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Designer Julie Hillman believes every room should tell a story

The New York interior designer focuses on curating an unexpected assemblage of pieces that include working with some of the world’s most valuable art collections.

It’s abundantly evident that Julie Hillman’s career in fashion and a background in the arts have influenced the interior designer’s stellar career. With a deep understanding of scale, pattern and patina, and an abiding passion for collectible art and design, Hillman’s interiors are a masterclass in creating dialogues between eras, genres and aesthetics.

After a 10-year career in ready-to-wear fashion and following the birth of her first child, Hillman’s thoughts turned to other pursuits. At the same time, Hillman and her husband had embarked on the design and build of a family home in the Hamptons, a process which proved ultimately life-altering for the designer. “I really dove into the process and it became my full-time job,” she says. “The house came out so well and I had such a good time working on it.”

A Park Avenue apartment, interior designed by Julie Hillman (Photo: Manolo Yllera)

Off the back of Hillman’s inaugural success, a fellow mom commissioned her to design the interiors of her new home. The project marked the genesis of Julie Hillman Design, a studio that now sits comfortably in the realm of aspirational interior design. 

I design with the future in mind and there is no need to change things because of passing trends. The spaces and pieces are timeless.

Julie Hillman

As for her enviable clientele, Hillman only takes on art-collecting clients or clients deeply committed to exploring collectible furniture or art. “At the outset, some of our clients don’t actually know all that much about collectible design,” Hillman says, “and I spend a significant amount of time imparting their value and history by showing them publications and books as well as through visits to galleries, which helps them better understand the works and their makers. Through the process, my clients become very much part of the journey. I don’t specify anything without my clients’ buy-in.”

Julie Hillman photographed by Manolo Yllera

In perusing her repertoire, it is clear that Hillman’s work varies from project to project, an intentional strategy employed by the designer to represent the values and lifestyles of her clients rather than her own desired aesthetic. “Every project and piece has a unique story,” she explains. “You can’t really look at any of my projects and say this is a Julie Hillman project because each one is tied so closely to the client, to their tastes and oftentimes to their art collecting.” 

Art is an area in which Hillman has vast knowledge, and art collectors are attracted to Hillman’s work due to her talent for pairing their collections with an unexpected combination of period and contemporary pieces. Her portfolio of works represents the designer’s penchant for mixing vintage and modern furniture and the integration of blue-chip art. Hillman is equally at home specifying the Haas Brothers and Rogan Gregory as she is specifying period furnishings and incorporating Keith Haring and Helen Frankenthaler into her interiors.

This ability to mix styles is evident in all her project. In a recent refresh of a West Village 19th-century Greek Revival townhouse by the studio, the living room features a decorative marble mantle, offset by a Bugatti Mosque Chair, a squat bronze and timber Ado Chale table, a metal-studded timber buffet and a striking Pasta mirror by Misha Kahn. It’s a whirlwind of historical periods, materials and aesthetics which Hillman has effortlessly juxtaposed. “The bringing together of all these elements is an organic process that I find to be hugely enjoyable for me and my clients,” says Hillman.

In the designer’s revamp of a landmark Manhattan maisonette, a pair of custom Jean Royère–style sofas are offset by chairs by the Campana Brothers, a Christopher Trujillo chandelier (fabricated from paper plates and staples), and a collection of contemporary art pieces from the likes of Vik Muniz and Doug and Mike Starn. “It’s not about taking expected pieces and putting them together in an expected way,” Hillman explains. “I want to break the mould of seeing the same pieces together. I want to change how these pieces are viewed and presented collectively in order to see them in a different way.”

“Nothing should feel forced or boring,” she adds. “It should be layered but not cluttered. There are no fillers in my projects. Every single piece is important.” That’s not to say that every piece that Hillman specifies attracts a high price point. The designer has been known to incorporate moderately priced pieces in her interiors, something she says her collector clients find unusual. “Price doesn’t matter,” she explains. “In fact, when I’m presenting pieces to a client, I prefer to conceal the prices at first, because price doesn’t always represent the value of the piece. I have found very inexpensive pieces that resonate with me because of their shape or patina and I like to include them in my work.”

A mix of contemporary, vintage and antique in this East Hampton home by Julie Hillman (Photo: Manolo Yllera)

In trying to understand how Hillman approaches each project, the designer explains that she always starts by looking at the spaces, at how her clients live and want to live in the spaces. “I also consider the future projection for each space,” Hillman adds. “It’s very important to me to understand how the family may live in the near- to long-term future, and to design with that in mind.”

In her Park Avenue skyscraper project for a young, art-collecting client, Hillman took what she considered a large, ‘difficult’ living room and carved it up into a series of spaces with multiple functions. “I created spaces where the client could showcase their art but could also use it as a salon, and as a gathering space for large dinner parties,” she says. “But it is also a space where my client and his young family can sit on comfortable sofas and watch football. Creating rooms that are layered and have more than one purpose is important to me.”

Art objects perfectly match decor in this Park Avenue Skyscraper project by Julie Hillman (Photo: Manolo Yllera)

The designer’s work with marble is also notable, using it in lavish ways to create immersive bathroom and kitchen experiences. “I just love the strong veining,” she says. “Marble slabs are never alike in the same way that paintings are vastly different from one another. I typically use them when I want to highlight the stone itself and we also try push the boundaries of what it can do.” Despite marble’s innate impact, Hillman still incorporates standout furnishings in her bathrooms and kitchens. Take, for example, the marble-clad ensuite main bathroom in the West Village townhouse project, where Hillman has masterfully juxtaposed a mirror by Eileen Gray, a pendant by David Wiseman and a Horsehair Stool by J. M. Szymanski against a strongly veined monochromatic marble.

Hillman’s eye is so in-demand that a client recently had her select the font and color for the name of their new yacht. And the designer has just embarked on the interior design of the studio’s first yacht project.

The 12-person studio is also working on the design of a 48,000-square-foot house in the city which, despite its size, Hillman says will feel like ‘an intimate family home’. “So much thought goes into every project and I’m so proud of each and every one,” Hillman says. “During the pandemic, I had a few clients with itchy feet, requesting that we refresh some of their rooms. I told them that their rooms are perfect as they are. I design with the future in mind and there is no need to change things because of passing trends. The spaces and pieces are timeless.”

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