In the city of soul, Julia Hohne not only found the perfect place to call home but also the perfect business idea. After relocating from San Francisco to Louisiana, Julia experienced a career crisis as she tried to figure out how to merge her design expertise with her creative ideas. It was when her then-boyfriend proposed that sparks flew—and ignited Julia’s new business venture: Mrs. Vintage, an event design and vintage rental company. During the wedding planning process Julia fell in love with wedding design and then decided to pursue an entirely new passion.
It’s evident in the simplicity, elegance, and calm nature of Julia and her husband’s home that she lives for finding buried treasure. And even better? She shares it all with the brides in her business! All of Mrs. Vintage’s pieces are hand-selected and embody traditional New Orleans charm. Julia is quite smitten with the city of New Orleans, telling us it has “just the right amount of mysteriousness, imperfection and authenticity.”
We loved hearing about Julia’s tips for conquering antique shops and flea markets, growing her brand slowly and organically (all while holding down a full-time job!), and what she is dreaming up next. As Julia puts it, “I think one of the most important things for an entrepreneur to be is flexible. Nothing will ever go exactly as planned, and it’s important to recognize what isn’t working and make appropriate changes toward success.” We most certainly agree!
Name: Julia Hohne
Current title/company: Owner—Mrs. Vintage
Education: BS in Interior Design—San Francisco State University
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was as a junior designer at Robert Holgate Design in San Francisco. I had interned with the firm during my last two years of college, and when I graduated they offered me a full-time position. I was thrilled to have a ‘real job’ and a ‘real career’ and felt like everything was right on track! Robert was the most incredible mentor, and being such a small firm, they really expected a lot out of me from the very start. Robert wanted me to be a part of everything from client meetings, to bookkeeping to furniture and fabric sourcing. I learned more in the first few months of working there than I did in the years I was in design school!
You moved to New Orleans in 2010 after six years in San Francisco. Tell us about that transition. How did it affect you career-wise and personally?
My then boyfriend (now husband) was just finishing up college at St. Mary’s and decided he wanted to go to law school. We’d been in the Bay Area (where I’m from) for a very long time and a change of scenery seemed like a fun adventure. While I loved San Francisco and my job I was ready for something new. After an amazing trip to New Orleans to see Tulane Law School and visit a city we’d never been to, we decided it was the place for us. New Orleans had just the right amount of mysteriousness, imperfection and authenticity that we were looking for.
Moving to a new city, where we knew next to no one was much harder than I expected! I couldn’t practice interior design because the laws are different in Louisiana and it would require me to go back to school and take an exam, which I did not want to do. I ended up accepting a good job in architectural sales, but at the end of the day it was sales; I felt like I had no creative outlet whatsoever. I was pretty miserable and felt derailed career wise. I had this design degree, but at the same time wasn’t really qualified to use it. I knew I was creative, but wasn’t sure how to turn that into a new career. I was stumped. In July of 2011 my dear boyfriend popped the question! It wasn’t until I started planning my own wedding, that I realized I love wedding design! And I had had a love affair with vintage furniture for as long as I can remember. So this crazy idea popped into my head: Mrs. Vintage.
Tell us about the process of launching Mrs. Vintage from the ground up. What were the first steps to making your end goal a reality? In what ways has your vision for the business evolved since you first began?
I got the idea for Mrs. Vintage in the summer of 2011, and by February of 2012 we were live. A tremendous amount of work went into building the business from the ground up. I would literally work at my sales job all day, and then come home and work on Mrs. Vintage all night and every weekend. When I say I didn’t take a day off for at least nine months, I’m not exaggerating. Because I had so much to get done each and every day (I was still working full-time) I made myself really strict schedules of what I needed to get done every hour of the day. I would write out my entire day, hour by hour, and check things off as I went to keep me on track. I think when you are starting something from scratch, the thought of everything that needs to get done (just to get your website going and open your doors for business) can be very overwhelming. That’s why the checklists were so important to me. They put things in perspective and made me the most productive I could be.
After many months of collecting furniture, photographing furniture, putting together professional photo shoots to get ‘action’ shots of my furniture, making connections, tweaking the website, reaching out to other vendors, going to bridal shows, and putting together the brand identity, I launched the website and was officially open for business. It was hard; it was exhausting, I literally ended up in urgent care after an unfortunate runin with a rusty nail, but it was the most exhilarating and rewarding feeling I’ve ever had in my life.
