Step onto Julia Griffin’s Detroit property, and you’ll feel miles from the city. The artist behind Willa Rose Floral has transformed her urban home into a wild garden and flower farm worthy of the English countryside. Julia’s work is rooted in the wild nature of her medium, and her home feels like an extension of that philosophy. Particularly striking is the raw plywood that surrounds the living space in a warm embrace. We spoke with Julia about the benefits of working from home and how she created a space full of elemental inspiration.
Give us an intro!My name is Julia Griffin. I own a flower farm and floral design studio that specializes in using locally grown flowers for large scale events. I live with my partner Josh in Core City, Detroit. My neighborhood is really interesting — the block we live on consists of 8 quonset huts, an abandoned car repair garage, a handful of 100-year-old homes, and a lot of vacant land. My house itself used to be a two-flat, but when it was renovated, we opened it back up to a single-family home.
Julia in the garden that surrounds her home.
Your home has such a unique architectural style. Could you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a standard wood frame early 20th-century house, renovated in 2018 by a local firm, Prince Concepts. An elemental approach was taken on the renovation — one material on the outside (corrugated metal) and one material on the inside (plywood). It was modernized and opened up completely. What used to be a collection of a bunch of small rooms is now an open loft plan. The firm did an incredible job turning a run-down, run-of-the-mill Detroit wood frame house into something really unique and breathtaking. Its beauty lies in its simplicity.
Did you fall in love with your home the first time you saw it? Why or why not?
I did! It was in extremely bad shape but I could see the potential. And most importantly, I could see the magic in the adjacent lots that I would build my farm on. It was extremely overgrown but it just felt really magical and peaceful. Where we are in the city is still really quiet even though it’s centrally located. I sometimes feel like I am in the country (until I hear people doing donuts on Grand River).
1. The view from the kitchen. / 2. Julia's work overflows into her living space. / 3. Inside the Willa Rose Floral studio. / 4. The bedroom loft, and Julia's heirloom hope chest. / 5. Shades of green throughout the home echo Julia's plantings.
Were you worried about anything in the space, before living there?
The house was completely falling apart — foundation crumbling, front porch falling off, roof starting to rot — before it was renovated, so I definitely had a lot of worry about whether it would be liveable at some point. I had a lot of faith in Prince Concepts and all the wonderful people working on the house. Since my farm is next door to the house, I was on site building almost a full acre of flower beds during the renovation every day. Being so close to the day-to-day of the construction work was really nerve-racking, but really exciting!
What room do you use the most? Did it surprise you?
I spend a lot of time in my studio which is the back portion of the house. I had a wedding almost every weekend this season. I had several friends freelance for me so we would be blasting music playing with flowers all day in there. I love that space so much — there’s a double-height skylight that brings light into the studio, and a 100% polycarbonate shower jutting out from the house where I keep my most sun-hungry houseplants. All that natural light and natural wood makes for a very inspired space.
How would you describe your interior style?
A total hodgepodge. I have such a mix of new and old. I am young and growing a new business, so there has never been a big budget (or time!) for me to use on decorating. Most of my stuff has been thrifted or gifted to me, with the exception of a few key pieces that I splurged on.
1. The kitchen cabinets are made of plywood, too. / 2. Julia's collection of vases.
Do you find it challenging to design a space that works for both you and your partner?
I think we are both pretty easy going in this regard and we like a lot of the same things. I think it’s fun to have a little bit of both our personalities shine in the space.
Did you furnish the home from scratch?
We brought in a lot from previous spaces and added in some larger pieces. We have been living in shared spaces or small apartments for our entire adult lives so having a whole house to furnish was a challenge. There are still things we want to add but we are waiting for the right pieces!
Do you have any favorite pieces?
My two favorite pieces were handed down from grandparents. I have this beautiful mid century wood dresser that was in my mom’s house as a child. And my aunt gave me her mother-in-law’s cedar hope chest that is over 100 years old and is so charming. I also really love my collection of house plants. Some of them I have been caring for for years and I am very attached to them.
What's the one thing you’d rescue in a fire? (Other than family & pets, of course).
Probably my vase collection. I have spent years thrifting and having pieces custom made. This season especially I invested in a collection of locally made ceramic vases to use for my event work. My friend Carrie of HELD made them all for me in her studio in Hamtramck and they are so special.
The loft looks over the open plan space.
What are some of your favorite sources of inspiration for your space?
Most of my life is inspired by nature and I think this definitely rings true in my home. There are plants everywhere, lots of natural colors and textures.
What makes you feel most at home when you walk in the door? Is there anything you can’t feel at home without?
My cats greeting me! Asher and Buju are my guys but we have several strays outside that I feed too! I also have a really hard time sleeping in other beds. I love our bed and linen bedding, and our bed is situated in this really cozy nook in the loft upstairs. Waking up there feels like waking up in a small cabin in the woods — natural light and wood on all sides!
Tell us about a favorite memory in the space.
The first few days we spent in the house felt so surreal. We were so excited and happy to be there. We spent several months building out the farm while contractors redid the house. Our move in date always seemed so far off so I remember being so giddy with excitement those first few days thinking WE ARE FINALLY HERE!
Is there anything else you want to tell us about your home?
Despite how strange our house looks from the outside, it’s really a pretty normal space inside. Nearly everyone who drives by and stops asks us one of a few questions: Is this some sort of smart house? Does it get really hot/cold in there? Do you grow weed in there? No, to all of the above — despite its unique appearance, it’s just a regular home!