I fell in love with Julia before we even met. To be honest I didn’t even know who she was at the time, but I ended up in her house (while she wasn’t there) to interview her inspirational son Max on how he overcame bullying.
Julia’s husband Adam greeted me at the door of their 13th Beach house, positioned right on the golf course. I took one step in the front door of her house and my jaw dropped. It felt a bit magical as I wandered down the corridor trying to stay present to the conversation with Adam but internally drinking everything in that my eyes landed on.
This house has serious ‘feel’ – each piece of art, furniture and trinket has so much character and purpose. I started raving to Adam about his amazing taste and, in true humble ‘Green style’, he said “Oh, my wife is a stylist so I’ll give her all the credit.“ It wasn’t until after I left and did a little internet stalking that I found out it was famous stylist Julia Green’s house from Greenhouse Interiors. I knew I had to catch-up with and pick the brain of such a successful woman who has raised two beautiful boys and has a thriving career. Could she really have it all? Does she have the magic elixir of work/life balance? Also, I really wanted to find out how, as a family, they dealt with watching their son Max go through two years of horrific bullying.
Angie Hilton: Julia! I finally get to meet you in the flesh. I’ve been devouring all your Greenhouse Interiors content on Instagram and your website, and I’m feeling so inspired to give my home an overhaul. How did your career as a stylist begin?
Julia Green: Great to meet you too Angie, and thank you for your kind words. It’s actually a hilarious story. I was heavily pregnant; in fact Jesse was due to be born that day! I was selling a couch on eBay (as you do when you’re pregnant – sell everything that’s not nailed down). So I get a knock at the door and in came this stranger wanting to buy my couch. He walked in and started looking around at everything. I actually started getting nervous, thinking that I was about to be robbed. He must have picked up on my apprehension and apologises for being such a sticky beak. He asked “Who do you style for?” My response was “What ebay?” I was so naïve. I didn’t even know what a stylist did. I’d been in the pharmaceutical game for 17 years. Yes, I was a professional drug peddler (laughs). He handed me his card that said Vogue Photographer and told me that if I wasn’t a stylist I was in the wrong job. It was a complete sliding doors moment. I was so flattered but also in shock. I knew my current job didn’t crank my tractor but I also didn’t know if I was capable.
When my maternity leave came up I thought ’there has to be more to life than the corporate existence’. That actually never sat well with me. I plucked up the courage to call him and the rest is history.
Angie: It sounds like it would be such a glamorous life.
Julia: Honestly that is the biggest misconception. It’s far from glamorous. People don’t realise how physical it is. We basically move into a house and move out of a house every day. I remember turning up on the first day in heels up with my nails done perfectly. Well, to my surprise, I was up and down ladders, scrubbing floors, lifting heavy furniture. Reality set in very quickly.
As hard as it is, your fierce passion for it is very obvious. It’s an addiction – a real adrenaline rush. I must admit in the thick of it I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this? This is so so hard!’ and then you get to end and I think it’s just like childbirth where it’s a moment in time. My mum always said having children is all about moments. It’s a series of moments and some of them are so good and some of them are so crap! (laughs). The ‘moment’ for me is when I’m presented with a blank empty room and I have to create a whole space that creates an emotion. Let’s say I do this to eight rooms in one day. When it gets to 6pm I stand back and give myself a tiny high five.
Angie: I can see why you’re so successful, because not only are you super passionate and creative, but you have so much energy. I imagine it’s very hard for you to slow down.
Julia: Now, this is my greatest downfall of all. In fact, I recently got given a cup that says ’Sleep is Overrated’. In other words, people have come to associate me with this ferocious appetite of energy, which is all very good and well, but what happens is the people who suffer the most as a result of that are my own family. I really don’t know if the word ‘balance’ exists. I do think it’s fictitious. I think people who have their own business find it the hardest. I’ve allowed myself to have one sick day in eight years. Whereas a common cold would have stopped me in my tracks when I worked in the corporate world (laughs). I’m all or nothing. I’m all 99.9 per cent but the .01 per cent where I’m not, I’m a complete wreck. And I don’t advocate that to anybody because when I’m down I go down with a thud – both physically and emotionally. My husband watches the slide and warns me it’s coming. We’ve been together since I was 15. He’s the grounding force in my life. Without him I would be off rocking in a corner.
