Student Success - Julia Benn

By Sarah Van Arsdale on July 23 2008

NYIAD students are out there in droves decorating clients' homes, serving as consultants in department stores, and re-designing everything from metropolitan penthouses to lakeshore cottages. If you've started your own business, if you've been hired by a decorating firm, or if you've achieved success in some other way in the field of interior design, we want to hear from you! Click here to let us know about the waves you're making!

If you missed earlier installments of this series, here's your chance to read more about the accomplishments of NYIAD students. Just visit our NYIAD Student Success page.

NYIAD Graduate Julia Benn

If there's one word that sums up the life and work of NYIAD grad Julia Benn, it's "eclectic." Born in Barbados, now making her home in Georgia, Julia has lived in cities from New York to London. When she isn't busy running her interior design business, she can be found working on her photography, music, art, and other creative endeavors — and she brings all those talents into her career as an interior designer.

"I love the juxtaposition of old and new, modern and classic. I love the tropics and I love northern climates, and I blend all of these elements to create my designs," she says. "I am inspired by my surroundings, my travels and I never tire of visiting museums and art galleries."

But it's interior design that has captured Julia's heart, and it's been that way for a long time.

"I have always known that I wanted to be an Interior Designer, since the age of sixteen when I decorated my first room," she says.

"I love architecture, interior design and art passionately and consider myself a child of the arts.

Most recently, she worked on a re-design in Barbados, and she sent us the photos to show off the work.

Julia Benn dining roomSince 1991, Julia's been seriously pursuing her interest in the field, starting with completing a course in interior decorating when she attended the Barbados Community College. Next stop was to study at American College in London in 1995 (now called the American Inter-Continental University.)

But Julia, like many NYIAD students, has an insatiable thirst for knowledge; she wasn't through with her studies at that point, and she enrolled in the NYIAD Complete Course in Interior Design.

"What drew me to the course initially was the convenience of being able to work and study full time — and the fees were affordable," she says. "I could study at my own pace and in my own time."

Even with her background in design and the other coursework she'd done under her belt, Julia found that the NYIAD Course had a lot to teach her.

Dining Room designed by Julia Benn "The course was very detailed and I loved my assigned course teacher. There are many lessons in this course that one could apply to their design business for life!"

The fact that the business angle on design was fully addressed particularly appealed to Julia, and helped her to further organize her business. "The NYIAD special report 'How Decorators Charge' and others are all very important texts to study and master," she says.

Although Julia appreciates the necessity for having some business savvy, her passion is really in the decorating itself. She has decorated several homes, including her own 1910 14-room center hall Colonial in Cleveland, Ohio, several years ago. There, she found that a new appreciation for the demands of decorating an older home, and found that "respecting the architecture of the home was very important to me."

When people began seeing what she'd done with her home, she started building her business by word-of-mouth.

Now, Julia has branched out to design for businesses as well as for individual homeowners.

In 2005 through 2006 Julia did interior design consulting for the all-inclusive Almond Beach Resorts in Barbados and St. Lucia. "While there I decorated their ocean themed six treatment room spa and wedding center on the west coast location in Barbados," she said.

Almond Beach Resorts Wedding Center
Almond Beach Resorts Spa

Julia particularly enjoys working with her clients, and making them happy with the results.

"What I love about my work are the rewards," she says. "Seeing the satisfaction on the clients' faces when they see their spaces for the first time is so gratifying."

Mural designed by Julia Benn

Julia has found that working in interior design allows her a wide berth for her creativity. It's because Julia is able to pour her own creativity into her work that she can experience the feeling of creating something out of nothing, but she also takes into account the client's own individual style and taste.

"A bare room is like a blank canvas, and the beauty is filling the space and creating an original," she says. "At the end of the day the client has to live in the space, so it is very important to me that I listen to their requests, allowing the rooms to speak their language while giving the visitor a strong sense of who they are."

"As an artist, I also do murals, trompe l'oeils, faux finishes, event and hoilday decorating," she says. Currently, she's working on an apartment with two "master" bedrooms for a client who is an art collector. This project allows her background in art to really shine.

Julia has built up her business to the point where she was invited last year to speak to design students in Barbados. She tried to get across to them the message that working in the design field has its demands, and will require a commitment — one that will pay off handsomely if the student is dedicated.

"I want to encourage students to be sure that this is what they are passionate about. This is an exciting and ever evolving field and one must keep abreast," she says.

Julia Benn Interior

NYIAD Top Tip:

Julia advises students to invest in books and magazines on design, to visit showrooms and become familiar with a wide variety of styles. And, just as she herself pursues many arts, she encourages young designers to do the same.

"Take in dance recitals and theatre for the places from which you derive your inspiration derives is endless. Pay attention to what is around you in your environment. Remember that this is a business and make sure you offer nothing less than outstanding service."

It looks as if Julia has found the field in which she can let all her creative talents blossom. "I love my work passionately and I am grateful for the opportunity to have done the NYIAD course. I look forward with anticipation to completing the Advanced Tutorial course as well," she says.