Julia hops on the video call, with a warm background of auburn wood and red flowers framing her. As soon as we cordially introduce ourselves – all smiles and twinkling eyes – a story of trailblazing, connection and mindfulness pours out of her. Like a stream in motion, a tale of radical creativity comes together phrase by phrase.
In those moments, I am totally consumed by Julia’s story. Her passion for creating spaces that reflect the soul of South Africa. Her championing of the mindful aesthetics of Northern Europe. Her love for resilience and craftsmanship. But don’t wait for me to tell you. Let me show you.
Growing up in an Apartheid South Africa marked by political and design isolation, Julia sought inspiration beyond the borders of her home country. During a time of embargoes and limited access to international trends, Julia, at the age of 24, brought a breath of fresh air to the design landscape by introducing clean-lined aesthetics to her design store.
At the time, South African design was marred by conservative and limited conceptions of design, where pomp and “stuffiness” reigned paramount. During this time as a designer and curator, Julia’s role not only encompassed sourcing Scandinavian and Italian pieces and selling them, but also introducing her clientele to the virtues of minimalist and functional design.
Post-Apartheid, South Africa witnessed a surge in design energy, with an influx of international brands and a renewed appreciation for local craftsmanship. Julia's designs, still taking from those precious first days as a shop owner, are still infused with Scandinavian minimalism and South African heritage, seamlessly blending these influences. Perhaps above all, what Julia admires most in South Africa’s design DNA is its capacity to create independently and with courage; a tradition from its isolated days.
Beyond aesthetics, Julia's approach is deeply rooted in the concept of lifestyle design. She believes that creating a cohesive and harmonious living space goes beyond selecting furniture and décor; it is about inhabiting the clients’ mind and giving them the space to come up with their own spatial dreams.
To do this, Julia’s design process involves crafting a holistic portrait of the client. Because Julia doesn't simply transplant her existing designs into the client's home, it is all about listening and asking the right questions.
The process begins with in-depth conversations with the client, where Julia delves into their lifestyle, interests, and aspirations. She wants to understand how they live, what matters to them, and what kind of atmosphere they envision for their home.
Once she has a clear picture of the client's vision, Julia develops a concept that aligns with their personality and lifestyle. This concept, or creative direction, then serves as the foundation for the entire project, guiding all design decisions.
Julia plays an active role in every aspect of the design process, guiding and collaborating with architects, suppliers, and other professionals to bring that vision to life. Sometimes, she acts as designer and creative director. Others, just as the latter.
Ultimately, the role of Julia is to be a conduit for the client’s innermost dreams. It is in those sharing moments between the two that ideas get planted, grown and pruned before blossoming.
Julia believes that designing for a client is an intimate and personal process, requiring deep connections that can take months to develop organically. Her designs are not mere aesthetic exercises; they are carefully crafted narratives, each space telling a unique story.
While Julia's design philosophy undoubtedly revolves around uniqueness and understanding, there is a common thread that paints every one of her designs; a crafting of wellness.
While she describes herself as bubbly and energetic, she points out that her designs speak to an inner peace and tranquillity that she feels. To her, good designs are monasteries for their inhabitants. Lands where one can truly relax and feel whole.
In her latest project at Parktown North, Julia played creative director as well as designer, focusing on a holistic concept for the spaces, interior architecture, flow, finishes and details.
The client was a successful woman, who looked to create a home that served as a refuge from an otherwise exciting and busy life. For a whole year prior to the project materialising, Julia and her client worked on the concept for the space and then selected the architect, building team and specialist contractors to carry out the vision. The result was a feminine, elegant and sensual space, characterised by an absence of superfluous features.
The design – all soft, curved lines, soft finishes, and rich jewel tones – emanates a sense of warmth and intimacy that envelopes the occupants. Natural materials, such as wood, marble, and brass, were seamlessly integrated throughout the house, fostering a connection to the natural world and adding a touch of elegance.
The staircase, a flowing ribbon-like structure, centres the home in a sultry ambiance, where it’s almost impossible to not imagine oneself gliding through it.
Julia's meticulous attention to detail elevates the project to an exceptional level. Bespoke elements, such as mirrors crafted from waxed brass, meticulously designed marble runs, and subtle 15mm shadow lines between ceiling, walls, and floors, showcase her exceptional craftsmanship and artistry. The simplicity of the design is deceiving, as it conceals a profound level of consideration and thoughtfulness.
This project showcases a carefully curated palette of three key materials: exquisite hand-selected marble, gracefully brushed open-grain oak, and burnished bronze brass. These contrasting textures and finishes are juxtaposed against a soothing creamy backdrop repetitively across the home, establishing a sense of continuity and visual cohesion.
To speak to Julia Day is to speak of “beauty”. It is not rare to find a designer who loves design, but it is to find someone who can weave narratives about their work without pretension; just love.