How did your business grow after the launch? What were your expectations during those first few months?
Mrs. Vintage really grew slowly and organically. I collected things every weekend, added to my inventory over time, and moved from our spare bedroom, to storage units, to an office and showroom. After eight months of working full-time in sales and doing Mrs. Vintage full-time on the side, I felt like I had built the business enough to take the leap and quit corporate life altogether. To me, there is nothing more satisfying then working your butt off for your own company. The business has certainly changed over the last two years. I listen to my clients’ requests and change my styling packages accordingly. I’ve learned a lot about this industry and changed policies accordingly. I think one of the most important things for an entrepreneur to be is flexible. Nothing will ever go exactly as planned, and it’s important to recognize what isn’t working and make appropriate changes toward success.
You and your husband have also recently opened up your own shop, Homestead. What inspired you to take that leap? How do you balance two businesses along with day-to-day life?
We opened up Homestead (@Homestead_Living) out of a desire for superior quality goods for our life and home. I’ve always been drawn to handmade high quality goods, and my husband is dedicated to bespoke brands, so it seemed like a natural thing to do. We are on hiatus from the shop at the moment, and are living the dream on an actual homestead! We do have big plans for the brand, hopefully reopening in New Orleans and Northern California by Spring 2015. Balancing two businesses is hard, but both are so in line with our life, it feels more like living than working sometimes! I think I really have found my calling as an entrepreneur and am just so excited to see where these two brands will go and what they will grow into.
Let’s talk about your home! Do you own or rent, and how long have you been living in your current place?
We just recently moved out of this place, but we were there for about a year. Everything in our home has been collected overtime, so even though we seem to move a lot, whenever we unpack and get our things out it always feels like home.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
I coined the term ‘grandma chic’ to explain my design style. It’s eclectic but not boho; there are many found objects, but it doesn’t feel overly antique. I have a strong affinity for midcentury modern design, but I love to throw in some rustic elements as well. So it’s a little bit all over the place, but hopefully not overdone. The funny thing is, I never really knew what my design style was until I had a place of my own. I would design for clients, and could give them what they were looking for, but if you would have asked me four years ago what my design style was I don’t think I could have told you.
Your home has so many unique and special vintage finds! As a vintage connoisseur, what is your advice for those who are on the hunt for one-of-a-kind pieces?
Vintage flea markets and antique fairs can be extremely overwhelming, even for me. So it helps to really have a good idea of what you’re looking for. Of course, there are going to be those awesome, unplanned purchases, but it’s usually something I’ve been wanting for a while. I really think having vintage pieces is a great way to infuse your personality into the home. In terms vintage items that I’m drawn to, I really try and go for the highest quality that I can afford. Take our sofa for example (which my husband found on craigslist for $200!)—we could never afford a sofa of that quality brand new. The construction is second-to-none and all of the cushions are down filled and are so comfortable. It really needs to be reupholstered (which I intend to do in a navy color) but buying a new sofa that would inevitably be of lesser quality and just isn’t worth it to me.
Tell us how you decorate on a budget! What home items are important to invest in? What items do you recommend saving on?
My husband and I have been either in school or working with a start-up salary since we moved in together, so if anyone understands budget decorating it’s me. I think that is part of the reason why I’m so drawn to antiques. You just can’t buy some of these things brand new and expect the same kind of quality for the price. I say definitely buy vintage chairs, tables, and upholstered furniture—Craigslist and local vintage stores are a great resource. I bought our rugs brand new from West Elm, as well as our bed frame. I had the headboard custom made by my upholsterer when I was still living in San Francisco. Pillows are also something I always get brand new or have custom made. Etsy is an amazing source for pillows. Artwork, books, vases, bookends, and all those special smalls I always buy vintage. They just make the space look a little more unique.
In terms of pieces to invest in: I think whatever is going to be a focal point of a room, put your money there. It could be an amazing light fixture in the dining room, or killer leather chair in a living room. Whatever it is, sort of build the room around that amazing piece. And don’t be afraid to collect items slowly! I think that really gives a space character.
What are the biggest changes you’ve made in your home since moving in? How long did it take for it to look the way that it does now?
