Who would know that this statuesque Midwest gal in her pointed orange ostrich cowboy boots would be navigating construction job sites, managing men, and delivering client’s new home or remodeling dreams with extraordinary creativity and drive. You have a concept? Julie Laughton will deliver.
Where did Julie get all this drive, talent and love of her work? We need to go back to a very small town in Iowa–-Lemars, Iowa, to be exact, coined the “Ice Cream Capital” of the world. There, little Julie, as early as seven years old, began drawing and painting. She studied piano and played the drums as well, but it was her interest and talent in art that drove her.
“I get the artistic talent from my Dad and the adventurous spirit and business acumen from my Mom, who was in finance and was a pilot,” Laughton says. “Thinking back, I even drafted my high school facade, each brick to scale.”
Laughton’s grandparents recognized her talents, and financed her years at Iowa State. The summer before she graduated, she was offered an internship in New York City. She loved the work, and the firm loved her, so when she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in interior design, including architecture and mechanical drawing, she returned to New York at the firm’s invitation.
It was a great time to be in New York. In the late 1980s, the city was experiencing a rebirth in design and architecture. Everywhere there was construction, renovation, remodeling. Corporations were excited about the new Midtown Manhattan. Even the old Friars Club, founded in 1904, experienced a major renovation. And, that’s where Laughton stepped in. Whether it was the remodel of the Friar’s Club or working with the Zeckendorf developers on Park Avenue and other firms, Julie was making her mark in New York and loving it.
But, in the early 1990s, business slowed, and Laughton was invited by an old Iowa State friend to visit San Diego. Well, the rest is history. Those of us who have visited California know how that first exposure to Southern California feels and the pull it has on us. Julie was no different, and she hasn’t looked back. California was where she wanted to expand her business.
At that time, design became more formal and defined, so Laughton added “Certified Custom Kitchen and Bath Designer” to her interior design license and topped it off with a general contractor license. Of course, many of the early California homes appealed to her, be they Spanish and Mediterranean styles, Craftsman, or the Bungalows. One of the projects she is most proud of is an original Wallace Neff home in Pasadena, where she designed the kitchen 26 years ago and is designing the owner’s wine room today.
“The best part of my business is the connection I make with clients,” Laughton says. “There is a trust, which often develops into friendship, and after 26 years, I’m still friends with the folks in Pasadena.” The house was featured in the 2005 movie, Monster-in-Law, starring Jane Fonda.
Today, Laughton’s business, Design Build, takes her all over Orange County. The fun thing about her is that she is always one step ahead. To keep herself grounded, Laughton does yoga and counters with a little kick boxing.
When asked what the future holds, she says, “In between my design build projects, I’ve been inspired to write a book to help clients understand the importance of starting with a good, solid plan.”
It All Starts with a Plan, by Julie Laughton, will be published next year. So keep your eyes out for that pair of dark orange ostrich boots in your neighborhood. They are one of a kind, and so is Julie Laughton.
“The best part of my business is the connection I make with clients,” Laughton says.