the material; you may have a traditional credenza, maybe even handed down, and you want to incorporate (it), though it doesn’t reflect the style, and put your own personal stamp and paint or change hardware, and instead of entryway, put (it) in your kitchen and give a new context.
Q. How about mixing parts from a few of the bohemian looks. Will that also work, or does it destroy the chemistry?
A. It works definitely, and a lot of the homes for the book could have gone into different chapters. There’s a lot of overlap, and it’s not cut and dry, and that’s part of the bohemian style. Things don’t fit into boxes; things are messy around here. There’s a part of me in every chapter, but I belong most in maximal, but I love others, too, like the nomadic, and collecting textiles and items that tell stories as the folksy bohemian does. I like to think about the book as giving a loose framework and what I’m drawn most to to build on.
Q. Tell us where you and others can find furnishings and accessories to assemble these kinds of look. Does provenance matter?
A. I think provenance does matter, but what matters most is that the item tells a story. It doesn’t mean you can’t get from big-box stores but that having been said it’s more about the mix and cleverly disguising the items fro a big store with handmade or vintage items. The most intriguing homes pull in from many places. So besides big box, go to thrift stores; I go weekly. Also go to flea markets, textiles online at eBay and shop Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with click of your finger. I even shop at import stores but add from many sources.
Q. I love your tips for styling a bookshelf. Would you share some key points for that area or for a coffee table?
A. You want to style so it is visually pleasing and not throwing it all on a shelf. The first tip is to think about a color palette. Don’t be rigid, but organize by color, and it will be more orderly looking. Think about the placement of objects and pair similar objects for the eye to rest. Place art in bookshelves and something in front to create a gallery feeling, where you might otherwise not do so. Add plants or flowers to enliven the space. And add a bit of bling or something sparkly. For a coffee table, the first thing I think about is the functionality, so you want to leave some space if it’s going to be used. You might not use a bookshelf as much, however.
Q. You say a home isn’t a home without plants. Even if you don’t have a green thumb?
A. Before you go to a store, pick out your favorite ones, and walk around with your cell and where you have the best natural light and where you might place some. Go armed with that knowledge to a nursery, so you’ll have them in the right spots — how much light, the right pot, and right amount of water. I have some that don’t die; start with something that’s low-maintenance before you advance to an orchid.
Q. Is this a look for a younger generation?
A. It’s more about being creative, but I don’t think it’s an age thing, and all ages may find it appealing. It’s about being artistic and creative and using your home as a palette.
Q. How do you know when to stop?
A. When you stop having fun!