Julie O’Dwyer has a keen eye for detail and creates spaces that are full of vitality and personality. She pays close attention to form and function and was trained both as an interior designer and architect. With the experience of her father as an architect, Julie O has spent her entire life steeped in the world of design. It’s no wonder that for the past sixteen years she has earned the reputation as one of the valleys most sought after designers. Before moving to Ashland, Julie O had an extensive career as a corporate interior designer. She is also the founder of the Ashland Design Studio located next to Nobel Coffee on 4th Street. In today’s interview Julie O takes me behind the scenes of her approach and process.
Hi Julie. Welcome back to LocalsGuide and thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.
Shields it always nice to catch up with you and your readers.
I could be called an interior designer, or building designer, or a design team member and/or a creative force for this community. Pretty much everything I am involved with is approached from a visionary and creative perspective. I really started my career, by spending my days in my father’s studio and learning everything I could from all the inspiring designers that worked there. I knew I wanted to be in the design filed but I had no idea how diverse and broad my experiences would become. After a degree in architecture, I practiced at several large corporate design firms on the East Coast and then moved to the Bay Area to run a small firm that grew with the dot com boom. After relocating to Ashland to raise my two amazing daughters, I had reinvent myself once again. My real joy of a project is working directly with the end-user, so I felt the interior design profession would be a great fit. Since becoming part of this community I have applied my creative talents to not only my design business, but to a restaurant and several community organizations.
Julie, what would you describe as your core skill and specialty?
I am best at problem solving for unique solutions. I can create solutions that are even better than the original concerns. In a recent master bathroom remodel, the client desired a new contemporary bathroom but when I looked at the whole house I saw that one of their struggles was for adequate closet storage. The end solution was a great contemporary bathroom with an expanded closet and far more natural light, basically solving two problems when only one was presented. The new bathroom is pictured below. I take pride in finding opportunities that make the design greater then the sum of the parts.
From an aesthetic standpoint, what is your approach when working with clients?
At the beginning of each project, I try really hard to get into the mind of my client to create a space that is uniquely theirs. Color, a balance of positive and negative space, art integration, and that one-of-a-kind spark all get combined to make each project a solution that has not been seen before. Each space is uniquely personal, functional, a joy to be in.
How are you working with clients if they have different opinions and ideas than yours?
I appreciate and enjoy different points of view. Perspectives give the project dimension. I love working with clients who have opinions and are able to communicate them during the design process. A lot of people refer their most difficult clients to me. I love the challenge and intensity. If you want someone to just agree with you I am not the right person for you.
That’s refreshing to hear!
My passion is to craft individually unique spaces that are reflective of my clients as individuals. My design projects do not look like a page out of a catalog but as the inspiring images from a design magazine. I want people to be surprised and delighted by the results of my work.
Julie, how did you learn to be so creative?
I grew up in design. Art, creativity, and problem solving have always been part of my growth. In each new project, I ask the questions, “Is this working well?” “Can we find a solution that is greater just the problem that is presented?” At the start of each design project, I walk into the space with open eyes and look for problems that can be solved in creative ways. I ask my clients about themselves, their family, work, hobbies, and routines. I want to personally understand how they will use their space and if we can support their life in a way they had not thought of. Being creative is about asking really detailed questions and listening with intention. You then combine what you hear and observe, then boldly present a solution.
My projects range from new homes, to remodel projects, to furniture selection and lots of custom solutions. Most of my projects are started when a client contacts me directly. I can then create a design, help them find contractors, and coordinate the full project through completion. But even with that as my main project type, I also help all l kinds of people solve even just small problems. I help with selecting colors for a house-painting project. I design and coordinate custom bedding for an upgrade to a bedroom. I design custom furniture and lighting to create a centerpiece to a space. I help clients downscale to a new smaller home. And I have even designed and built a pavilion for Burning Man! Each one of my projects is varied in scale and scope.
Julie O, what are your favorite types of projects?
I love projects where an appreciation for art is integrated. Artwork for me is essential to the fabric of life and when I meet a client that can appreciate and support art in their home it provides for me a focal point for the whole space. I have been so fortunate to have wonderful relationships with many local artists and artisans and being able to bring their work into a project is the best!
How would you describe the dream of your client?
I am a professional and my best clients are also professionals that recognize and appreciate my expertise. I want clients that want to be involved in the design process but know that specific design experience is precious and of immense value.
Give us an idea of what types of question you are asking yourself when working to help your clients meet their dreams.
One of the first questions I ask is “Is this your forever home?” Dreams change over time so it is really important to understand that the aesthetic solution is also impacted by time and money. I always want to hear about how they want to use the space. Is this just for them, or friends, or a large family? I ask a lot of questions to help me understand how they define their style. Eclectic design or contemporary design can mean different things to different people. So, I ask about favorite colors, preferred materials, level of maintenance that is acceptable, and the life span of the space. I want to learn what will make each of my clients really happy.
You get what you pay for. Sometimes budget solutions make sense because they do not need to be long-term solutions. But, most often there is a real reason that something costs a significant amount. The value of an item can also be based solely on how it makes you feel. Be sure you have things in your space that you really love! They will be worth it if they bring you joy each time you see them.
What do you see that really helps differentiate you from others in your line of work?
With my training in both architecture and interiors, I focus on the house from the inside out. How it feels, how it works, how it will be used. These functional aspects have an impact on the architecture and the architecture can influence the use and feel of every space. There is always a yes to every question you just need to discover how best to make that solution happen.
You are very collaborative in your approach – not only with your clients, but also with contractors, builders, and other professionals in the industry.
I love the group of people that I work for and with. No one can make a project happen all by themselves. I have worked hard to create a reputation with local building professionals so they understand that I am here to help make each project a success. I am always looking for new sources that are unique to their valley and that support our local economy. I am proud of being one of the founding members of The Splinter Group. This is a group of building professionals that work to elevate the professionalism of our industries and make each of us more successful businesses.
You offer a house call service for prospective clients. What does this entail and how does it work?
Typically when I meet new clients they have a plethora of questions to ask. Because of this diversity of scope, I start each project by suggesting a House Call. This service is up to two hours of my time for $150. During these two hours, we review a broad range of questions. I can give information about how to change something in a home, pick paint colors, do a quick plan layout, suggest contractors or artisans, and mostly get a strong feel for how to solve some design problem. The main goal is to for us to get to know one another. Once a clear scope of work is determined, I can then provide my client with a proposal that will outline my costs and time. My time then gets billed at an hourly rate of $100.
Mostly, I want your reader to know that it is easy to ask for design help. Even a simple problem can open up to become an amazing solution that inspires and delights you each day. I want to help then find that joy.
287 4th Street, Suite 1, Ashland