This place was unique in that it wasn’t a residence when we first looked at it. It had this great retail space in the front, an office and showroom in the middle of the building and then this great space that could’ve been a residence in the back. It didn’t have a kitchen or bathroom, so I basically crossed it off the list. But the landlord reached out and told us that he really liked our business concept, and that he’d been wanting to put a kitchen and bath in the back unit for some time. When he found out I had an interior design background, he leaned on me for design help! Which, as you can image, was a dream come true. So I got to pick out the kitchen fixtures and claw foot tub and sort of make it our own from the very beginning!
We have moved four times in four years, so I’m good at making our home look like ours pretty quickly after unpacking. But being in the business I’m in, I’m constantly changing and rearranging and adding more pieces here and there. I’ve changed out our dining room table twice now, I really like the current combination.
How do you approach designing a new space? Do you begin with a full vision in mind or allow it to take shape gradually?
I usually sketch it out on a floor plan so I can get an idea of where things will go. If you have an option to paint, I normally get that out of the way first. I just want my spaces to feel elegant and uncluttered. I am also drawn toward the unexpected, so I usually try and incorporate something a little different into each room. The vintage cow skeleton scientific poster above the sofa is a good example of that little something different.
What do you love most about living in New Orleans? What are your favorite things to do in the city?
You can’t really know how unique New Orleans is unless you live here. It is truly hard to put into words. The sense of community and devotion toward this city by its residents is not like any other place I’ve ever lived. There is just something special about New Orleans, and maybe it’s the history and architecture or food and way of life or its authenticity, but it’s definitely not just one thing. It’s a feeling, a combination of all those things that make it great. It’s that “only in NOLA” thing you laugh and shake your head at on a daily basis. It’s the fact that at almost any time of day, in any place in the city you can hear live music floating out a window or off of a front porch, and you say to yourself, “that’s why this place is great.”
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Don’t worry! Just keep working hard, keep meeting new people, and things will start to fall into place. Being 23 is hard because you are old enough to think you know what you want, but are still terrified you’re never going to get it.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
I really do think the best is yet to come. I’m excited to start a family and grow and develop new brands—what those will be, only time will tell!
Julia Hohne is The Everygirl…
Go-to source for furniture shopping?
Vintage: Chairish, Craigslist, Ebay, Alameda Flea Market (if you’re in the Bay Area)
New: Design Within Reach, Room and Board, West Elm
Fall for sure. Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. I love to cook all day and drink wine and eat a big meal with my favorite people. There’s nothing better than that.
I wake up around 7:30 a.m. and check emails from my phone in bed. I’ll get up shortly after that and make coffee in our Chemex. It takes longer, but that morning coffee making routine is my favorite thing. It just makes me focus and think about the day ahead. Then I work in my PJs for a while, drink my coffee and check in with social medias. By 9:00 a.m. I’m usually getting ready for meetings or errands for the day. With vintage furniture, there is literally always something to do. Something needs to get repainted, or cleaned, or refinished. Something broke and needs fixing, or things need to be unpacked from a wedding and put away. So I’ll make my lists and get to work!
Favorite vintage find?
This is so hard for me! I am not emotionally attached to anything in my inventory because everything gets rented out so much—I just can’t be. Things get broken and I have to be OK with that. So I’d say the things that mean the most to me are in my personal collection. I found this sweet crocheted vintage ring pillow that we used in our wedding, so that means a lot. My husband and I found that “Mack Truck New Orleans” poster one afternoon in the attic of an old printing shop in NOLA. The stairs up to the attic were so steep that I couldn’t go up. My husband went up with the owner, and pulled out some old prints. When I saw that I was in love! $10 is all he wanted for it!! When we took it in to get framed, the guy at the frame shop was in awe. He’d never seen anything like it. I have so many stories like that, so the journey is part of the emotional attachment as well.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Coffee and croissants with Coco Chanel. We’d be in Paris obviously. I know it’s strange for someone like me to idolize a fashion icon, but for me it’s much more about her incredible personality and how much adversity she had to overcome than anything else. She was a rebel and never ever did what people expected and I absolutely love that about her. I’d love to just sit with her for one afternoon and listen to her stories and maybe glean some advice from one of the most elegant women who ever lived.