Angie: Does it ever spill over into anxiety?
Julia: Yes it does. I found anxiety kicked in after the birth of Jesse. It’s not something I’ve ever spoken about publicly. Because of my background in pharmaceutical Iand, I knew enough about mental health to realise where I was headed. I sought help very quickly and was very open about it with my family who were a great support. They popped me on to some anti-anxiety medication for a time. I think after having Jesse the intense feeling of responsibility really hit me and I had this overwhelming sense that I wanted to make things perfect for my children. Also, since running my own business I feel way more nervy and anxious than I ever did in a normal job.
Angie: Is that because there are no boundaries with your own business?
Julia: You can work in the middle of the night if you want to. And I do. That’s the problem, because nothing is ever finished. There’s no time I can ever sit down, relax and say “aah, thank God, it’s all done now”. With every single job I do, the next one is waiting, and the next one, and the next one. And with a natural tendency to want to give, you feel terrible letting anyone down.
Angie: I feel tired hearing you. I want to send you on a holiday.
Julia: Oh please … just pack me up and send me off!
Angie: Well you’re obviously made of pretty tough stuff, as are your boys Max and Jesse. I had the privilege of interviewing Max about how he overcame the affects of bullying. How did it all unfold? Did you know he was being bullied right from the start?
Julia: Yes, he was a lot more open when he was younger. Now he’s an obstinate teenager who I’m lucky to get a grunt out of (laughs). That’s a whole other story – how to parent teenagers. My goodness! On a serious note, we always fostered very open communication. It wasn’t hard to pick the problem. We could see emotionally and physically what was happening. The difficulty was in getting them addressed.
Angie: Was the school helpful?
Julia: They were absolutely useless. Horrid actually. We put up with it for two years and then withdrew Max from the school.
We had countless meetings with the principal and, at one point, we even had to engage the Department of Education because things were so hairy. The school and the families involved were in complete denial. It was just a shattering experience all round.
Angie: Did you contact the parents of the bully?
Julia: Well you follow the protocol, which is to go to the school first so it’s handled appropriately. We were happy to abide by the rules as we hadn’t been through anything like this before. I mean, who gives you a rule book telling you what to do if your child is bullied? We learned pretty quickly that nothing was going to happen. So we did end up contacting the family directly.
Angie: So did the bully keep at him through that whole period?
Julia: Yep, the whole time. To the point that the school ended up allocating one teacher for recess and lunch to shadow Max like a bodyguard. And the moment the teacher left to go back to the classroom, Max got knocked to the ground and hit his head on the concrete. That was the day where we just said, you’re not going back. So you can imagine the emotional consequences that Max went through. He totally withdrew and stopped eating. It got so bad that he was hospitalised for what we thought was appendicitis because he was in so much agony. After two days of testing, the doctors announced it as pure anxiety.
Angie: That must have been so painful for you both to watch as parents. What steps did you take from there?
Julia: It was a long process. After we withdrew him from school we engaged professional help straight away. We received absolutely nothing from the other parents despite handling it as best as we could.
Angie: How could the other parents just ignore it?
Julia: Well this is the root of the problem. It all starts at home and if the children’s parents can’t see the wood for the trees you’re up against it. I don’t pretend my kids are perfect; if someone came to me saying we have a problem with Jesse or Max because of XYZ, I would investigate that. I would not say “my child would never do that”. Those in denial are so much to blame for perpetuating this crappy situation. We started him at a new school only four weeks into the year. He fortunately had a fabulous year and the new school really nurtured him through it. As painful as it was, he has learned some great life skills – resilience being a huge one.
Angie: As a parent, what was your biggest takeaway from the whole situation?
Julia: The greatest thing we learned was about bystanding. I am so passionate about teaching Jesse and other young ones you must not watch this go on, you must speak up. The most disappointing aspect of the situation was that there were about 10 families that knew what was going on and said nothing. It was like they had their fingers in their ears. It was disgusting!
