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Issue 59 - The Life Outside Issue

Issue 59

The Life Outside Issue

Introducing the Life Outside issue of Habitus magazine. With life increasingly being absorbed into a digital space, there is never a more important moment to hold something tangible. In this context, the power of nature to have a physiological impact on our sense of wellbeing has never been more important. So how can we cultivate the benefits of the our natural environment in the most intimate of places – our homes? This was the question that helped to bring this issue of Habitus to life.

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The art of storytelling through design, with Julia Ashwood
Design StoriesSaskia Neacsu

The art of storytelling through design, with Julia Ashwood

Every design has a story, weaving together nuanced intricacies and overarching motifs. Creative Director Julia Ashwood’s portfolio embodies her attention to detail and her love for engaging with both residents and guests alike, all through the lens of her design ethos and personal experiences.


Storytelling through design is an art form. Forming a brand identity in the field of interiors and architecture demands a designer’s adept use of techniques and a personalised touch to connect with visitors. Creative Director Julia Ashwood harnesses her worldly experiences – spanning residences in New York, Sydney, Los Angeles and beyond – alongside her educational background in journalism and advertising, to write her design narrative.

As the age-old saying goes, “Creativity is something you cannot teach.” Ashwood embodies this adage through her designs, defying the conventional requirements of education in interiors or architecture to design interiors that exude avant-garde beauty. Ashwood’s portfolio speaks volumes about her prowess. In collaboration with her ‘wing-woman’ Jamie Blakey, her latest project, Sunranch, takes cues from the Californian Ranch Houses of the 1970s. And if you operate an Instagram account, it has most likely graced your screen.

Tell us about yourself, your background and what led you to where you are now.

I grew up in a coastal fishing and surfing village called Lennox Head. My parents had acreage with cattle. My mum sold ceramic tiles for kitchens and bathrooms and my father was a farmer. 

Once I turned 17, I finished school and left home for university, then Gold Coast, Sydney then New York and LA for a few years – dotted with plenty of travel in between. 

After meeting my partner in Byron Bay during the summer holidays, I ended up returning to Australia and back home to my routes in Northern NSW. This was 10 years ago, we now have two kids and are co-owners in a pub, two restaurants and a hotel – so you could say things certainly moved fast! 

My background is in marketing, TV journalism and advertising and it wasn’t until I dove headfirst into the world of interiors – renovating the 5 guest rooms above The Eltham Hotel – that I discovered my love for design, curation and most of all storytelling. 

Tell us about your work – what is the driving philosophy behind what you do?

I adore visually creating a space within my head; leaning into the possibilities of different colours, shapes and textures that will come alive within it. It is very much about the story for me – if there isn’t one I’ll write one and it can certainly be fictional, this helps me to build a space around a character. I weave the take by asking myself questions like who comes there and at what time of day, what music do they listen to, where have they been, how do they use the space, what’s their favourite thing to drink, where have they travelled before this…?  

Can you share some insight into your creative process – when are you most in the zone? 

It just takes me one object and I’m off! It could be a vase, or a light fitting from right then and there the story starts to unfold and I’ll usually start sketching or reaching for my colour book. 

When I’m on the right creative pathway I feel so light, that magic and energy tend to carry me through the process – and it’s really in that lovely momentum that you block out preconceived ideas or perhaps what is “expected” or “usual” and find the rare gold.

 How does design play a role in your life?

Design is around us in everything we see, hear, touch and feel – from a pen to a spoon, to the jeans we wear and the car we drive. I love aesthetics; however, I would say I love them to be handmade and usually quite old! There is also a time for modern pieces, however vintage furniture in particular personality chairs is a true interest.

 How do you balance your personal and professional life?

My business partner (and lifelong friend) Jamie Blakey and I have just launched our newest hotel ‘Sun Ranch’ this was a 3-year project. The creative collaboration on this project was fantastic and seamless – we loved the journey. 

Working with a friend who also has children could be the key… we often worked long, long hours – the kids would be entertaining one another whilst the two mums got it done, especially in the school holidays! 

My husband and business partner Luke also actively run the 3 other businesses so it’s a busy household – but we don’t know it any other way. It’d be nice to take a few more holidays, however, we do know that this is also the time of our lives when we are working hard for our future and our young family’s future too.

What does home mean to you? 

I’d love to think of home as more of a sanctuary however with kids it’s mostly pure Chaos! It’s covered in art, art supplies, experimental projects and generally a beautiful (and often not so beautiful) mess. We live in a very small, very old farm shack with a mindblowing view of the ocean. Every day I pinch myself that we can wake up here surrounded by horses, alpaca, sheep, ducks, guinea fowls and huge fig trees full of silky black cockatoos and kookaburras. It reminds me of my childhood.

How does your home reflect your passions, interests and creativity?

Music is always playing; someone is always creating – whether it be DeeDee belting out a new tune on the piano or Alby building something out in the yard. Our garden is so wild it tends to grow up through the floorboards and in through the window screens – it’s loud and unruly but it’s also one of my favourite places full of colour and mayhem. The very things that influence my design too. 

What’s your favourite room/object/thing in your house?

This would have to be an old antique couch which I had recovered in a beautiful piece of fabric my friend Jedda gifted to me. I also love our collection of coffee cups all mixed and matched from all over the world and of course all the art by artists such as Max Doyle, Nadia Hernandez, Brendan Huntley, Paul McNeil and Alby Rabbidge (my 5-year-old!)

What piece of furniture/design product is currently on your wishlist?

I recently discovered a rarely known Australian woodworker from the late 70’s who has now passed. He made just a few pieces before this. The collection I fell for went to auction and not being able to get my hands on it broke my heart. I think about it all the time, stupidly pining over it like a lost lover.


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Saskia Neacsu

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Issue 59 - The Life Outside Issue

Issue 59

The Life Outside Issue

Introducing the Life Outside issue of Habitus magazine. With life increasingly being absorbed into a digital space, there is never a more important moment to hold something tangible. In this context, the power of nature to have a physiological impact on our sense of wellbeing has never been more important. So how can we cultivate the benefits of the our natural environment in the most intimate of places – our homes? This was the question that helped to bring this issue of Habitus to life.

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