From Rough to Rainbows

“We want that diamond in the rough, the forgotten house that we can make beautiful,” explained Julia one afternoon at her shop Modernique® in Uptown Plaza.  I didn’t know Julia very well at the time, but knew she had incredible talent, sense of style, aesthetic and vision.  Julia and husband John were selling their fabulous home in the Biltmore and looking for their next project; the self proclaimed “serial renovators” were in need of a their next big fix.  I leapt at the chance; what an opportunity to be even the smallest part of the next Julia Buckingham design!  I knew that Julia could see through some “funkiness” to what a home could be, that was truly her specialty, but could I really find something that measured up to where they were leaving?

Back at my office, I consulted a  list that I keep on the side of my client searches, a list titled, “Interesting?” The list of homes might have potential for the right person at the right time, but they needed some serious help.  I kept eyeing this little house in Scottsdale-the listing had a few exterior shots where it was hard to make out the elevation, covered in cacti and overgrown palms, there was a little peek of a clerestory window; the interior shots were dark but I could make out exposed beams of some sort and a rock covered fireplace. These are the little details someone like Julia lives for- just waiting to be uncovered or re-imagined.

I sent the listing to Julia and within minutes she wanted to see more.  The next morning we met at the house and I anxiously unlocked the door- I had previewed it the day before and somehow standing there the next day, the home seemed worse than before. I started to doubt myself as Julia and John stepped into the house, they were quiet…very quiet.  They walked up and down the long hallway getting a lay of the land, squeezed past each other in the master closet and bath, walked out back to the tired pool then stared out at the vast horse property and stepped back inside.  John spoke first, he said, “It reminds me of where I grew up.”  Then Julia said, “Yes! It absolutely does.” They smiled at each other and said, “I think this is it!” Refraining from jumping up and down, I was so blown away, they were so sure, so decisive and so confident they could make this house something very special. I felt like congratulating the house on it’s super cool new owners and what would become of its good bones!

12 months later, the large interior renovation complete, Julia invited me over to see her latest design.  “You’re one of the first to see it!” Julia announced as she opened the front turquoise screen. Stepping in, I was greeted by whimsical, vintage cowboy wallpaper with an Indian Chief painting, and a gorgeous cactus blossom sconce illuminating the entryway- setting the tone for quirky pattern, color, and surprise around every corner. Julia walked me through her new home discussing her finish choices and design challenges she faced with the home- and then declared, “This is our favorite home we have ever lived in!”

If you have seen Julia’s other homes, you might understand my inability to believe Julia- this was her favorite? Of all the fantastic homes she and John had renovated?   Julia explained that her previous Biltmore home had such an incredible drive-up and entryway, it was, “Out there for all to see, which was a lot of fun;  but this home was private, quiet from the road, something that was easy to pass and when you’re invited in- it’s a whole new world.”

Q: What brought you out to AZ?

A: My grandparents were one of the first families to move into Sun City in 1960; we visited them every spring holiday. I fell in love with Arizona and wanted only to attend college there- nowhere else was even considered for my then 16-year-old self. At the University of Arizona, I “re-met” my kindergarten sweetheart from the Northshore of Chicago, and the rest is history! Our second home in Phoenix from Chicago has now morphed into our favorite place on earth as our new colorful and Modernique® home in Scottsdale.

Q: You had a home in Chicago until a couple of years ago- what made the move permanent?

A: The winters contributed! I was traveling back and forth for my interior design business and speaking engagements all over the country every other week, and it became quite stressful and exhausting. After I opened the first Modernique Boutique at Uptown Plaza, it was an excuse to spend more time here and to expand my interior vision towards the valley.

Q: What is the best part of living in AZ?

A: SO many things- but not the scorpions! The sunsets, the mountains, the cactus families, and of course, the smell of sunshine almost every single day. Giving away my super puffy down coats was a solemn promise to visit the Midwest only when we visit our daughter, son-in-law, and brand new grandson, Quinn. Oh, and I adore designing more outside spaces!

Q: What is your design style & philosophy?

A: I trademarked the word Modernique- which describes my design aesthetic in a nutshell. It is the way I have always seen the world of design, which is emboldened by using vestiges of the past alongside modern elements. Lacquer and roughhewn- polished and patina’d. The ripple of sparkle alongside worn leather.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from?

A: You have to stay connected and continuously explore the worlds of fashion, interiors, and art to see how inspiration truly remains the single most important reflection of what is current, new, or reemerging. Inspiration is everywhere, and we can use our eyes, ears, and voices to engage with the like-minded- or also to better explore those who can be diametrically opposed in viewpoint to our own.

Q: Your fabulous storefront is now closed; where can people shop your items?