Angie: How did your younger son Jesse go throughout all of this period?
Julia: He was only young, but over time he has really taken a lot away from the situation. I’m so proud of how Jesse reacts in the schoolyard these days. If he sees anything unjust he storms up there and with his big voice he says “That’s not right. That’s not fair. How do you think you’d feel if someone said that?” It makes us so proud.
Angie: What is your relationship like with the boys in a nutshell?
Julia: Jesse is like a male version of me. We love to get in the bath at night and chew the fat about the day. He’s still young enough to tell me everything that’s going on in his life. Jesse and I have also started meditating before bed each night. It feels very difficult for me to sit still for any length of time but it’s a nice thing for us to do together. Max on the other hand has just hit that teenage point where they really go in to themselves. It was like a switch was flicked when he turned 15. I’m really struggling with it, but from all accounts its what every teenager goes through. So brace yourself!
Angie: Oh dear, thanks for the heads up. That means I have seven more years with Sonny. I’ll stop taking it for granted! Now you guys made the sea change down to this beautiful part of the world to the gated community of 13th Beach Estate. Have you ever looked back?
Julia: We call it our bubble. I don’t think I could ever move back to the city. I love the fact that I can drive through those gates and, as I watch them close behind me, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. It’s like no one can get to me. I then stick my head out the window like a dog as I drive in and breathe in that sea air. Bliss!
Angie: Moving to 13th Beach really turned Max’s life around in an unexpected way wouldn’t you say? I believe he has his sights on becoming a pro golfer?
Julia: Yes, he took up golf when we moved here and has really found his true passion. He is now playing off two under (I used to call it minus two and get laughed at). I love the fact that he has golf and he has a lot of natural ability, but it can also be his biggest challenge. He is such a perfectionist, so if he has a bad day on the course he storms around and wants to take it out on everyone. He knows it’s the mental side of things that can take him to the next level.
Angie: What about highlight moments with the kids. Do you have one for Jesse?
Julia: Oh, so many. I loved seeing Jesse last year win the class award, which was all about being a good person. It was all about values. He was the person that people felt was most supportive and easiest to talk to. That made Adam and I exceptionally proud because at the end of the day all we want is to create good humans.
Angie: And a highlight moment for Max?
Julia: His birth. The first human we created together. I remember them putting him on my chest and looking down at him thinking you are exactly how I pictured you, you look exactly like your dad. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck with love and I can still feel that feeling now. And to watch Adam pick up his son for the first time was just magical. There are a thousand moments that are amazing and having said that there are equally as many of frustration. I’m not going to gloss over it and say that parenting is blissfully perfect. But at the end of the day they’re really good boys with good hearts and that’s all that matters to us.
Angie: What’s one piece of advice you’d give other parents?
Julia: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. People tend to give you advice when you have a baby but then it all stops. But once you’re through the baby phase you’re still learning. Ask people you trust what they do. Always let them know how much you love them and it’s unconditional, and that they can talk to you about anything and you’ll be there no matter what. I think kids need to know that you don’t have a rule book as parents. We tell the kids we’re doing the best we can to make the best decisions that we think we should as adults. But we may not get it right all the time.
Angie: Tell us about the love of your life Adam.
Julia: He is rock solid. He’s unshakeable. We met at 15 and I just knew he was the one. I feel quite pathetic saying this, but without him I just don’t know how I’d get through a day. He holds this family together like superglue. I think we’re a great team. He sums up everything I respect and love as a person. He’s a good egg.
Angie: And lastly, do you have a take away styling tip for our GCK readers?
Julia: Be authentic. Don’t look at other people’s style and try to copy. Find things that make you feel something. Then you end up with a true home that represents you as a person. Colour is like an emotion you can dial up and down. Some people get energised by bright colours and others don’t. Know what works for you rather than copy what’s in the pages of a magazine.
Angie: Thank you so much for sharing your life with us Julia. So many insights for us to take away.
Julia: You are most welcome.
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