Maven to Know: Julie O’Brien

The interior designer shares how she made a big career leap, the biggest mistakes she sees in homes, and the ways quarantine has changed her clients’ requests.


Never before have our homes been more important. It feels as though we’ve all been staring at our spaces, scrolling through ideas on Pinterest, and just getting weary of all…the…same…things…we have been surrounded by for the past six months.

So, we were very excited to sit down with Julie O’Brien, one of Indy’s most reputable designers, to chat about all things home. The Julie O’Brien Design Group handles everything from interior architecture, interior decorating and color work, to cabinetry design and exterior concepts. “We touch almost everything—people are often surprised by how much we do!” O’Brien said.    

Though she comes from a background filled with entrepreneurs and professional athletes, Julie has always been drawn to the arts. This former dancer and a high school English teacher decided follow her passion and has now owned her successful design firm for 31 years. Her work has been featured on HGTV’s “Homes Across America”; she has designed her own line of home accessories and she was honored by international design magazine, Design Times “10 Designers to Watch.”

The worldwide pandemic may have limited her love of travel, but it hasn’t stopped her from meeting with clients (on Zoom as needed, of course!) and making their homes reflect their own personal and unique style.

Maven Superpower: My centeredness—and being able to believe in myself.

Did you always have a draw to interior design?

I started in education because my family said I had be a nurse or a teacher. So I taught high school English for three years—I loved writing. During the students’ study breaks, if I was caught up, I would thumb through design magazines. I started realizing I could critically think about design, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really wanted to try it. I went back to school while working, to study design. My first job was an internship for my instructor at Butler and that helped me get started with my career in design.

What has been the biggest challenge in the field of design?

I love design and people, so for me it’s been the perfect career. My husband is in graphics, and has helped me with marketing and branding. As a result, I’ve always had very sage advice from day one. I feel so comfortable with design and being an entrepreneur, which I’ve seen that my whole life. For most people the scary part of entrepreneurship is the lack of a security blanket. But what you realize when you are an entrepreneur is no one has a security blanket! We are all creating our own world.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I draw inspiration from art itself: dance, music, photography, and travel. All of those things influence me the most, I try to get to New York a couple of times a year to be inspired and energized.

Has the quarantine changed what your clients request?

It’s actually increased their requests! We are getting tons of requests for small projects, fixing areas around their house. Everything they’ve noticed and didn’t like before has been magnified, because they have been looking at it for too long. Maybe they didn’t even feel that strongly about it before, but they need to think about something else. They want to feel like something is happening that is freshening up their life!

What do you love the most about Indy?

I enjoy all the arts in Indy. It has all its bases covered in art, and yet it’s small enough to where everyone is connected in some way. It is a good place to have a business and start a business because you will be supported by your friends!

Do you have any favorite local artists?

Yes, Susan Brewer is a fabulous contemporary artist. Another local artist who has a lot of national credentials is Constance Scopelitis.

If someone has a $1,000 budget and wants to update their home, what would you recommend? 

Definitely paint. It is the least costly and most effective change you can make. You can center your whole design concept from something colorful! I always go into a room, and look at the things that take up the most space…the floors, the walls, and the ceiling. Therefore they all matter a lot!

What do you think of the current design trends?

I’m sort of exhausted with the current gray and white trend that has been going on for the last seven to eight years. I think it will be completely over soon, because it has been done too much.

What is the biggest design mistake you see most frequently?

Color is probably the biggest challenge for people. I think it is tough for people to see color accurately, paint a picture in their head, and visualize all the elements of the room. I also see quite a bit of scale and proportion error as well.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

To hear the other person. You can’t design for someone if you aren’t really listening to their soul, between the lines, what they are not able to say.

What advice do you have for people wanting to explore the field of design?

Understand why you are serious about design. What do you like about it? Also, absolutely go to school and get an education because you might get trapped by your limitations. You must be able to draw and plot out, what you are trying to do. This is where we start with every project. We take dimensions, draw up floor plans, and ask if the budget allows for details.  Because the details are what make the biggest difference!

Archana Bailey is a contributor to Indy Maven who is *slightly* obsessed with design and gets googly-eyed over a perfectly styled built-in. 

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