A: The storefront was such an inspiring experiment into the world of interiors in Arizona. The community was just not ready to commit to the newness of design felt throughout the East Coast, West Coast, or the Midwest. I never envisioned that this embracing of the “now” culture of design would face such closed doors. Our shop was often compared to those in Palm Springs or New York- which I considered a huge compliment. My dream is that my fabulous followers and customers will now lead the charge to see COLOR everywhere in the southwest! Please follow us on Chairish.com for our newly sourced goodies as well as shopping from any designers who have access to my products designed for Global Views. These pieces are also offered online through Wayfair, Neiman Marcus, Horchow, and many other incredible retailers. And PSA…I am currently designing a capsule collection of tile for Country Floors- a leader in international tile manufacturing available at most tile suppliers.

Q: How has covid changed your business?

A: It has brought me closer to my past and favorite clients! We are currently working with six families from Chicago, Southern California, and Vail that we have either previously designed for or have now purchased new homes. The frenzy of the world has solidified my feelings that deep down, we all want a more tried-and-true experience in order to cocoon in luxury within our homes. Additionally, the uncertainty we all now feel in the country brings us closer to the people we really want to make some memories with.

Q: What do you want people to know that they often don’t about working with a designer?

A: That it is an investment that one can not do without in the big scheme of dollars and cents. The ROI that you inherit when working with a designer alleviates incredibly expensive mistakes and do-overs. I know this from multiple cleanups.

Q: What started your house hunt?

A: The desire for a peaceful oasis and more land than our other home in Phoenix had.

Q: What were you and John looking for in your next house?

A: Our favorite scenario- one we have looked for (and found) ten times in the past, a diamond in the rough.

Q: What were some of the things you liked about this home that helped make your decision?

A: The “time capsule” opportunity to create a true vision of our aesthetic -(ok, the pink lacquered floors may be more my vision). A home that allowed us the chance to design and embrace our property slowly over time.

Q: You started renovations right away; how did you manage to live through all of it?

A: We lived in 7 different Airbnbs! I tried to select a new property in a different neighborhood in town to better educate ourselves and taste the different flavors of the area.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges with the house/remodel?

A: Working with our team on new ideas that perhaps were not “usual and standard” practices. Like glittery grout in the bathroom or hanging light fixtures that are oversized or mixing colors that could shock!

Q: What room do you spend most of your time in?

A: We absolutely live in BOTH of our living/family rooms. What a luxury in such a small home. I think from now on, I will have to have two of these spaces to switch around in.

Q: Which is your favorite design-wise?

A: Oh, that is a hard question to answer…overall happiness is our new kitchen. Images will show the candy-colored glass pendants, the handmade custom tile from my travels to Morocco in the backsplash, and the recycled (very important for sustainability) terrazzo countertops from Cosentino as an Eco product. I had them installed extra tall, which keeps our dog off of them.

Q: What room was the most challenging to design and why? My office was the most challenging- for some reason, it always feels to me as it has to hold the key to my personality and holistically inspire me both in FASHION (another passion) and design. I have been through five different iterations until now- two chandeliers, four sets of chairs and combinations, and three different console/storage pieces. And for art- that is continually revolving, and I never tire of that. The most important is to house my prized collections of fabrics, trims, and samples for clients.

Q: Why did you name it the 3-star ranch?

A: Three stars are for our three jewels- our daughters Caroline and Madeline and our son, Alexander.

Q: What are your future plans for the 3-star ranch?

A: A new pool and outdoor space, and a guest cottage.

Q: You were a bit nervous about living in this area because you didn’t know it very well- how has it been? Do you have favorite dining, park, etc??

A: I was a bit apprehensive about moving farther away from the “city.” But, the peace and quiet has been remarkable. I also feel so very close to some of my favorite design haunts and my sister- in DC Ranch and my 96-year-old father, who lives 3 minutes away.

Q: What sort of advice do you have for people taking on a complete renovation?

A: Call me before you begin! Kidding but not kidding. There is so much to know prior to a first renovation project and after having been involved in 15+ I think that I have a few pointers.

Julia’s Modernique® style is truly something to behold, something that works when it’s done to the max and something she has mastered over her years of design.   Knowing Julia better now, I understand how this home could make it to the top of the list. Each of her amazing homes has filled a spot in her heart and helped tell the story of her life- but when it’s time to start a new chapter, she eagerly turns that page, knowing the best is yet to come.   Julia is forward thinking, forging ahead with new ideas and a positive spin on everything- she is a trend setter and an innovator. The trail she blazes leaves a rainbow colored pathway for others to follow.

It was such a pleasure to work with Julia and John on their house hunt, it will undoubtedly be incredible to see the development of the couples home and property in the years to come.

“The more adventurous you are about taking risks and the fewer restrictions you feel you need to follow about deciding what goes with what, the more different, interesting, and distinctive your rooms become.”

Julia Buckingham

To get to know Julia’s design sensibilities and story a bit more, pick up a copy of her fantastic book, Modernique®

Available through Amazon in the link below.

Written by: Misha Renteria

Photography by: Michael Woodall

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