Working The Room: Julia Day

Working The Room: Julia Day

WORDS Sarah Buitendach PHOTOS Karl Rogers (Generation), Elsa Young (Parktown North, Forest Town, 5th Road, Oak Road, House Orelowitz), Sarah de Pina (Westcliff, Design Joburg)

Three decades ago, her contemporary aesthetic was unfamiliar territory to most South Africans. Today, her interiors projects – and much-loved Generation store – are synonymous with great style. Julia Day highlights key moments in her stellar career.

When Julia Launched Generation in 1990s Joburg, South Africa was emerging from an insular apartheid wilderness where conservative design had dominated. “We started out 28 years ago, when our country had limited access to international design. We were innovators in the industry, bringing in new ideas and creativity,” she explains. Her luxurious contemporary work made its mark (ed’s note: it even featured in the first issue of VISI), and her design projects under the Julia Day Interior Architecture and Design moniker, as well as the coveted international brands she represents as Generation, continue to inspire.

Generation, 2015

Julia Day – Generation
Generation’s “Festivities in Paradise” holiday activation

Generation was started in 1994 as a showcase for my contemporary design pieces. Our first small store was in Rosebank; eight years later, we moved to Hyde Park Shopping Centre. It was home for the next two decades, and it was there that we introduced iconic international lighting and furniture brands to our offering. The store’s displays were admired and spoken about by customers and passers-by. This photo (opposite top left) shows one of our December holiday activations called “Festivities in Paradise”, which celebrated exotic destinations. In 2019, the store was recreated as a design studio in Forest Town. It offers a more intimate shopping experience, and showcases items in a lifestyle setting.

Parktown North, 2009

Julia Day – Parktown North
The home office in the Parktown North project.

This image is from my earliest digital shoot – a lovely reminder of a client I have worked with for more than 20 years. It’s a really great example of how my design process is alway centred around the client’s lifestyle, resulting in a seamlessly flowing interior that stands the test of time. The shot depicts an open- plan home office when work from home was not even a thing yet. It shows how a workspace can be integrated into a home in an elegant and interesting way.

Forest Town, 2010

Julia Day – Forest Town Home
Julia’s own home, designed with her husband, architect Jonathan Leibowitz

My architect husband Jonathan Leibowitz and I designed our house in 2004, and it remains as relevant today as it was then – a simple, Modernist structure that allows light and flow. It illustrates a harmonious integration between the interior and the architecture – one of the key elements of my design philosophy.

5th Road, 2015

Julia Day – 5h Road
The Hyde Park home designed by architect Krynauw Nel.

This Hyde Park home designed by architect Krynauw Nel was one of the first places where I used furniture by the Italian brand DePadova, started in the 1980s by Maddalena DePadova. In 2012, I became its sole South African distributor. The beauty of DePadova is the seamless connection between all their pieces. Used together, they contribute to creating calm and luxurious spaces. For this project, the DePadova elements I selected spoke to the beautiful white spaces in texture and detail, and gave a relaxed but sophisticated feel. I love the juxtaposition of the contemporary pieces in a more traditionally designed space.

Oak Road, 2018

Julia Day – Oak Road
Julia’s Oak Road project, which she worked on with Joe van Rooyen.

This home is an example of my approach to an architectural brief. I strive for a cohesive connection between the interior and the architecture, resulting in a home that is both luxurious and understated. Architect Joe van Rooyen aimed to create a stripped-back, contemporary barn that hinges on openness and light, so it was imperative that the interior honoured this intention. For it, I conceptualised an open and flowing layout consisting of intimate, comfortable and layered spaces. The seamless transition and continuity between interior and garden make for a serene yet lush living area.

Westcliff, 2019

Julia Day – Westcliff
A family home in Westcliff – another project with Joe van Rooyen – is a combination of softened forms and curved, organic lines, all expressed in Julia’s favourite materials.

This new family home in Westcliff was also designed in collaboration with architect Joe van Rooyen, and has a subtle Parisian undercurrent to its style. Its contemplative and timeless nature is a reflection of its owners. This project emphasises my love of beautiful, authentic finishes and materials, which include oak, marble, stone and steel. They harmonise with the space and are a quiet accompaniment that doesn’t detract from the bigger picture. I used geometry to introduce expression and balance – rigid forms are softened by organic and curved ones, and vice versa. The staircase, made from moulded cement, is an example of this – a crisp yet sensuous curve that connects two floors, it’s at once sculptural, lyrical and restrained.

House Orelowitz, 2020

Julia Day – House Orelowitz
Architect Anthony Orelowitz’s home invites nature into its interiors, almost becoming one with its surroundings.

Architect Anthony Orelowitz’s home invites nature into its interior living spaces via a series of pavilions. The residence is part of the setting, and so the interior and furnishings had to ensure the transition between inside and out was uninterrupted. To this end, we used colour tones to echo the natural environment. They’re earthy, warm and subtle. Natural materials including stone, marble, timber and certain metals did this job too. Each aspect of the architecture and interior design provided a new and sophisticated way of living, stripping away the unnecessary. Internal detailing was dictated by the architectural form, and not used to decorate. I chose specific furnishings to create concise cocooned areas within the free-flowing spaces, resulting in a warm and enveloping environment.

Design Joburg, 2019

Julia Day – Design Joburg
“In-Residence, an installation by Julia Day” at Design Joburg 2019.

Our stand at Design Joburg 2019 was a feat of engineering and design that demonstrated the value of craftsmanship, detail and understatement. I called it “In-Residence, an installation by Julia Day”, and used the opportunity to launch my interior design studio, Julia Day Interior Architecture and Design, as a stand- alone brand. It offers interior architectural and design services, while Generation offers products and objets d’art. The space was painstakingly planned to be serene in the chaotic environment of a design show. To make it cocoon-like, we used full-length curtains of moss-coloured velvet and fitted wall-to-wall carpeting in a rich chocolate hue. A full steel frame enclosed the space, with genuine steel-and-glass screens in the Manhattan style offering a view in and out. Exceptionally crafted, the joins were invisible, and the lines super-fine. The stand appeared not to have its load supported vertically, thanks to genius problem-solving whereby the glazed screens doubled as structural support, leaving the space visually quiet.

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