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Julia Buckingham's Color Explosion

Designer Julia Buckingham shares the inspiration behind Modernique, her retail showroom in Phoenix. 

Katie Caron
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(Photo: Frank Simon)

About seven years ago, while preparing to give a keynote speech at High Point Market, interior designer Julia Buckingham had a bit of an ah-ha moment. While trying to put a succinct name to her design style that mixes high and low, doesn’t shy away from color, and blends modern with vintage and antiques, her husband — who works in branding — suggested “Modernique.” 

“I thought, oh my gosh, that’s perfect,” she says. “So, I walked into High Point, I gave my presentation, it was really well received and it was really fun to finally identify, hey, this is who I am; this is how I design.”

After the market, she got back home to Chicago and trademarked Modernique, which would eventually become the title of her book released last year and the name of her retail showroom in Phoenix.

The 2,000-square-foot home furnishings boutique offers everything from furniture to fabrics to home decor — some of which comes from Buckingham’s licensed lines for manufacturers such as Global Views. Modernique is also one of four Jonathan Adler shop-in-shop locations in the world, which Buckingham says is a great brand partnership given Adler’s penchant for color and whimsy.

Modernique store
Modernique stocks a wide range of home furnishings products from Buckingham’s own designed collections alongside antiques and locally sourced art.

When customers walk into the boutique, Buckingham says, she often hears gasps as they take in the colors, patterns and styles on display in the carefully arranged vignettes. There might be a striking piece of wall art from a local artisan next to a lacquered Mid-Century cabinet from Bernhardt next to a rug sourced during a trip to Morocco. This bold, eclectic and no-rules aesthetic sets itself apart from most of what people come across in Arizona.

“It’s not cookie cutter,” she says. “It’s not Southwestern in feel. It’s bringing a little bit of the Midwest, of New York, of LA into a market that’s really kind of just beginning to see the light that there are things beyond a Santa Barbara look.”

Buckingham, who runs a successful global interior design business out of Chicago and splits her time between there and Phoenix, got her start in fashion at Neiman Marcus before transitioning to working with antiques and interior design. All of these sensibilities and strengths combine at the Modernique shop, where she throws events like a recent fashion show that featured vintage fashion icon Robert Black and illustrator Peter Horjus.

Events like these make the showroom that much more of an experience and a place for relationship building, which Buckingham sees as the future of brick-and-mortar retail. She hopes her showroom can be a meeting place for like-minded people to enjoy the space and good company.

Julia Buckingham

She said she was blown away by the attendance at the shop’s recent one-year anniversary party, and she’s grateful to have a strong list of brand-loyal repeat clients.

“It’s kind of like a little family,” she says.

As for whether her style could be considered maximalist, Buckingham says she tends to shy away from definitive labels that don’t leave room for change. But her love for color — and lots of it — has taken off in recent years.

“I would say that I began my career as more of a minimalist in terms of color,” she says. “The color explosion has grown through the years for me, and now it’s absolutely uncontrollable.”

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