How Justina Blakeney Used Social Media To Land A Book Deal — & Start A Movement

Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
Last we heard from designer Justina Blakeney, she was giving us a tour of her kaleidoscopic, plant- and pattern-filled Los Angeles “jungalow” while ruminating on blogging, motherhood, and a forthcoming book. Nearly a year and a half later, that book — titled The New Bohemians and published by Abrams — hits store shelves today, with 300 pages of creative home tours, interviews, DIYs, and styling tips.

Here, the blogger, designer, artist — and now, an author five times over — fills us in on what the concept of "new bohemianism" means to her, what she’s learned along the way, and what you (or anyone) can do to cultivate a space that’s as unique, artful, and free-spirited as you are.
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Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
Define “New Bohemian” for us. Your book profiles the homes of 20 creatives in cities all over the country — what do you think is the common thread that ties them all together?
"It’s a fresh take on what we traditionally think of as a bohemian lifestyle. So many creatives work from home these days, and there’s increasingly less and less of a distinction between what defines work and what defines play — those blurred lines have allowed people freedom to use their homes in new and exciting ways. That’s what’s really at the heart of this book: Everyone sees his or her home as a sort of wet canvas. It’s a work in progress, and the point isn’t to finish the painting. We aren’t static as humans, and our homes shouldn’t be, either. Your home should live and breathe and grow, as you live and breathe and grow. It’s important to keep experimenting, to keep playing, to keep trying new things."
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Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
You’ve been blogging for eight years now. What role did social media play in your transition from blogger to author?
"I worked on a few craft books in my 20s — the first one came out 10 years ago, when I was 25. That was pre-social media, pre-blogs, and it was a very different experience. I pitched an interior design book on the heels of those, and my agent told me, 'That’s not how it works. You need to build your audience.' Shortly thereafter, I started doing just that: blogging daily, intentionally building my audience. Now, to have something in print — this big brick of a book, full of ideas and inspiration — is so gratifying. It was really borne of social media."
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Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
Was there anything that surprised you along the way as you put the book together? Any lessons learned that you hadn’t anticipated?
"Something that I don’t have a lot of is patience. As a blogger, I’m used to producing material every single day, and I work really quickly. People like Adam Pogue, who spends years reupholstering sofas, putting on patch after patch by hand, taught me that it’s okay to take a deep breath and to take my time. Just being in Adam’s house, you can tell how much time he puts into his projects, and you understand that the reason they’re so beautiful is because of the time that went into them. It reminded me that there’s no due date on some things — that it may take 20 years to upholster a couch, but watching it transition is where the beauty lies."
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Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
What’s a standout example of a space in The New Bohemians that blurs the lines between work and play?
"There are so many. The first home in the book belongs to Emily Katz and Adam Porterfield, who live in Portland, Oregon. The way they use their house is really fun — it’s a canvas for all their creative experiments. Emily loves to cook, and they sometimes have pop-up restaurants at their home; they have a room that they use for Airbnb; they host macramé classes. On any given day, there’s something different going on. They gave this great quote: 'Bohemian, to us, means focusing on working to live rather than living to work. That said, we work really hard, with adventure always on the horizon.' I love that. I’ve found that the new bohemian spirit is fundamentally not lazy — here are people who have lots of creative ideas and are finding ways to execute them within their means."
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Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
What tips can you offer Refinery29 readers on cultivating spaces that reflect a creative, imaginative, ever-changing spirit?
"The first thing I’d recommend is to throw out any preconceived notion of exactly what you want your space to look like. Start scouring flea markets, vintage stores, eBay, and Etsy for items that really speak to you, and use them as a sort of skeleton. Be open-minded. Buy things that catch your eye because of whatever unique magic they hold. Secondly, when in doubt, add plants. You can never have too many. Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment with paint, on anything from walls to furniture to floors. It’s such an easy way to add personality and to transform the mood of a room. As I wrote in the book’s intro, I’ve gotten used to kissing rental deposits goodbye. If I’m going to live in a place for a few years, I’m going to paint!"
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Photo: ©Dabito / Abrams, New York.
In what ways did blogging prepare you for writing this book, do you think?
"The message of the book isn’t, 'Look at all these beautiful houses — don’t you wish you could be this awesome?' It’s actually, 'Look at these amazing creative people and the lives they’re living — here’s how you can do that, too.' It’s about accessibility. That’s what the blog world has taught me: how to share generously, because that’s what brings people back to your site. And, I’ve tried to do that as much as possible with this book, too — be as honest and as genuine and as generous as I can, with as many ideas as possible."
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