Welcome to the brand new Blue Leopard Interiors Blog! My name is Justine Dennen, and I’m the founder of Blue Leopard Interiors, a boutique residential interior design firm based in Great Falls, Virginia. I am truly obsessed with Interiors, and pinch myself every day that I get to do what I love most for a living. I thought I would start out by telling you a little about me and then share our home journey over the last two decades.
My husband and I have been married for 25 years, and have three kids, ages 22, 16, and 14. We also have two goofy dogs – Billie and Baxter. Being a wife to Torge, and mom to my amazing kiddos are the most important roles I play in life, but this in an interior design blog, so let me catch you up on how this all started:
How it all started
I began my career with the intention of becoming an actress, and graduated from Brandeis University in 1995 with an MFA in acting. However, after working in theater professionally for a few years, and realizing a life in the industry would require me to make sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make, I decided to pursue a career in retail home furnishings. My first experience with interior design was in 1995 working at Pottery Barn where I worked in their design studio. My husband, Torge, and I then moved to South Africa in 1998 where I was hired by a large national home furnishings retailer. I started out in sales, and quickly moved up to national training manager, and got to travel around the country training new salespeople on the company’s large product range of locally made furniture. I learned so much during this time about how furniture is made, and it gave me a huge appreciation for quality and workmanship. See Wetherly’s Advertisement Below
The Children’s Lifestyle Boutique
In 2000 we had our first child, and I realized there was no childrens furniture or decor of style and quality in Cape Town. So, I followed my dream of opening a shop and I opened Hoobler and Hammond, a unique children’s furnishings and decor boutique. It was amazing seeing all of my furniture and fabric designs come to fruition, but owning a retail business is incredibly difficult when raising three kids at the same time. I eventually sold the shop and focused on my kids and on decorating and renovating our home in Cape Town. See Photos of Boutique Below.
The Cape Town House
Our home in Hout Bay, Cape Town, was a funky, whimsical, modern farmhouse nestled in the mountains and overlooking the ocean – so dreamy!! I remember the first time I walked into that house and just fell head over heels in love with it. It was flooded with sunlight from the many skylights and windows, but also often flooded with rain from the many leaks in said skylights and windows! But I had so much fun decorating that home and really finding my personal style. Living in Cape Town inspired my creativity like no other place I’ve lived. It was super exciting to completely renovate our home, add onto it, and fix some of the quirky problems along the way.
It’s now a vacation rental, (and looks mostly the same as when we sold it), so I was able to dig up a few photos of it:
The Innsbruck Ave House
By the time we moved back to America in 2009, I had acquired a lot of knowledge, experience, and lots of unique furniture and art from my time in South Africa. I wasted no time getting started on decorating our new home in Great Falls Virginia, which I found on a three day visit to the States with my five month old son in tow! I must have viewed at least 15 houses in those three days, and was searching for a home with that special “something” that I couldn’t put my finger on, but would know it when I saw it. Finally, the one I fell in love with was tucked away at the end of a leafy street with a pool, a play structure, and so much space for the kids to grow up in. It was a French Country-style home that had been custom-built by the first owners.
They had paid so much attention to detail when building it, and most of the finishes they had chosen were really timeless, so we were able to move in and start enjoying it.
In the 13 years we lived there, we got away with very minimal renovations, other than cosmetic changes like lighting, paint, window treatments, and of course, furniture and decor. The biggest project we did was a kitchen update right before we put the house on the market. We painted the cabinets, replaced the countertops and backsplash, but kept the footprint and appliances the same.
One of my favorite small but impactful changes was in the formal living room. The walls had been a light yellow, but I chose a dark, brownish gray called Urbane Bronze by Sherwin- , and it created so much contrast and drama with the moody walls and gold silk curtains. I guess you could say I get my penchant for drama from my theater background 😉
The Innsbruck Ave house was a great house, but it was just too big for us, and with our oldest off to college, and the other two in high school, we were ready to downsize. And for some reason, my creativity always felt a bit stifled there. So when we decided to sell earlier this year, I knew I wanted a smaller house where I could really dig in and make a lot of changes. The Innsbruck Ave House sold super fast, and luckily the new owners gave us a little extra time to stay there until we found a new home. But with the crazy, low inventory situation of this summer, it was getting down to the wire. We just weren’t finding the right thing, and nothing we looked at gave us that indescribable feeling of “This is IT!!”. We were beginning to think we may need to rent a house until we could find what we were looking for. But I really didn’t want to move twice, so I kept manifesting and asking the universe to show us our house, and lo and behold, we found a gem!
Our New Home!
It may not be overlooking the ocean, or surrounded by tall trees and privacy, but it’s just the right size for us, and when we saw it, I could immediately imagine all the fun I would have making it feel like a true reflection of our family. Although it was very well-maintained, and move-in ready, it was built in 2000, and as a result needs a lot of updating – just what I wanted!! We closed on the new house July 5th, and moved out of the Innsbruck House on July 24th, by which time I had already had most of the interiors painted, and the tile in the entry and powder bath chopped out. I have always wanted a checkerboard floor, so I had black and white matte porcelain, concrete-look, 24” square tiles from Daltile installed in the entry. I also wanted a more modern look for the staircase, so I had the painters stain the handrails and newel posts black, and found oval, black wrought iron balusters to replace the white wooden ones that were there.
I added in this $50 thrifted marble bistro table I stumbled upon at my local ReStore about a year ago, and these vintage, Yugoslavian, bentwood chairs I ordered from Etsy (shipped all the way here from Slovenia!). Once again, I love the drama, and the graphic quality the entry has now, and it makes me so happy every time I walk through.
I’ve also completed our main level powder room – and I’m in love with how it turned out! I already had this Eulalia Peel and Stick wallpaper from Target, which I had purchased last year for the Innsbruck House powder room, but never had a chance to use it before we put the house on the market. I chose a marble mosaic hexagon tile for the floor, this stunning Ida Vanity from West Elm, (it has a ton of storage inside which is a huge bonus!), and the Darwin Toilet Paper Holder and Towel Ring from Anthropologie. For lighting, I ordered these very affordable sconces from Amazon, and sent the shades to be recovered by Suzanne Browe, who I found on Etsy. She was so fun and great to work with! A quick coat of semi-gloss paint (Forward Fuchsia by Sherwin-Williams) on the ceiling upped the fun factor in the room and tied the wallpaper in with the lampshade fabric and trim. I already had all of the art which I had used in my home office at Innsbruck, but I’m thrilled with how the Split Multi-Colored Moth, Split Forest Moth, and the Split Spring Air Butterfly prints look layered on this wallpaper in this powder bath! See Powder Room photos below.
Our New Home – Va Va Voom Powder Room!!
There are SO many more projects to do here – a full kitchen renovation, all of the bathrooms, the basement, the primary bedrooms – and I am so excited to finally have a platform where I can share the journey! In fact, starting NEXT WEEK, I’ll be participating in the One Room Challenge where I’ll be transforming TWO rooms: the Dining Room and Butler’s Pantry! So stay tuned right here, and I’ll be back at you next Wednesday for Week One of the One Room Challenge!